Home » F1 pre-season testing: Red Bull make statement in Bahrain, but can they be stopped in 2024?

F1 pre-season testing: Red Bull make statement in Bahrain, but can they be stopped in 2024?

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F1 pre-season testing: Red Bull make statement in Bahrain, but can they be stopped in 2024?

The 2024 Formula 1 season looks poised to start the way the last one finished – with Max Verstappen and Red Bull out of reach at the front of the field.

That seems to have been the lesson from three days of pre-season testing in Bahrain this week.

Verstappen and his spectacular new RB20 car looked every bit as imperious as the Dutchman did in its record-breaking predecessor last year.

Of course, it is, as the old F1 adage goes, only testing.

The times don’t mean anything because it’s too difficult to make judgements as result of the number of variables involved – fuel loads, track condition, tyres and so on.

Well, yes, up to a point. As ever, the headline lists of lap times threw up some obvious inconsistencies and impossibilities.

Zhou Guanyu’s Sauber, for example, ended the final day of the test with the third fastest time. If the Chinese qualifies there in Bahrain next Friday for Saturday’s season-opening race, he would be as surprised as anyone else.

But just as this time last year, there was little doubt about the superiority of Verstappen and Red Bull. Even the list of times on the final day more or less gave that away, if you looked just below the surface.

Charles Leclerc was fastest in his Ferrari, closely followed by George Russell’s Mercedes, with Verstappen fourth.

But Leclerc, Russell – and Zhou, for that matter – all used the softer C4 tyres to beat Verstappen’s time, while he was on the slower, harder C3s.

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The margin by which Leclerc beat Verstappen was smaller than the performance offset between the two types of tyre. And comparing times set on the C3s, Verstappen was fastest – and you can bet your house on the fact that he was not running a qualifying-style light fuel load.

Not only that, but none of Verstappen’s rivals were bothering to engage in the usual testing cliches, about how it’s impossible to judge where everyone is.

Leclerc said: “Red Bull remain in front. They have a very, very good car again this year. How far in front they are remains to be confirmed, but they seem to be in front for now, yes.”

Russell’s Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton said: “The car felt much more enjoyable to drive [than last year]. We still have time to find. Red Bull clearly are out in the distance but it’s a good platform to work from this year.”

And Lando Norris, whose McLaren team were the most improved last season after leaping from midfield to the front with a mid-season upgrade, said: “We are in a good position. We had a decent car at the end of last season and we have definitely taken some steps in the right direction, but still a very long way behind Red Bull and a long way behind Ferrari.”

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