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The longest Formula 1 season ever begins

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The longest Formula 1 season ever begins

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The 2024 Formula 1 championship, which will begin on Saturday 2 March in Bahrain and end on Sunday 8 December in Abu Dhabi, will be the longest ever. It will last 24 races: one more than those scheduled for 2023 (one was cancelled, in Imola), two more than 2022 and three more than 2019. The tendency to increase the number of seasonal races is considered by the organizers a proof of the growing popularity of Formula 1 in the world and, consequently, of the commercial interests it generates. But several drivers have criticized the program as too demanding for them and for the teams, both physically and mentally.

Among Formula 1 fans, the 2024 championship arouses curiosity and interest for other reasons too. The main one is that the thirty-nine-year-old Englishman Lewis Hamilton, the most successful driver in history, will race with Mercedes for the last year before moving to Ferrari, and his transfer could also have repercussions on the season which begins on Saturday.

In recent days, a non-sporting affair involving Christian Horner has also attracted a lot of attention team principal (a kind of team leader) of Red Bull, the reigning champion team and which everyone considers the strongest. At the end of an internal investigation that lasted a few weeks – the details of which were not provided, but which involved an allegation of inappropriate conduct by Horner towards an employee – the company confirmed him in his role. The handling of the matter, which continues to be discussed, has however been criticized both by some of Red Bull’s opponents and by one of its important corporate partners.

The first two races, in Bahrain on 2 March and in Saudi Arabia on 9 March, will exceptionally take place on a Saturday to avoid the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix coinciding with the start of Ramadan, the holy month of the Islamic calendar, which this The year begins between March 10th and 11th. The first race was also brought forward to Saturday, consequently, because the regulations establish that there must be at least a week between one race and the next.

– Read also: Because Hamilton at Ferrari is big

Pilots’ complaints
In the first press conference of 2024, in Bahrain, some of the most famous drivers of the championship they expressed some concern about the length of the season. It’s not the first time happensbut it is quite rare that perplexities and intolerance of this type, which can be interpreted by opponents or the media as a sign of weakness, are openly declared and shared among many riders.

“I feel that we are well beyond the sustainable limit of races, and as far as I’m concerned I know that I’m still young, obviously, but I also know that I won’t do another ten years like this, with 24 races a year,” said the 26-year-old Dutchman. Max Verstappen, Red Bull driver and reigning champion. Although he has been the most successful, admired and celebrated driver for two years, Verstappen has long been one of the most critical and dissatisfied with many aspects of modern Formula 1. «If even the world champion thinks he is wrong [fare 24 gare]Imagine the rest of us racing for nothing in the second half of the season”, added the Spanish Aston Martin driver Fernando Alonso, alluding to the lack of competitiveness of the championship, which in the last two years has been won by Red Bull with several races to spare.

From left to right, drivers Carlos Sainz, Lewis Hamilton, Alexander Albon, Fernando Alonso, Max Verstappen and Lando Norris during a press conference in Sakhir, Bahrain, Wednesday 28 February 2024 (Clive Rose/Getty Images)

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In 2022 Formula 1 CEO Stefano Domenicali had described a 30-race program as a future goal compatible with the sport’s expansion plans around the world, including Africa, where no races are currently held. Compared to the hypothesis that has circulated in recent years of expanding the number of drivers in order to introduce alternation during the championship, some of them have pointed out that this would not improve the situation of the rest of the team, nor that of the many staff involved in the jobs that revolve around Formula 1.

During the year, the mechanics and many other team employees, due to work needs, travel at different times than the drivers: they arrive before them, at the circuits where the Grand Prix are held, and leave later. The same goes for journalists, photographers and other various professionals who contribute to making Formula 1 the most followed motor sport in the world.

«Personally I think that we are already at the limit of the number of races that the staff, drivers, employees, journalists and others can handle during the year, if they want to have a family, see them and maintain contact with their home, which be it a family, a dog or whatever,” said Spanish Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz, who will leave the team at the end of 2024. Making an analogy with football matches broadcast on television every week, Sainz added that the The risk of getting used to watching too many races is also of «losing a bit of the appetite of all the people who watch them».

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen in the car stopped in the garage during free practice in Sakhir, Bahrain, Thursday 29 February 2024 (Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Hamilton, who said he agreed with the other drivers, then expressed doubts regarding the compatibility between the continuous extension of the racing calendar and the plans to reduce the environmental impact of Formula 1. «We must be clear about the difference between quality and quantity, and we also have to think about the impact we have on the world, because the more competitions we organize, the more this circus travels everywhere”, said Hamilton.

– Read also: Formula 1 says it wants to reduce its environmental impact, but it does the opposite

Hamilton, the Ferrari and the Mercedes
Since the beginning of February it has been known that Hamilton will be one of the two Ferrari drivers, together with the Monegasque Charles Leclerc: but it will only be so starting from 2025. It is rather unusual that the transition of a driver to another team is announced with a year in advance, and in Hamilton’s case it is a transfer that could have several knock-on effects within the strongest teams.

First of all, it is very likely that Hamilton’s move from Mercedes to Ferrari will affect the choices of other drivers who had not yet decided which team to race for in 2025. 2024 will also be the first championship in the history of Formula 1 in which all drivers will race for the same teams for which they ran at the end of the previous year.

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Some of them know at this point that they can compete for a place in Mercedes, one of the three teams with the most resources in the championship together with Red Bull and Ferrari. The teams can in turn try to hire Sainz – a very constant driver who is very capable of predicting the moves of his opponents in the race – or the driver whose place Sainz may eventually take in another team.

Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc in the Ferrari SF-24 on track during free practice in Sakhir, Bahrain, Thursday 29 February 2024 (Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Hamilton’s already announced choice could also influence, in ways that are not easy to predict, the current relations between him and Mercedes, and those between Sainz and Ferrari. In a sport where sharing a common interest within the team and long-term work planning are very important, knowing that you still have to work together for another full year, but no longer, could influence many evaluations in 2024 of Ferrari and Mercedes, and also of Hamilton and Sainz.

In Formula 1 it is quite common, for example, for two drivers from the same team to try to get along and not hinder each other to obtain the best overall result in terms of points. It is an advantage for the team, but it can also be an advantage for the drivers, who depending on the case can then possibly claim a subsequent right to better contractual conditions. In the case of Hamilton and especially Sainz, considered by many to be Ferrari’s “second” driver, the awareness of not having team orders to respect – often respected by drivers only in the name of a greater long-term interest – could increase their willingness to take greater risks (including accidents) in trying to beat teammates.

The problem in the favorite team
Verstappen, winner of the last three championships, is according to almost all Formula 1 experts the driver with the greatest chance of winning again in 2024. He drives for the team that is clearly stronger than the others, Red Bull, which won all the races in 2023 except one. And there is no substantial reason to think that the technical superiority shown in the development of the car in recent years will disappear due to improvements by other teams.

However, for some weeks the newspapers have been writing about Red Bull especially for a non-sporting issue made known by the Dutch newspaper Telegraph, relating to an allegation of misconduct made against team principal Horner by a team employee. To protect their privacy, Red Bull did not share information, but still considered that there were sufficient elements to launch an internal investigation. At the end of the investigation, which lasted about three weeks, Horner kept his job, but the matter continues to be the subject of discussions and criticism: outside the team and partly within him too.

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Red Bull team principal Christian Horner during free practice for the Bahrain Grand Prix in Sakhir, Thursday, February 29, 2024 (AP Photo/Darko Bandic)

Horner has been the team principal of Red Bull since it entered Formula 1 in 2005, and for many years in his role he has been one of the best known and most successful people around. In a letter sent to Red Bull, according to what reported and Associated Press, Ford CEO Jim Farley expressed his disappointment in the handling of the matter and the failure to share information with corporate partners. Ford, which has a very long tradition in Formula 1 as an engine manufacturer, will provide you to Red Bull starting from 2026.

Following the conclusion of the investigation, McLaren team principal Zak Brown and Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff they said that the body that governs Formula 1 (the International Automobile Federation, FIA) should be the one to deal with the matter and clarify it. “I think all of us in Formula 1 are ambassadors of this sport on and off the track, as happens in other sports,” said Brown, alluding to the risk that Horner’s affair could end up discrediting the entire environment. Wolff and Brown criticized Red Bull’s lack of transparency, which decided not to provide any information on the nature of the allegations. Wolff, however, made explicit reference to the fact that the investigation began following a complaint expressed by a Red Bull employee to the human resources office.

On Thursday 29 February, at the end of the second free practice session in Bahrain and approximately 24 hours after the outcome of Red Bull’s investigation was announced, a dossier with alleged documents relating to the Horner affair was sent from two anonymous email addresses It has been received by around a hundred people including FIA and Formula 1 executives, team principals and accredited journalists. Neither Associated Press nor have any other newspapers verified the authenticity of the documents, and Horner said: “I will not comment on anonymous speculation, but I reiterate that I have always denied the allegations.”

Although the authenticity of the documents has not been clarified, the way in which the dossier has been distributed suggests that there exists within Formula 1 either a mistrust in the integrity of the investigation or an interest in discrediting Horner, as he wrote Jonathan Noble su Autosport. However, it is not clear whose interest that interest would be: whether from Red Bull’s opponents interested in weakening it, or from other people dissatisfied with Horner within the company.

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