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  • Writer's pictureDrew Bentham

Bahrain GP 2024 - And the show goes on

Winners: Verstappen (1st) and Perez (2nd)
Winners: Verstappen (1st) and Perez (2nd)

Analysis and conjecture are always the name of the game during pre season testing and the practice sessions of a season opener, but quite often you can never really tell until we get to race day. So too was the case for the 2024 Bahrain GP this weekend. Max Verstappen picked up where he left off, topping the timing sheets in qualifying with Leclerc and Russell completing the top 3. The Mercedes seemed to have a consistent car underneath them and were closer to the Red Bulls in time, Ferrari too appeared to have closed the gap.

But when the 5 lights went out it was Max who remained on top, keeping the lead into the first corner which is where he stayed for the remainder of the race. In fact his dominance was telling. He was never troubled by the competition, eeking out a comfortable lead within the first few laps. Pit stops were relaxed by Red Bull standards at around 2.5s mark and Max finished with a 22.4s lead. Business as usual.

So if the lead wasn't the major story, where was it?

Well joining Max on the podium was his team mate. Perez had not had the best qualifying starting down in 5th, behind the Ferraris and Mr Russell. After getting off to a good start, he drove well, picking off those in front with patience and when the pitstops were all done, he found himself in second to bring home a 1-2 for the team, the perfect result. Whether this is enough to cement his position in the team, time will tell. His journey in F1 hinges on his performance this year.

Sainz drove a great race

Back in the red camp, there was a lot to cheer about. Despite being dropped from the team in favour of Hamilton for 2025, Sainz held his head high and put in an aggressive performance, clearly on the hunt to prove his worth to the now open driver market. And it was appreciated, claiming the driver of the race. Leclerc had a mare of a race by comparison, but these were only set up issues relating to brake balance. The SF24 locking up in turn 10 almost every lap. But I don't think this is a fundamental problem and the team should have this fixed by the weekend and round 2. Sainz claimed a well deserved third and Leclerc minimised the damage with a fourth. Sainz had this to say...

I’ve been testing here for three days and seen through the practices that their tyre degradation on the softs was about the same as ours and everyone else’s on the hard," he said. I could see they had three or four-tenths advantage [on a stint]. They also kept a new set of softs for the race. I knew they’d be very difficult to beat… They could keep the C3 tyre alive, were overheating it a bit less. Maybe that’s what makes it so fast in the race. We need more samples. Look at late last year and our front rows and poles. But even then, Red Bull were gone in race. I hope it’s not as exaggerated this year.

Lewis struggled for performance in the dessert

In practice both Mercs looked good by stark contrast to last year but when it came to qualifying, set up choices dropped them back, Hamilton in particular going for a set up that was far too aggressive to set a competitive time. For the race it left the 7-time champ with work to do, though neither car looked particularly racey. Russell finished nearly 47s down on the lead in 5th while Hamilton made up 2 places from his start position in 9th.

Russell overtook Leclerc in the opening laps, but he was hampered in the pit stops as Perez got the jump on him, as did Sainz. He was forced to lift and coast to help manage some overheating brakes which didn’t help , and in the end was powerless to keep Leclerc at bay late on. Hamilton struggled with a battery problem early on and between that and a broken seat, he was unable to make too much progress from a P9 grid slot. Piastri was picked off late on thanks to a clever undercut, but he ran out of time to close the gap to Norris ahead, Lewis later saying..

It was a tough race today. For sure there is some disappointment within the team as we hoped that it would be a better evening. We were close with several other cars and the degradation was high. The issues we faced obviously cost us some pace so that was frustrating.
Ultimately if I had qualified better, naturally I would have been a good couple of places further ahead as my last stint was good. Today was about discovery and we found out a lot about the car. There’s plenty of areas we can improve on and I’m sure we will as a team.

Russell brought his Merc back in 5th

In the Papaya camp, Norris struggled with his rear tyres early on, as the two McLaren drivers ran in series in the opening part of the race. Piastri kept his team mate honest, and it looked like they might come home together but for Hamilton managing to get past the Aussie thanks to an undercut strategy, coming home 8th. As for Norris, his car came to life with lower fuel but could only manage 6th, but the team have some work to do to understand where their pace was at the start of the race, Norris commenting,

It was a tough race, but I think we still had a good race with good pace, and it was a definite improvement on last year, so I think we can be happy as a team. I think the wind hurt us a bit today. It changed a lot from the last few days, and it felt a lot worse in some corners, but we moved forward, and it was the best we could have hoped for today. A good start to the year.

Piastri adding,

So, a P8 to start the year. I personally felt like it was a good race for myself, and I think the race pace we had seemed ok. A few things to improve, but not a bad first race for us, especially when you look at where we were this time last year. I’m excited to see what the next few circuits have in store for us, and looking forward to seeing what we can do in the races to come.
McLaren seem to have lost something over the winter

Stroll made a very good start, reaching into the top 10 but it was all for nothing when he was tagged into a spin by the Haas of Hulkenberg. That dropped him to the back of the field, but he pitted early for the hard tire and again for the second stop, to bring off the undercut as he climbed back into the top 10. As for Alonso, his race was also tricky to manage. He didn’t seem to have the pace to keep the McLarens at bay and almost looked to be switching to a one-stop strategy. He pitted very late for his second set of hards, and was left too much to do to chase back to Piastri in eighth. Alonso commented,

I’m happy to score some points from the race today and it was probably where we expected to finish. It ended up being a bit of a quiet race for us with a gap ahead and behind us. We thought we would stay out longer on both stints and hope there was an advantage to gain from a Safety Car, but it wasn’t to be. I think we have some analysis to do on our one lap pace against our race performance. I’m feeling confident that we can improve as the season progresses and let’s see if we can be a bit stronger in Saudi Arabia next week.

Promising start for the Astons, though lots still to do

Alonso still very quick

All in all it was business as usual. Sure there had been changes over the winter break but the overall picture is much of the same, at least for now. A 24 race calendar is a very long time in motorsport so it's far too early to discount the pack at this stage.

Round 2 in Saudi Arabia starts this Thursday.

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