Christian Horner, Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Bahrain International Circuit, 2024

Pressure on Red Bull as team begins title defence: Six Bahrain GP talking points

Formula 1

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The 75th Formula 1 world championship will officially begin this weekend with the first grand prix of the 2024 season in Bahrain – the first of a record 24 rounds.

Once again, the ten teams start the season off the back of a three-day pre-season test at the same Bahrain International Circuit that they put their cars through their paces on for the first time.

But with new cars, new opportunities and a new race schedule for this year’s season-opener, how will the first grand prix of the year set the tone for the many, many others to come?

Red Bull’s unresolved crisis

In almost every respect, Red Bull enter the new season in strong shape. They produced one of the most successful seasons any team has ever enjoyed in the history of the sport last year. Through pre-season testing they never seemed to break a sweat, leaving an impression they have plenty of untapped potential in the new RB20.

But off-track the team’s leadership is under huge pressure. Three weeks ago owners Red Bull Austria confirmed they had initiated an independent investigation into long-time team principal Christian Horner due to allegations of inappropriate behaviour.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Bahrain International Circuit, 2024 pre-season test
Red Bull insist it’s “business as usual” on-track
Heading into the week of the first grand prix of the season, the investigation remains open with no conclusion and no action taken. Horner has consistently denied any allegations against him and has remained active in his role throughout the investigation, telling media including RaceFans that it was “business as usual” for him and the team.

However Horner also admitted the situation has been a distraction. Its impact on the team will be much greater if the investigation concludes he should not remain in his position.

In the meantime there is considerable disquiet over the length of time Red Bull is taking to conclude its investigation. Formula One Management have stated their eagerness to see a resolution and yesterday it emerged Red Bull’s future engine partner Ford has been leaning on them as well.

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Have Mercedes finally got it right?

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Bahrain International Circuit, 2024 pre-season test
Bahrain was another rude awakening for Mercedes last year
After losing the drivers’ title in brutal circumstances at the end of the 2021 season, Mercedes vowed to strike back with a vengeance as the sport entered a brand new era of ground effect downforce for 2022.

However, in back-to-back seasons, the multiple world champions have not been able to offer a challenge to fierce rivals Red Bull. While Red Bull have won 38 of the 44 grands prix held under the current technical regulations, Mercedes have been victorious only once.

After failing to make a winner out of their second attempt at their aerodynamic concept introduced in 2022, Mercedes have abandoned it entirely in favour of a more Red Bull styled approach. But while they are set to race it for the first time this weekend, their rivals have two years’ of experience and development under their belts with it. Will Mercedes leave Bahrain with a smile or a grimace on their faces this year?

Saturday night’s alright for racing

Grid, Las Vegas, 2023
Las Vegas race also started on a Saturday
For the first time in many decades, the Formula 1 season will not be starting on a Sunday. Rather, this week’s Bahrain Grand Prix will take place on Saturday evening, local time, with qualifying on Friday and opening practice on Thursday.

It is the second time in the last three grands prix that the race will run on a Saturday, following the alternative schedule that was first used at the Las Vegas Grand Prix, the penultimate round of last season.

The move a day earlier is due to the start of Ramadan which is set to begin immediately following the weekend of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. With the race in Jeddah moving to a Saturday and the FIA’s regulations insisting there be at least a seven day separation between races on the calendar, Bahrain has been moved a day earlier to accommodate.

While the different schedule will make no material difference to proceedings, it’s almost certain to catch out some fans who will naturally expect the season-opener on Sunday. Make sure you don’t become one of them.

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McLaren must start strong

McLaren, Bahrain International Circuit, 2024 pre-season test
McLaren will hope to avoid a repeat of last year
The Bahrain Grand Prix is of particular importance to McLaren. Not just because it is the opening round of the championship, but because the team is majority-owned by Mumtalakat, the Bahrain sovereign wealth fund.

Sadly for the team, the last Bahrain Grands Prix have been bitterly disappointing for the Woking team. In back-to-back season in 2022 and 2023, McLaren endured frustrating pre-seasons and failed to score a single point in Sakhir.

Last year was especially difficult, as Lando Norris had to make several pit stops over the race to top up his cars pneumatic due to a leak, finishing over two laps down. His debutante team mate Oscar Piastri also was unable to enjoy his first ever grand prix, retiring after just 13 laps with an electrical failure.

McLaren’s end to the 2023 season will give them plenty of reason to feel more confident heading into the new year, while they successfully covered more ground in the three-days of testing last week than they had at the previous two Bahrain tests. Will they finally start the season on a strong note?

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The marathon begins

While the start of a new world championship season may feel like the two previous ones in the modern ground effect era, 2024 is set to be the most demanding season of F1 racing there has ever been.

With more grands prix than ever before – 24 – and six sprint rounds, there will be 30 races taking place over the 283 days between first practice in Bahrain and the final grand prix of the season in Abu Dhabi. There will also be a trio of triple headers this year – the first in mid-season covering the Spanish, Austrian and British Grands Prix, then two at the end of the year with the US, Mexican and Brazilian Grands Prix followed by an especially brutal Las Vegas, Qatar and Abu Dhabi triple header to end F1’s longest ever season.

The last few years have seen plenty of concerns from teams and drivers about the strain of so many races on team personnel, with Alpine driver Esteban Ocon admitting that he fell ill after the Las Vegas Grand Prix weekend, which he attributed to the unique scheduling of the race. Expect there to be a lot more discussion about the length of the current calendar over the coming year.

Fresh starts

The 2024 season may be unusual in the sense that all 20 drivers who ended last season will be participating in the opening round of the next for the first time ever, but that does not mean this is now 2023 mark II.

As well as all championship points being reset, so too are the power unit allocations, reprimands, qualifying records and more. For drivers who suffered a trouncing at the hands of their team mates last year – such as Sergio Perez, Lance Stroll or Logan Sargeant – this is truly a chance to wipe the slate clean and be the masters of their own destiny once.

One of the only elements that carry over to this season from the last are superlicence penalty points, which remain for a full calendar year once owned. Coincidentally, Perez, Sargeant and Stroll are also the drivers with the highest current superlicence points, with seven, six and five, respectively. While none of the three are especially close to the 12 that would result in a race suspension, Perez and Sargeant will not lose any points until September at the earliest – which gives them far less room than many of their rivals.

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Over to you

What do you expect has changed – and stayed the same – in Formula 1 over the off-season? Share your views on the upcoming championship in the comments.

2024 Bahrain Grand Prix

Browse all 2024 Bahrain Grand Prix articles

Author information

Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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52 comments on “Pressure on Red Bull as team begins title defence: Six Bahrain GP talking points”

  1. Red Bull’s unresolved crisis – The sooner that gets resolved, the better.

    Have Mercedes finally got it right? – Hopefully, as third consecutive season of struggles would be far from ideal.

    Saturday night’s alright for racing – Indeed & additionally, pre-season testing days were Wednesday-Friday rather than Thursday-Saturday for the same reason, i.e., to have the same amount of full days between day 3 & practice day. Additionally, I doubt anyone will be caught out, though, because everyone has had more than enough time to notice this unique Thursday-Saturday pattern.

    McLaren must start strong – Very much so.

    The marathon begins – Yes, although the GP amount itself is okay with the certain parts being the true issue.

    Fresh starts – I definitely expect a better season for Sargeant, but also Perez, with only Stroll a question mark, although in Perez’s case, even that mightn’t be enough for a 2025 drive.

    1. Isn’t Perez’ backing sizeable? If he has a decent season and wants to continue, someone will have him.

      1. Perez is backed by Carlos Slim, who was the richest person on the planet from 2010 to 2013, and has a net worth of around $105 billion. Sizeable indeed.

  2. We are changing an entire sport just to satisfy an archaic practice based on a book about a man in the sky. Islamic countries need to move into the present if they want to host a GP, we should not be pandering to them. We don’t move GPs which fall on religious holidays for any other religion. It is ridiculous. Islam is not special, it is not more relevant than any other religion. If you can’t hold a GP because of your religion and it’s obligations, don’t hold a GP. No disrespect intended, I just don’t see why it is even taken into consideration.

    1. I agree.
      If you can’t hold a race on a Sunday, you can’t hold a race. Period.

      For me a GP on Saturday is not a real GP, it doesn’t feel important, and I typically watch a Saturday qualifying whilst cooking, doing the laundry or cleaning. It’s not a day for a race and I’m more likely to not watch it.

      1. Oh dear…

        You would not have coped in 1983 when South African AND British races were on Saturday…

        Or both Las Vegas races of the 1980’s. Both on Saturday…

    2. I just don’t see why it is even taken into consideration

      Money ? Lots of ?

    3. I do agree with your point. But I think it is quite unusual or possibly it never happens that a GP falls on the weekend of a major Christian holiday. Obviously they are not racing at Christmas but I think they usually avoid Easter Sunday as well.

      I cannot speak for other major religions though. But I do think they should have just said no to Saudi or scheduled it on another date.

      1. But I think it is quite unusual or possibly it never happens that a GP falls on the weekend of a major Christian holiday.

        It has happened. The 1993 European GP at Donington was on Easter Sunday, as was the 2000 British GP at Silverstone.

      2. Indeed, Christian holidays are already sacrosanct – what other christian holiday would be in play for you guys to compare with, I mean Pancake Tuesday’s out for starters?
        FOM saying no to the Saudis would be more startling than Metatron turning up with an announcement.

    4. “No disrespect intended, I just don’t see why it is even taken into consideration.”

      Yeah right – your comment is absolutely disrespectful – you are ranting about something you seemingly have very little understanding and the FIA for decades have been adjusting calendars to accommodate for Western Europe requirements/religion.
      For decades Monaco didn’t have Friday practices but on Thursday due to Ascension day. Last year Las Vegas race was held on a Saturday so Europe could watch it on Sunday morning rather than Monday morning.

      The Islamic nations have been hosting F1 races for many years and this is the first time a race is moved.
      The Bahrain race is not moved for any religious reason but FIA own ancient rules that dictate there there must be 7 days between races, if Bahrain was held last weekend if would have been on a Sunday.

      Given that Ramadan is not static on dates so moves around which is known years ahead – it is the FIA themselves that messed up planning the 2024 calendar, realizing that probably to late they then made these last minutes changes to recover from their own errors.
      They easily could have scheduled Saudi Arabia race a week later, the Australian race a week later and all would have been fine.
      Just try to explain why after Singapore there are 3 weekends without a race yet in the 7 weekends starting with Austin race there are 2 triple headers.

      Separately it is a world championship – not a Western Christian World championship. The FIA wants to race across the world and if you want to achieve that you will need to respect and accommodate for different cultures of those countries you want to hold races in even if that means upsetting some caveman F1 fans.

      1. Thank you for such a well-reasoned response to the comments above, which I found really shocking.

      2. This! There is never a race on Catholic easter. I know because they always skip it and it almost always falls into Orthodox easter instead, making me miss the race.

        1. There is never a race on Catholic easter.

          There have been many races on Easter Sunday: 2017, 2010, 2000, 1993, 1989.

        2. Do not let facts get in your way……

      3. Nicely put! This website needs like/dislike buttons so that most reasonable people (like me!) can like your response, and dislike the rather unpleasant rant from Mr A!

        1. I disagree, for experience in world of warcraft forums, the dislike button was removed because it was abused, it becomes a popularity contest: 85% of people want x thing, 15% don’t, and whenever a debate comes up the minority gets downvote bombed.

      4. upsetting some caveman F1 fans

        I think it was the caveman that had deities and started religions.

        All religions should be treated equally by F1 that includes Zoroastrians, Baha’i , Buddhism and many others that are oppressed by the official religion of most Middle East.

        So if some religion have a privilege others should have too. After all you did just not say it is a World Championship?

      5. If anything you said was true about avoiding Christian holidays was true (within the lifetime of most F1 drivers), it may have had some validity. In America, religious holidays have long been some of the biggest sports days. So, it’s also not like it’s even a standard respected in other sports.

    5. We are changing an entire sport just to satisfy an archaic practice based on a book about a man in the sky.

      Probably part of F1’s DNA, as they already moved the Dutch GP to Monday a few times due to Pentacost :P

    6. Unfortunately races have been rescheduled in the past because of religious holidays. Expect more of this as F1 seeks to couple itself with oil-rich Islamic states around the Persian gulf. They all believe strongly in one form of old man sky god.

    7. It’s not exactly a coincidence that Grand Prix racing takes place on a Sunday either.

      It’d probably be best if the FIA, being based in Paris, adopted the French Republican Calendar with its 10 day weeks, and then have qualifying on Nonidi and the race on Décadi. The races could be held from Germinal through Frimaire, with a few select week’s being reserved for travel and the Messidor break.

      1. Hehe MichaelN. What about the official language being Esperanto?

      2. Bibendum died for somebody’s sin’s, but not mine.

    8. I for one am quite pleased to have the race on Saturday. It means us Australians can watch it early on Sunday morning and not be completely buggered for work on Monday! This year’s calendar means I should be able to watch the first 6 rounds with my kids as they won’t have to go to school the next day, or it’ll be a super convenient Sunday arvo (Australia, Japan and China).

    9. Mr A (no relation) said “We are changing an entire sport just to satisfy an archaic practice based on a book about a man in the sky.”

      You are treating the idea that GPs are held on a Sunday as if it is a God-given religious belief which dare not be questioned, when really it is a practice based on a big book of regulations written by somebody in an office. The Sunday directive is based on archaic commercial and logistic reasons to do with the desire to get as many people to the tracks as possible on the Saturday and Sunday in those mediaeval times when we didn’t have live TV coverage. Did you feel as outraged when it was decided that drivers had to wear full-face helmets, or that cars could no longer use traction control, for instance? Probably not, because you couldn’t use those things to justify your phobias.

  3. I must have missed the “RaceTimes” article.

  4. “For me a GP on Saturday is not a real GP, it doesn’t feel important”
    I don’t care what day as long as it’s full length and full points…

    1. ^ reply to ASD…

      For me this season, I’m most interested to see if the strong circuit/weather dependent team performance continues…

      Also it’s a year full of head-to-heads with lots of spots opening up next year there’ll be a lot of eyes on the intra-team battles.

  5. We race on a Sunday. What’s caveman about that? It was Saudi I was referring to.

    Plus we have absolutely raced on an Easter weekend.

    The Monaco rules were in place as they were because it brought the whole country to a standstill.

    It’s a global championship, as you say, so we should not be moving the racing day for one nation. The FIA may be more to blame than I initially gave consideration to but then Saudi should really just be rolling with the sport and not the other way.

    Sorry if I offended you but I haven’t changed my opinion and I stand by it.

    1. Bahrain is an Islamist country. They aren’t going to hold a race on the first day of Ramadan. I agree it’s frustrating that the weekend schedule is being changed so often lately. There are a lot of better reasons to not be racing in these countries than convenience. They all have terrible track records for human rights.

    2. I really think you’re overthinking this. We will have 2 full Grand Prix weekends coming up. Get excited!

  6. It’s certainly true that there are religious grounds for the particular scheduling of this race and the next one, but let’s not lose sight of the fact the ultimate reason is financial. These promoters play top dollar to host the opening races, and F1 is prepared to accommodate their preferences because of that.

    To take the opposite example, is Monaco paying enough to keep its preferred Thursday-Saturday-Sunday schedule? No, which we can see because FOM put a stop to that.

    But even so, I do question the wisdom of sacrificing the consistency of F1 races taking place on Sundays (the peculiarity of Las Vegas notwithstanding as that was still Sunday for most of the world) to satisfy short-term financial considerations, let alone religious ones – and that goes for any faith.

    1. I guess the viewing figures will eventually tell the story of whether the move was wise or not. But this particular situation with Ramadan is unlikely to arise again for many years, so probably won’t be repeated whatever the outcome.

      1. this particular situation with Ramadan is unlikely to arise again for many years

        The commentary team at testing were actually saying Australia will take Bahrain’s place as season opener temporarily next year as ramadan falls even earlier…
        Nothing official though.

    2. Ultimately Formula 1 is in the money business, whether people like it or not. Bernie was in the money business too, but ruled as a dictator more than Liberty, but still I feel it’s the same-old same-old. Let’s not forget that Bahrain was here long before the current ownership and has only led the way for more and more of them. “Well Done Baku” indeed.

      I don’t particularly love that qualifying is at 5PM on a Friday, given that’s my commute home, but I also have to acknowledge that my European behind has been pretty privileged and has been catered to by the sport for decades upon decades. A world championship should not be so biased, I think. Just like I wouldn’t expect a race on Christmas day, I think it’s fair enough to not have a race on another region’s most important day of the year. It’s alright, I get it.

      1. Well put @sjaakfoo, have to agree with that.

    3. @keithcollantine when you talk about “sacrificing the consistency of F1 races taking place on Sundays” – there were actually some quite notable venues that used to have a long established tradition of not holding races on a Sunday, and where reverting to consistent historical traditions means they should revert to a day other than a Sunday.

      For the British Grand Prix, the traditional day to hold that race was on a Saturday, not Sunday – from 1950 through to 1975, every single British Grand Prix was on a Saturday, and when the race started alternating between Silverstone and Brands Hatch in the 1970s, Silverstone kept the British GP on it’s traditional Saturday slot through to 1983. Out of 74 British Grand Prix’s, a full 29 – currently nearly 40% – were held on a Saturday, not Sunday.

      The South African Grand Prix was also notable for not holding races on a Sunday either, with every single race from 1962 to 1985 taking place on either a Friday, Saturday or Monday – it was not until the race was revived in 1992 that they finally held a race on a Sunday.

      1. That is a very interesting bit of trivia. Cheers!

      2. The British GP’s were indeed held on Saturdays.
        Nothing new under the sun. :)

      3. Interesting indeed, I wasn’t aware of that as I wasn’t around back when there was the south african gp, I like the constantly varying day of the week.

      4. I read that the British GP was held on Saturday because the Queen was patron of the RAC (the organiser) as well as head of the Church of England and so a Sunday race would cause her embarrassment

    4. These promoters play top dollar to host the opening races, and F1 is prepared to accommodate their preferences because of that.

      Yes, and F1 is effectively ‘hired’ to put on a show. F1 is just another among a dozen events that are brought over to make the host country look good*. F1 is not the ones in charge here. That balance is of course fluid, and both parties have their own interests, but with enough money just about everyone can be made to dance. And F1 has certainly shown itself to be so desperate for even more money that they’re very eager to do so.

      Whether they race on a Saturday or a Sunday is also largely irrelevant; both days are no-work weekend days for the vast majority of folks in the countries where F1 has its biggest audience.

      (*This is of course not something that only happens in the Middle-East. This year France, which is certainly not swimming in money – not their own, anyway – is nevertheless willing to spend billions to accommodate people who jump over hurdles, look silly in kayaks, and do fake sword fights.)

    5. Its for the sake of tickets sales. For F1Fanatics, they still come to the race on the month of fasting or not. But the bulk of ticket sales usually bought by the local casual fans which may not be interested to attend during the said period.

    6. I must admit, the fact that these races are not being held on a Sunday has completely thrown me for a loop. I’ve made plans to help a friend on Saturday and for the Saudi race weekend I’m at a conference all day. For the entirety of my life F1 races have been held on a Sunday, it didn’t occur to me to check whether it would be different at these races. I almost never miss a race, but for the first time in as long as I can remember, I might have to miss watching these ones live.

      1. Yes, it’s easy to be thrown off by sudden changes like this, I also got spoiled the friday qualifying once last year or something cause I only checked on saturday, forgetting it was a sprint weekend.

  7. Why doesn’t the world understand that qualifying has to happen on my laundry day, and Ramadan be damned!

  8. Sheesh, I see the ignorants prats are out in full force in the comments. It’s not that deep chaps. Saturday races aren’t a regular thing, it’s a one off having already shown F1 is able to do quali on weekdays & Vegas last year. As much as a I don’t like it, How can you be outraged over a temporary thing? Take it easy lads, watch that blood pressure.

    1. I reported this comment but did not mean to – sorry!

      1. Think a confirmation button would be useful, if an edit button isn’t possible.

  9. While not a fan of the reason, I don’t care overly much and also far prefer having the race on Saturday, which leaves my entire Sunday free.

Comments are closed.