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F1 team guides: Alpine, Williams, RB, Sauber, Haas

Alpine finished sixth in the constructors' standings last season after a mid-season management clear-out
Alpine finished sixth in the constructors' standings last season after a mid-season management clear-outAFP
AFP Sport's rundown of the teams and drivers preparing for the start of the 2024 Formula 1 championship in Bahrain next Saturday.

Alpine

Engine: Renault

Team Principal: Bruno Famin (FRA)

Drivers: Esteban Ocon (FRA), Pierre Gasly (FRA)

The Renault team, rebranded in 2021, managed to make sixth in the constructors' standings despite a mid-season management shake-up. Alpine took the paddock by surprise when announcing last July, at the Belgian Grand Prix weekend, the sacking of team principal Otmar Szafnauer and sporting director Alan Permane.

Alpine vice-president Bruno Famin, who has taken over the running of the UK-based French outfit, explained differences of opinion over performances and future plans were behind the departures. Vastly experienced chief technical officer Pat Fry also headed for the exit to join Williams.

Alpine's Pierre Gasly
Alpine's Pierre GaslyAFP

On the track, there was little to choose between the team's all-French driver line-up, with each making a podium, Ocon in Monaco and Gasly at Zandvoort.

They go into battle in what Gasly described as a "bold and aggressive" new car for 2024.

"We want to see the team at the top, that's where want to be as well so we will work for that," said the 28-year-old in his second season alongside Ocon.

"I'm feeling in a much better place than I was 12 months ago when I came here for the first time. I'm feeling amazing and just want to get behind the wheel in the car and push it to the limit," he said at the car's launch this month.

Williams

Engine: Mercedes

Team Principal: James Vowles (GBR)

Drivers: Alex Albon (THA), Logan Sargeant (USA)

James Vowles left his job as Mercedes' strategy chief to take the helm of this iconic British team last season, becoming only the third team principal in the 46-year history of the marque established by the late Frank Williams. Vowles' arrival has led to an evident upturn in performance.

Plum last in the constructors standings in 2022, Williams, with 16 world championships during their halcyon days in the 1980s and 1990s, climbed to seventh, their best result in six seasons.

Owned by Dorilton Capital since 2020, under Vowles' stewardship the 2023 car displayed plenty of pace in qualifying and straight-line speed. Their target this term is to build on the best race finish of seventh claimed by Albon in Montreal and Monza.

Vowles issued a 'hands-off' warning to possible suitors Mercedes and Red Bull over the talented Albon, who is under contract until 2025. The London-based Thai driver picked up a healthy 27 points last term.

Alex Albon says Williams can 'hit the ground jogging'
Alex Albon says Williams can 'hit the ground jogging'AFP

Teammate Sargeant's presence in a Williams' cockpit was in doubt after a trying season for the rookie American but his 2024 seat was confirmed in December despite only adding one point, his first ever in F1, to the team's total.

After testing this week Albon commented: "It's a totally different car to understand. I don't think we are going to hit the ground running but we can hit the ground jogging."

RB

Engine: Honda-Red Bull Power Train

Team Principal: Laurent Mekies (FRA)

Drivers: Yuki Tsunoda (JPN), Daniel Ricciardo (AUS)

The former Minardi outfit was originally established by parent company Red Bull in 2006 as their 'feeder' team for their young drivers, competing as Toro Rosso, then AlphaTauri. This season it goes by the name of RB - or to give it its full title Visa Cash App RB.

RB's Yuki Tsunoda in testing last week
RB's Yuki Tsunoda in testing last weekAFP

More significantly the team also has a new boss, Ferrari's former sporting director Laurent Mekies replacing the vastly experienced Franz Tost.

Tost ran the team from the outset, his 18 years in charge marked by his nurturing of Sebastian Vettel, a future four-time world champion, and Max Verstappen, vying this season to match Vettel's title tally.

Last season they hit a few roadblocks resulting in only eighth spot in the constructors standings. The much-heralded rookie Nyck de Vries replaced the Alpine-bound Pierre Gasly. But the young Dutchman was axed mid-season, with Ricciardo making his return to the grid after a time-out from the sport.

The popular Australian's comeback was hampered when he broke his hand in a crash, forcing him out of the next five races. The 34-year-old will be eager to show what he's capable of alongside his Japanese teammate Tsunoda, now in his fourth season at the team.

Sauber

Engine: Ferrari

Team Principal: Alessandro Alunni Bravi (ITA)

Drivers: Valtteri Bottas (FIN), Zhou Guanyu (CHN)

Valtteri Bottas may still be sporting his distinctive mullet hairstyle but this Swiss team originally founded in 1993 by Peter Sauber has undergone an identity makeover for 2024 having raced in recent seasons as Alfa Romeo.

Sauber's striking new electric green makeover caught the eye in Bahrain
Sauber's striking new electric green makeover caught the eye in BahrainAFP

Alfa, who won the inaugural F1 Grand Prix back in 1950, left the grid not so much as with a bang, but a whimper, trailing in ninth in the constructors' table with Bottas and China's Zhou, in his third season, amassing a total of 16 points, compared to 55pts in 2022. A brace of eighth-place finishes for Bottas in Bahrain and Qatar their best result.

Alessandro Alunni Bravi took over as the face of the team on track on the departure of Fred Vasseur to Ferrari last term.

They are powered still by Ferrari until 2026 when they become Audi's new works team.

Haas

Engine: Ferrari

Team Principal: Ayao Komatsu (JPN)

Drivers: Kevin Magnussen (DEN), Nico Hulkenberg (GER)

Based out of Kannapolis in North Carolina (with a UK factory in Oxfordshire), industrialist Gene Haas's outfit joined the F1 grid in 2016, becoming the first all-American-backed team in three decades.

While all bar one team struggled in various ways last year, none found the going tougher than Haas, despite a fresh and experienced driver pairing of Magnussen and Hulkenberg.

Haas hoping for an upturn in fortunes under new team principal Ayao Komatsu
Haas hoping for an upturn in fortunes under new team principal Ayao KomatsuAFP

Last month they axed boss Guenther Steiner, who had become something of a cult figure thanks to his starring role in Netflix's "Drive To Survive" fly-on-the-wall F1 series. The colourful Italian paid the price for a poor campaign with Magnussen and Hulkenberg mustering only a dozen points between them.

Director of engineering Ayao Komatsu takes over - his task is to reignite the fortunes of a team still searching for its first podium.

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