Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Bahrain International Circuit, 2024

Hamilton revels in new Mercedes while signs reveal Red Bull’s potential

2024 Bahrain GP Friday practice analysis

Posted on

| Written by

“We’re not bluffing like people assume we are.”

“At the moment, we’re not going to be in the race for the win.”

“We’ve got a lot to work on.”

“Today, we found out that we are a long way off.”

Over the last two years, the opening day of the first grand prix weekend of the year has been a sobering one for Lewis Hamilton.

Determined to reclaim that eighth world championship title that he lost on the final lap in 2021, Hamilton instead climbed out of his car from the first day of practice over the last two years knowing that he had a mountain to climb with his new Mercedes. But not in 2024.

At the end of day one in Bahrain, Hamilton was quickest of all. With Mercedes team mate George Russell two tenths behind in second, it seems to reinforce that this is a much stronger start to the new season than the team have had the last two years.

“We didn’t know exactly where we would stack up against everyone else, but we had a positive FP2 session,” Hamilton said after his 1’30.374 put him at the top of the times.

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

“Overall, I’m feeling much happier with the car than last year. We’ve made some good improvements and it feels much more like a race car.”

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Bahrain International Circuit, 2024
Red Bull clearly had plenty of pace in hand
As promising as it may appear for Mercedes and its fans, it’s foolish to read too much into lap times on the first day of the season. Down in sixth position, behind the Mercedes, Fernando Alonso’s Aston Martin, Carlos Sainz Jnr’s Ferrari and Oscar Piastri’s McLaren, reigning world champion Max Verstappen was quick to point out that his team were not running their power units near their full potential. Indeed, Verstappen was the slowest of the four Honda-powered cars in the speed trap.

Hamilton recognised this too, admitting that he still forsees Mercedes being behind the Red Bulls when things get truly competitive.

“I think we’re going to be in the mix,” he said. “I think it’s a bit too early to say, but I think we’re there or thereabouts with Ferrari and maybe Aston and McLaren. I don’t know exactly where we lay with those guys, but we’re around those. So it’s going to close. I think if Max is in the front, he will clear off as he has done for the last couple of years.”

There are plenty of signs Red Bull have far more pace in hand than they revealed on Thursday. Their best lap time was 1.1 seconds slower than their quickest throughout last weekend, the largest deficit of any team:

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

Although all 20 drivers ran considerable distances on the soft tyre in the second session, long run pace will matter most on Saturday. Before then, on Friday, qualifying will be the first true opportunity to see the genuine pace of the 2024 cars.

Kevin Magnussen, Haas, Bahrain International Circuit, 2024
New rules could catch drivers out in qualifying
Despite being so dominant last season, single-lap performance was never the RB19’s strength. However, the data suggests that the RB20 is a formidably quick car – especially through the speed Verstappen carried through the fast sweepers of turns five, six and seven and traction out of slow corners, as Verstappen seemed to be able to get on the throttle earlier out of turn ten and onto the back straight.

Even with their power units supposedly not as turned up as their rivals, Verstappen and team mate Sergio Perez both recorded higher top speeds at the end of the pit straight on their fastest push laps than all their likely closest threats for pole did. Not only does that suggest the RB20 is fairly slippery down the straights, it may make beating the Red Bulls to pole position all the more critical.

But there are two major pitfalls that all drivers will need to be wary of avoiding heading into this first qualifying session of the year. As ever, keeping within the white lines at the edge of the track is essential. We have seen many drivers across Thursday’s practice and last week’s test running wide on the exit of turn four and elsewhere. That will be an immediate invalidation for any flying laps on Friday – as the combined 13 lap times deleted in Thursday’s F3 qualifying session across turns two, four, 13 and 15 demonstrated.

The second but more unknown factor lies in the revised maximum lap time rules. Last season, drivers were timed for every lap in qualifying and summoned to the stewards if they exceeded the maximum lap time set by race director Niels Wittich. That remains the case this season, but now they may also be in breach if they go too slowly through one of the many microsectors that make up the lap.

The impact of this subtle change is that any driver who backs off significantly at any point on circuit may be at risk of breaching the limit – even if they speed up and still fall under the maximum time of 1’54 at the end of the lap.

While it may seem reasonable in theory, if it will work in practice remains to be seen. Even if the rule makes no material difference to the qualifying results, it may end up making the queue of drivers outside the stewards’ office even longer than it was at times at the end of 2023.

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

Combined practice times

P.#DriverTeamFP1 timeFP2 timeGapLaps
144Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’33.3021’30.37447
263George RussellMercedes1’33.2511’30.5800.20648
314Fernando AlonsoAston Martin-Mercedes1’33.1931’30.6600.28642
455Carlos Sainz JnrFerrari1’33.3851’30.7690.39551
581Oscar PiastriMcLaren-Mercedes1’33.1131’30.7840.41052
61Max VerstappenRed Bull-Honda RBPT1’33.2381’30.8510.47746
727Nico HulkenbergHaas-Ferrari1’37.9381’30.8840.51050
818Lance StrollAston Martin-Mercedes1’33.8681’30.8910.51746
916Charles LeclercFerrari1’33.2681’31.1130.73950
1011Sergio PerezRed Bull-Honda RBPT1’33.4131’31.1150.74150
1123Alexander AlbonWilliams-Mercedes1’33.5831’31.3330.95943
123Daniel RicciardoRB-Honda RBPT1’32.8691’31.5161.14249
132Logan SargeantWilliams-Mercedes1’34.2131’31.7151.34146
1420Kevin MagnussenHaas-Ferrari1’37.4771’31.7641.39052
1522Yuki TsunodaRB-Honda RBPT1’33.1831’31.8811.50753
1610Pierre GaslyAlpine-Renault1’35.1441’31.9511.57749
1777Valtteri BottasSauber-Ferrari1’33.3541’32.0011.62745
1831Esteban OconAlpine-Renault1’34.8071’32.0271.65346
1924Zhou GuanyuSauber-Ferrari1’33.9231’32.0481.67444
204Lando NorrisMcLaren-Mercedes1’32.9011’32.6082.23450

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

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...

Got a potential story, tip or enquiry? Find out more about RaceFans and contact us here.

10 comments on “Hamilton revels in new Mercedes while signs reveal Red Bull’s potential”

  1. Am I the only one who only found out this week that the race is on Saturday rather than Sunday?! I was going to totally miss the race! I understand it’s because of Ramadan, but after having Vegas as the first Saturday race since the 80s last year, now several races are moving. Races were intentionally moved to Sundays to be consistent for TV. Seems such a daft move, but I guess with so many races now it was too challenging to shift to a different weekend.

    1. In fact I am going to miss the race because I’ll be driving while the race is on. Oh well!

    2. I imagine that if Bahrain had rights to be the season-opener, the timing of Ramadan made a Saturday race inevitable?

      1. its not even bahrein; its the NEXT race that cant start on sunday; so they moved it to saturday. There’s a rule stat states stat there needs to be 7 days between races; so the race before this needs to be moved as well.


    3. the sprint race is on Saturday followed by qualifying for the GP but the real race is on Sunday. On Friday we have P3 followed by qualifying for the sprint race.

      1. Not this weekend. Due to Ramadan starting shortly after the Saudi Arabian GP (next week), the organisers asked to move that race to a Saturday rather than Sunday. As the rules state races must be at least 7 days apart, that means the race in Bahrain is also occurring on a Saturday. FP3 and GP Qualifying happen tomorrow (Friday), with the main Grand Prix on Saturday afternoon. After Saudi Arabia, normality will be restored with GPs on Sunday (until Las Vegas).

        There is no sprint this weekend (the first is in Shanghai in mid-April), but on a sprint weekend, the structure would usually be as follows:
        Friday: FP1 (AM) and Sprint Qualifying (PM)
        Saturday: Sprint race (AM) and GP Qualifying (PM)
        Sunday PM: Grand Prix

        Hope this is helpful

    4. I’m flying to Singapore tomorrow. Totally forgot about it being on a Saturday when I booked it.

  2. I do not characterise the events on the final lap of 2021 as Hamilton “losing”; rather I saw the championship stolen from him by blatent misapplication of the rules.

    1. Brian, yes, I was outraged too, but isn’t it time to move on?

      1. Senna v Prost. Hill v. Schumacher.

        Probably, but these are F1 fans we’re talking about.


Comments are closed.