F1 team guides: Red Bull, Mercedes, Ferrari, McLaren, Aston Martin

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F1 team guides: Red Bull, Mercedes, Ferrari, McLaren, Aston Martin

Max Verstappen and Red Bull are strongly fancied to clean up again in 2024
Max Verstappen and Red Bull are strongly fancied to clean up again in 2024AFP
AFP Sport's rundown of the teams and drivers preparing for the start of the 2024 Formula 1 championship in Bahrain on Saturday.

Red Bull

Engine: Honda-Red Bull Power Train

Team Principal: Christian Horner (GBR)

Drivers: Max Verstappen (NED), Sergio Perez (MEX)

Red Bull's build-up to the new season was dramatically disrupted by the ongoing inquiry into Christian Horner.

Inevitably it was Horner who hogged the headlines at the team's launch this month on his first public appearance since news of an allegation of controlling and inappropriate behaviour levelled at him by a female employee first broke.

Under-investigation Christian Horner at testing last week
Under-investigation Christian Horner at testing last weekAFP

Yet it was the record-breaking world champion's 2024 car the RB20 that should have been the real showstopper.

The Austrian F1 giants began development on the 2024 car midway through last season and the result is an aggressively different design, which lived up to its daring good looks with an ominous pace in testing.

Verstappen, seeking a fourth straight title, dominated the first day, trying the car out over the distance of two grands prix.

The Dutchman, never one for hyperbole, said: "The car was responding well."

When the three days of testing wrapped up the likes of Lewis Hamilton and Charles Leclerc were in no doubt that yet again Red Bull were the team to beat over this record 24-race season.

F1 and its fans will be hoping that Mercedes, Ferrari and company will at least not capitulate as easily as in 2023 when Red Bull bulldozed their way to 21 of the 22 race wins.

Mercedes

Engine: Mercedes

Team Principal: Toto Wolff (AUT)

Drivers: Lewis Hamilton (GBR), George Russell (GBR)

Mercedes pipped Ferrari to best of the also-rans behind Red Bull by three points, but were a massive 451 points behind the runaway champions. Hamilton took third and Russell 8th in the drivers' championship.

Hamilton's revelation that he will drive for Ferrari next season was arguably the biggest driver moves since Hamilton announced he was joining Mercedes from McLaren back in 2013. The seven-time champion will want to go out on a high.

Lewis Hamilton embarks on his final season with Mercedes
Lewis Hamilton embarks on his final season with MercedesAFP

Last term, the Silver Arrows failed to win a race for the first time since 2011 as they continued to pay the penalty for an innovative design that proved a curse to drive when new ground force regulations were introduced in 2022.

Team boss Toto Wolff expressed optimism over this year's car design which he says has created a "buzz in the company that is something I have not seen for so many years".

"This is a complete relaunch of a car. It is very different, not only on the aerodynamic front, but mainly underneath," he said.

Initial appraisals from the notoriously hard-to-evaluate performance at testing were positive that the fallen champions were back on the right track for Hamilton's long goodbye.

"Compared to last year's car, the feedback from the drivers is very different and more positive, which is encouraging," Mercedes trackside engineering chief Andrew Shovlin told F1.com

"The team has worked hard to iron out the handling flaws that were integral to the W14, and it's great that we seem to have put a number of those problems behind us," he added.

Ferrari

Engine: Ferrari

Team Principal: Frederic Vasseur (FRA)

Drivers: Charles Leclerc (MON), Carlos Sainz (ESP)

The only man to stop the Red Bull train last season was Carlos Sainz in Singapore. The Spaniard will be itching to take a few more chequered flags before vacating his seat for Hamilton in 2025.

Carlos Sainz putting the 2024 Ferrari through its paces in Bahrain
Carlos Sainz putting the 2024 Ferrari through its paces in BahrainAFP

Testing went positively for the Italian marque, who claimed the last of their 15 drivers' world titles way back in 2007 - they finished top of the times on the second and third days. But Leclerc wasn't about to get carried away with their showing over the three days in Bahrain this week.

"It feels like every winter test which means we don't understand a thing, we don't know fuel levels of everyone else. But my initial feelings are that Red Bull are still quite a bit ahead."

On a more positive note he reckoned the "driveability" of this year's car is much better than last year and "that will help us on the long runs".

Leclerc took a day and a half off during a busy winter to pursue his other passion, music, producing a four-song EP album 'Dreamers' with his friend Sofiane Pamart in Paris.

Whether he and Sainz can hit the right notes on the track this term will become clearer back in Bahrain for next weekend's season opener.

What is evident is that under Frederic Vasseur, appointed team principal last season, the Maranello men are now a much stronger force than before his arrival when a series of tactical own goals hampered their progress.

Vasseur was instrumental in ensuring Hamilton will see out his F1 car surrounded by red in the cockpit.

McLaren

Engine: Mercedes

Team Principal: Andrea Stella (ITA)

Drivers: Lando Norris (GBR), Oscar Piastri (AUS)

A sluggish start to 2023 under new team boss Andrea Stella was soon forgotten when, after a mid-season revamp, McLaren began to motor.

Norris was second only to Verstappen in points scored in the closing dozen races. The 24-year-old's final tally of 205 left him sixth in the drivers' standings. McLaren came fourth in the constructors with the help of the 97 points earned by talented Australian rookie Oscar Piastri.

McLaren duo Oscar Piastri (left) and Lando Norris hitching a ride at last season's Las Vegas Grand Prix
McLaren duo Oscar Piastri (left) and Lando Norris hitching a ride at last season's Las Vegas Grand PrixAFP

Despite that encouraging second half, McLaren's executive director Zak Brown was keeping his feet on the ground regarding expectations this season.

"We're all excited to go racing again, but we know there's a long season ahead of us and a lot of work still to do to ensure we build on the progress we made throughout 2023."

Norris, who signed a new contract with the papaya team last season, believes "there is still a big gap to some of the guys ahead" on the evidence of McLaren's showing in testing.

"We're definitely quite a chunk behind Ferrari and quite a chunk behind Red Bull – I think they're clearly a long way ahead," he said.

"So that's a lot of work we still need to do over the next week or so to try and close that down already," he added.

Piastri said: "We're in decent shape and more or less where we expected to be, but we still have some work to do."

Aston Martin

Engine: Mercedes

Team Principal: Mike Krack (LUX)

Drivers: Fernando Alonso (ESP), Lance Stroll (CAN)

Aston Martin will be hoping to emulate the impact they made at the start of last season, with two-time world champion Fernando Alonso only missing the podium twice in the first eight races.

While that tremendous form was always going to be difficult to maintain the team ended 2023 fifth, with Alonso fourth in the driver's championship, their best placing since taking over Racing Point for the 2021 campaign.

Aston Martin are hoping to build on the eye-catching progress they made last season
Aston Martin are hoping to build on the eye-catching progress they made last seasonAFP

Part bankrolled by the father of Alonso's teammate Lance Stroll, Aston have ambitions to stir up Red Bull's dominance. Whether this is Alonso's last season with the team is open to question, with Hamilton's seat at Mercedes vacant from 2025, while Red Bull could have a vacancy as Perez's contract expires at the end of the year.

"There are only three world champions on the grid and I am the only one available for 2025, so I am in a good position," the evergreen 42-year-old who reckons he can keep going until he turns 50 said at the launch.

Whatever the future holds, Alonso's mind is firmly focused on cementing Aston's place as front runners.

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