Haas F1 car no longer plagued by “nasty” characteristics

The American-owned outfit finished bottom of the constructors’ championship in 2023 after Kevin Magnussen and Nico Hulkenberg found themselves struggling for pace in races thanks to tyre issues.

Well aware of how much the problem held it back, Haas headed into F1’s pre-season test in Bahrain last week with a complete focus on race-distance runs to try to get to the bottom of what was going wrong.

Having felt encouraged by the answers it got from its new VF-24, Haas boss Ayao Komatsu said that Magnussen and Hulkenberg can enjoy much greater consistency in the season ahead.

“Last year’s car was inconsistent, it was quite nasty,” said Komatsu. “Depending on the conditions – tyre condition, wind condition or track temperature – the car really wasn’t behaving in a predictable manner.

“Whereas this year’s car is behaving in a predictable manner. It’s consistent.

“Yes, we are still lacking downforce, especially in high-speed and sort of balancing medium/low-speed characteristics, but I don’t think it’s got nasty characteristics.”

Komatsu believes that its efforts have paid off in helping deliver what he considers an “acceptable” baseline to start to the season with, prior to upgrades arriving at some point in the early phase of the campaign.

Kevin Magnussen, Haas VF-24

Kevin Magnussen, Haas VF-24

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

And the mindset of drilling down in setting up the car for race pace, rather than a good grid slot, is something that Komatsu says will be maintained for the rest of the season.

“You have got to decide what the biggest problem is you want to solve,” he said. “There is no point qualifying in P7 and going backwards on Sunday. I’d rather qualify P14 but have a car we can race and get up to the top 10. That’s our objective.

“I’m not going to suddenly turn up next weekend here and then start optimising a car for qualifying, no.”

While this approach means Haas may not have as many enjoyable Saturdays in 2024, he thinks that it will ultimately deliver a better platform for the team.

“Everybody knows our problem and how frustrating that is, right?” Komatsu said. “Look at Abu Dhabi, last race of the season, essentially with the launch car.

“We can qualify P8, which is fantastic, but all of us knew, Saturday night, we can’t do anything on Sunday.

Ayao Komatsu, Team Principal, Haas F1 Team

Ayao Komatsu, Team Principal, Haas F1 Team

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

“We lived through that last year. In that sense, it’s not difficult to convince everyone.

“But at the same time, of course, everyone wants to find out how quick is our car on one-lap pace. But the message had to be clear.

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“If there’s one thing we needed to come out from this test, it was learning about tyre management, and our long-run pace. So once you got the objective, that’s what we’re doing. Everything else is noise.”

Watch: Time for the Debrief – F1 2024 Pre Season Testing Day 3 Reaction

Why RB believes F1 team name debate is a “good problem to have”

We’re supposed to call the outfit that fields the cars the Visa Cash App RB F1 Team, although the company behind it – as seen for example in the email addresses of employees – is officially known as Racing Bulls.

Fans and media have got used to teams changing names over the years. It’s easy to forget that Red Bull was once Stewart, Mercedes was born as BAR (while using the former Tyrrell entry), and Aston Martin used to be Jordan before landing on what is now its fifth identity following Midland, Spyker, Force India and Racing Point.

Likewise, the team which started life in Faenza as Minardi was known as Toro Rosso and AlphaTauri before the latest incarnation emerged.

However, arguably no name change has received as much pushback from fans and media alike as the move to Visa Cash App RB, with some folk believing that the team has sold its soul and left itself with an anonymous identity that will mean little when those sponsors eventually move on.

It also strikes a chord at a time when the F1 organisation has cast doubts on the value that the Andretti-Cadillac combination can bring to the series.

The change has its roots in an internal Red Bull decision to end the sponsorship from subsidiary AlphaTauri which had given the team its name for four seasons.

New CEO Peter Bayer stressed he didn’t want to be tied to a partner name and instead wanted something generic that would stand the test of time – and to which sponsors could be attached.

Yuki Tsunoda, VCARB 01

Yuki Tsunoda, RB VCARB 01

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

There was no desire to go back to Toro Rosso, regardless of the heritage of the team that brought on the likes of Sebastian Vettel, Max Verstappen, Carlos Sainz and current driver Ricciardo. Instead, the unimaginative name Racing Bulls emerged as an alternative.

Meanwhile the team’s marketing folk, with some help from the wider Red Bull organisation, landed two major US-based partners from the financial sector.

The representatives of Visa and Cash App met each other at the Las Vegas GP and discussed how they could best work together and leverage their joint sponsorship of the team.

Somewhere along the way, the Racing Bulls name was pushed into the background and the RB shorthand was adopted instead, with the sponsors’ names in front of it. The VCARB acronym was created as an alternative moniker and given some official recognition as the type ‘number’ of the car.

It’s standard practice for sponsors to be attached to team names, with Oracle, Moneygram, Petronas and Aramco a few examples from the current grid. However, in day-to-day usage, fans and media alike focus on the established chassis names.

After five years of hiding its traditional identity behind the Alfa Romeo name, Sauber is officially back this year. While the team wants to routinely use Stake, the fact that Sauber is part of both its full name and that of the car means that most will stick with that.

However, some fans and media reckon the Italian team has gone a step too far by using the anonymous RB initials and putting so much emphasis on its two new sponsors.

Carlos Sainz Jr., Scuderia Toro Rosso STR12

Carlos Sainz Jr., Scuderia Toro Rosso STR12

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

The irony is that, while attempting to create a new identity, it has come up with a livery that owes much to the latter Toro Rosso years, which only adds to a confusing message.

“In terms of the team rebranding, I think that was a complex exercise that involved many stakeholders,” says Bayer. “But ultimately, we are very happy, because we had the amazing problem of having Visa and Cash App and Red Bull supporting us and saying we want to take this team to the next level. And so they’ve been joining us on this journey.

“And so that’s also partly the reason for the name, which is a bit of a mouthful. But at the same time it’s the reality: it’s Visa, it’s Cash App, and it’s Red Bull that supporting us as Racing Bulls, a company in Italy.

“What we’ve seen with fans is that yes, there was confusion, but they quickly picked it up. And we see a lot of people, especially on the younger side, calling us Visa Cash App RB, and it comes out quite easily. There is VCARB outside, and there is our company name, which is Racing Bulls. So I guess at the moment, we’re focusing on the car, and we’ll see where we end up with the name.”

Had Racing Bulls officially been adopted as part of the team identity, the likelihood is that it would have been embraced. So why did it disappear?

“I think maybe to go back in history, the Racing Bulls name is actually part of the Red Bull philosophy,” replies Bayer. “They have the Flying Bulls where Mr [Dietrich] Mateschitz had his planes. And that seems to be like a logical consequence.

“And Racing Bulls is our company name in Italy. We’ve been discussing the different options, but we just felt that it’s a bit of a mouthful. If you imagine the Visa Cash App Racing Bulls Formula 1 team, you’ll be tired at the end of writing the article!

Yuki Tsunoda, VCARB 01

Yuki Tsunoda, RB VCARB 01

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

“So that was really where the idea came from to abbreviate Racing Bulls into RB. And to put that as a chassis name that simply remains as a sort of historic element that we want to carry forward if the partnership is going to change.”

He adds: “Those of you who have children maybe had to choose a name for the kids. And then you will have a lot of people telling you, ‘Oh my god, how could you possibly come up with that name’, and other people say, ‘That’s a fantastic name!’”

If going for RB rather than Racing Bulls was part of a concerted effort to focus people’s attention on the sponsors, it remains to be seen how successful it will be.

As with Stake/Sauber, there is likely to be an ongoing stand-off between the media and the teams concerned about using the full sponsor version.

“It’s something that we are trying to embrace, really, as a challenge,” says Bayer. “I think we are realistic enough that we cannot expect the media to continuously say Visa Cash App RB. But it’s also one way of opening ourselves as a team to try and get these partners on board.

“And I think – especially when they see the car on track, when they see the livery, when they see the exposure – that it’s creating a package. We need sponsors to make this work, because it’s a reality as well.

“We get support from the shareholders, we get money from F1. But it’s not enough to hit the cap, and ultimately, the cap is defining the competition. So how to close that gap? Well, yes, we have to sell our inventory.

Daniel Ricciardo, VCARB 01

Daniel Ricciardo, RB VCARB 01

Photo by: Simon Galloway / Motorsport Images

“We don’t think it’s a bad thing. I know it might be controversial, because it’s obviously easier to be Ferrari than RB, but mid-term, we believe that the RB Racing Bulls element is strong enough to cope with a strong commercial partner integration.”

Historically, the team struggled to land major sponsors, and in the AlphaTauri years there wasn’t much opportunity to incorporate a major presence from another brand. Now that the opportunity is there, it has been seized.

There’s a bigger picture than just the name. Much like Sauber with Stake/Kick’s ties to musicians and influencers, RB is trying to create a new image and appeal to a younger demographic.

The car launch was the perfect demonstration of what the team wants to do. A traditional Toro Rosso/AlphaTauri unveiling involved the car being pushed into the pitlane an hour before the start of the first test and former boss Franz Tost making a little speech for the cameras.

This time it was a huge, glitzy event in Las Vegas during the build-up to the Super Bowl, with 2,500 people present and the needs of the traditional motorsport media largely overlooked.

“Probably one of the main discussions we had with our partners was that we believe there is a small niche in the paddock,” added Bayer. “Which is aiming at that whole new audience, which we are reaching out to through social media, and which is a younger audience.

“We believe that by adding what probably is that original Red Bull spirit, reinforcing that in this team, adding a bit of music – and if you look at the car launch, I think that that’s a bit of an example of what we think the storytelling of this team will look like.

Peter Bayer, CEO Racing Bulls, Yuki Tsunoda and Daniel Ricciardo, Racing Bulls, Laurent Mekies, Team Principal Racing Bulls

Peter Bayer, CEO Racing Bulls, Yuki Tsunoda and Daniel Ricciardo, Racing Bulls, Laurent Mekies, Team Principal Racing Bulls

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

“It’s about racing, obviously, and we want to be very serious and focus on the racing. But at the same time, we want this team to have some entertainment, we want to democratise the sport through the partnerships by inviting fans who cannot come to the track, because maybe it’s not affordable or it’s sold out.

“To add events in the city centre, for example, we’re having a couple of ideas for the US events which will again feature big music acts. So that combination of on-track performance combined with off-track entertainment and that Red Bull spirit is what we want to give to the fans.”

Thanks to the health of F1, and sparked in part by Ricciardo’s high profile, the team has been able to take this new direction, and the bottom line is that it’s better to have people grumbling about the ubiquity of your title sponsors than not to have any.

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“It’s a fantastic problem to have,” new team principal Laurent Mekies said. “A few years ago, we would have been dreaming about having Visa or Cash App in the sport. We were dying to find this sort of global company to think our sport was the right platform to invest.

“Then they come to F1, they choose us. Once you are there, you have already ticked quite a lot of boxes.

“It’s a very, very good problem to have. It gives us a lot more responsibilities. And yes, it gives us some challenges in how to get the whole thing together. But what a nice position to be in!”

Daniel Ricciardo, VCARB 01

Daniel Ricciardo, RB VCARB 01

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

Mercedes has new adaptable F1 suspension trick on W15

At the time, it was believed that the Brackley-based outfit had done it as a diversionary pre-season tactic to throw rivals off the scent about what it was really up to. After all, teams aren’t allowed to fit redundant suspension elements on cars. 

Mercedes W15 fake arm

Mercedes W15 fake arm

Photo by: Mercedes AMG

It has turned out, however, that what the image actually showed was a clue to a new adaptable arrangement built into the Mercedes chassis and front suspension this year.

This design allows the team to move the inboard end of the suspension leg to better suit the requirements it needs for the optimum set-up around each track.

Most teams do have some level of freedom in this area, but usually it is about millimetres rather than the many centimetres of freedom that the solution on the W15 affords Mercedes.

As can be seen in the illustration, the hatch on the side of the W15’s chassis is larger than we are normally used to seeing.

It provides adequate room for different wishbone arrangements to be used, with the chosen location resulting in different kinematic plus aerodynamic responses from each.

Mercedes W15 front suspension detail

Mercedes W15 front suspension detail

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Mercedes W15 front suspension detail

Mercedes W15 front suspension detail

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

During the pre-season test, Mercedes had the rear leg of the upper wishbone in the higher mounting position during day one and two. However, it moved it into a lower position for the third and final day to evaluate its merits.

The arm’s longitudinal position is altered by this change, with the arm moved forward relative to the position used in the first two days of the test.

The arrangement used on day three of the test places the rear legs of the upper and lower wishbones in much closer proximity to one another, with the pair likely becoming more effective as a combined aerodynamic surface in this layout. 

This is not a totally new idea, with teams having looked at ways to couple these surfaces from an aerodynamic perspective in the past. McLaren’s MP4-31 is an example that springs to mind.

In that instance, McLaren did not have the adaptability built into its chassis to accommodate variability in the position of the wishbone, so a static position was utilised throughout the course of the season.

McLaren MP4-31 front suspension

McLaren MP4-31 front suspension

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

But this is not just about delivering an aerodynamic benefit. The other obvious characteristic of this multiple mounting-point arrangement from Mercedes we must talk about is anti-dive, with more or less of these characteristics on offer depending on which position it chooses. 

This could provide the German manufacturer with an upper hand at a variety of circuits when others are locked into a less optimum arrangement.

While the W15 design is the first time we have seen a team employ an arrangement like this, it is not the first time that we’ve seen Mercedes think outside the box in regards to suspension layout.

In fact, we only need to look back as far as the Monaco Grand Prix, last season, when the team introduced a B-Spec style overhaul to the W14. On that occasion, it incorporated a higher mounting point for the lead arm of the upper wishbone.

Mercedes W14 front detail

Mercedes W14 front detail

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Mercedes W14

Mercedes W14

Photo by: Uncredited

However, the changes left behind some scar tissue, as the original mounting points remained in place thereafter (red arrows). This obviously also came with a weight penalty, as will be the case with the W15.

Still, the team will hope the adaptability on offer will outweigh the need for the increased structural integrity around two mounting positions. And, with more options available, it should increase the car’s set-up window and make it easier to tailor the car to a circuit’s characteristics.

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Alonso in “good position to negotiate” in F1 driver market

Alonso joined Aston Martin for 2023 but his contract expires at the end of this season.

He has had ample opportunity to publicly declare his commitment to the team. But the 42-year-old has instead talked up his best-ever pre-season fitness test results, touted his marketing worth and highlighted that, of the three champions on the grid, he is only one available for 2025.

This has done little to quash speculation that Alonso is a frontrunner for a Mercedes seat to replace Hamilton when he moves to Ferrari, although there is plenty of momentum behind Silver Arrows protege, junior single-seater champion and FIA F2 rookie Andrea Kimi Antonelli.

Speaking on the final day of pre-season testing in Bahrain, Alonso reckoned he was in a “good position to negotiate” while adding he would let the early races of the new campaign play out before turning his attention to where he will drive for 2025 and beyond.

“In my case, it’s very interesting because I have, I think, a good position to negotiate,” he said. “But I want to at least do the first couple of races without thinking too much.

“I want to see myself into a new season. It’s going to be the longest-ever season in Formula 1 [at 24 races].

Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin AMR24

Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin AMR24

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

“I want to change a little bit some of the travel schedule and things to be really efficient this year and arrive with high energy at the end of the year.

“So, a couple of things that are my main focus now are not so much next year.”

The two-time F1 world champion has previously admitted to having been a day late to the news of ex-McLaren team-mate and rival Hamilton’s Ferrari move as he was busy training.

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Alonso says he was taken aback by how quickly the driver market ‘silly season’ – as it stands, 13 of the grid are out of contract at the end of the year – kicked into life.

He reckoned: “It was a surprise. I was expecting maybe around summertime to have a little bit of action, but it started really early. There were some leaks.

“Probably [Mercedes and Ferrari] have to announce earlier than expected. So, after that, definitely more action going on.”

Watch: Time for the Debrief – F1 2024 Pre Season Testing Day 3 Reaction

The cooling tweaks that opened the door for Red Bull’s bold F1 sidepods

While much of the focus has been on the visuals – and especially the inlet arrangement – what is actually just as fascinating are the changes made internally to allow the shift in design in the first place.

If Red Bull had not worked hard to alter the cooling arrangements hidden beneath the bodywork, then there would have been no scope for the designers to make such radical alterations.

In this respect, there’s been a significant change to how the team has positioned the various radiators and coolers under the RB20’s bodywork when compared with its predecessor.

This encompasses the position of these ancillaries not only inside the sidepod bodywork but also under the engine cover too.

To understand this, it would be best to take a closer look at the RB19 first, aided by an illustration of its internal layout. 

Red Bull Racing RB19 technical detail

Red Bull Racing RB19 technical detail

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Over the past few years, Red Bull has moved more of its cooling priority to the car’s centreline. In particular, it mounted a large saddle-style cooler above the power unit in order to take more responsibility off the sidepod’s shoulders.

This is not a new feature by any means, though, and many teams have ploughed this furrow down the years.

However, it seems to be something that Honda prefers, as each team that has been supplied a hybrid power unit by the Japanese manufacturer seems to head down that particular design route. 

That’s not to say the trend hasn’t emerged elsewhere too, with the area above the power unit seen as a sensible location in which to place coolers, albeit likely being regarded as suboptimal in terms of the mass being placed high up.

This could be part of the reason why we’ve seen Red Bull take more of a holistic overview to moving its ancillaries around within the confines of the engine cover and sidepods.

This is in order not only to meet their aerodynamic objectives but also fulfil their cooling needs and improve the distribution of mass around the car.

Red Bull Racing RB20 detail

Red Bull Racing RB20 detail

Aside from the reduction in size of the cooler mounted above the power unit (white arrow), there’s also a significant departure in the layout of the radiator and coolers housed within the sidepod, as they no longer simply lie tail down and slightly canted in series like they did last year. 

The new arrangement now has the charge cooler (red arrow) and radiator (blue arrow) sat in a V-shaped configuration atop one another. There is a more inward canter present to allow for a deeper midline cut beneath the sidepod from a bodywork perspective.

Again, this isn’t new, as teams have employed similar layouts before. The most recent example of this would be the Haas VF-17, but Sauber also has history in this regard, although you have to travel back to 2004 and the V10 era. The Swiss outfit coincidentally had Red Bull sponsorship at the time.

There might also be another weapon in the RB20’s cooling arsenal, as we know that the snorkel inlets behind the cockpit and beside the rear legs of the halo capture airflow (inset).

This is then ducted to the side of the engine cover (green arrow), but it also appears that the ducting lying between these two points is more of a housing and could enclose a small cooler of its own.

Red Bull Racing RB20 detail

Red Bull Racing RB20 detail

Photo by: Uncredited

Red Bull Racing RB20

Red Bull Racing RB20

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

So, while the focus on bodywork has been laid squarely at the inlet’s feet, it’s also worth taking a look at how the team is focusing its efforts on rejecting heat too, with the conventional rear-facing central engine cover outlet not the only means by which the RB20 is cooled.

There are also supporting roles for a small outlet on top of the engine cover’s spine and in front of the rear suspension legs further down in the junction between the sidepod and engine cover bodywork.

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Furthermore, there’s an interchangeable cooling louvre panel behind the aforementioned exit for the snorkel-fed outlet, which has also been blanked off during the test.

Meanwhile, the team also has the option of opening up a section of the engine cover’s gulley, with several gills appearing in this area throughout the course of testing.

Watch: Time for the Debrief – F1 2024 Pre Season Testing Day 3 Reaction

Fallows: Aston F1 team has made required step with AMR24

While several rivals have opted to make major concept changes Aston focussed on an evolution of the 2023 model, which earned eight podium finishes in the hands of Fernando Alonso despite a dip in form in the second half of the season.

The days of testing in Bahrain suggested that the team has made the progress it was seeking with the initial launch package, even if others set more eye-catching headline times.

“When we went into this season really looking for a step over the winter, we wanted to make sure we did get an improvement,” said Fallows. 

“Even though it’s an evolution of last year’s car, we wanted it to be a strong improvement as well as a strong evolution. And, we have seen that step, we’ve seen that benefit. So we’re very pleased about that.

“I think the most important thing for us is where we go from here. We weren’t 100% pleased with what we achieved in our in-season development last year. And we wanted to make sure we can compete at the top level in terms of in-season as well.

“I think we were mostly keen on making sure we made a step on last year, which we have done. So I think we can certainly tick that box.”

Alonso made clear at the car’s launch that the key areas that needed to be addressed were straight-line speed and downforce in high-speed corners.

Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin AMR24

Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin AMR24

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

“We had some things that we focused on over the winter in terms of making the car good to drive, making the balance good,” said Fallows when asked by Autosport about those targets. 

“And I think we’re reasonably happy with where we are now. We know we’ve always got things to improve, which is why we go back into the wind tunnel and why we go back to the drawing board to do those things.

“But so far, I think we’ve achieved a lot in three days in the testing, done a lot of test items, and we’re pretty pleased with the outcome.”

Team principal Mike Krack agreed that the Bahrain sessions had gone to plan, with no setbacks.

“It was a very, very good test for us,” said Krack when asked for a summary. “Three days, I think the only interruptions we had was with the red flags. So I think we can be quite happy. The car was in a really good state when it arrived here, very reliable, high-quality parts.

“So we could do all of our work that we had scheduled to every day. Now, it’s about digging, getting through the whole days to understand all the results that we have achieved, and we’re looking forward to go to the first race.”

Krack remains cautious about the team’s place in the pecking order.

Lance Stroll, Aston Martin AMR24

Lance Stroll, Aston Martin AMR24

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

“We need to look into the next days, get all the full analysis, and it will be over the next days that we get a clearer picture as well,” he said. 

“I think it was quite important for us that we look at ourselves, we have quite a big programme, and we cannot influence anyway what others are doing. And now it’s about the analysis, and also trying to understand what others did.

“If you go through the full range of track conditions, fuel loads, engine modes, tyres, we had all the five tyre specs here, I think you can cover a range of five seconds. To then discern who’s ahead by how much I think it’s really, really tough.”

Mercedes focused on improving F1 qualifying pace with W15

The Brackley squad focused on long stints rather than glory runs across the three-day winter test in Bahrain, with George Russell taking second on the final day using softer C4 tyres after he and team-mate Lewis Hamilton had stayed well clear of the top of the leaderboard earlier in the week.

PLUS: Why it’s a Red Bull vs Ferrari battle in F1 2024 testing’s long run times

Trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin explained that his team still had “more work to do on a single lap” when F1 returns to Sakhir on Thursday for Bahrain Grand Prix free practice.

“We’re still trying to fine-tune the set-up, there will definitely be more to come,” Shovlin said in a Mercedes social media debrief.

“Overall we’re happy, we definitely made progress. In terms of pace, the long run probably looks like our strength at the moment.

“There’s more work to do on a single lap, but we should be in a position to hopefully put in a good showing when we get back on track.”

Ever since F1 moved to 2022’s all-new regulations, Hamilton and Russell have struggled with the unpredictable and “vicious” behaviour of Mercedes’ cars.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes-AMG, looks at the car of George Russell, Mercedes F1 W15, in the garage

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes-AMG, looks at the car of George Russell, Mercedes F1 W15, in the garage

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

Consistent and compliant car handling therefore became a key priority for the W15 project and Mercedes’ long-run prowess seems to back up Russell’s comments that his car is “no longer a diva”.

“It’s really encouraging that a lot of the problems that the drivers have been talking about the last 12 and even 24 months with W13 and W14, we seem to have got to grips with,” Shovlin added.

While Hamilton was pleased with the team’s efforts on the 2024 car, he cautioned that Red Bull will still be “out in the distance” with its bold RB20, which caught the eye in Bahrain with exceptional long runs in the hands of Max Verstappen.

“It’s much more enjoyable to drive,” Hamilton added. “We still also have time to find, but I think Red Bull clearly are out in the distance. But I think it’s a good platform to work from this year.”

Watch: Time for the Debrief – F1 2024 Pre Season Testing Day 3 Reaction

Norris: McLaren F1 still a long way behind Red Bull and Ferrari

Sporting a bold, new design for its RB20, F1’s dominant force Red Bull impressed at Sakhir with its consistently-rapid long runs.

Ferrari also caught the eye with a much more balanced and stable SF-24, which appears to have gone some way towards addressing its 2023 race pace struggles, while Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz also delivered the headline lap times.
According to Norris, both teams will be well ahead of McLaren at next week’s season-opener, even if he feels his squad has made solid progress as well and is starting the year much more on the front foot than it did for recent campaigns.

“Do I think we’ve taken a step forward? Absolutely,” Norris said on Friday. “Do I think we’ve made a lot of things better? Yes.

“But you just never really know at the end of the day where we stand compared to the others. I think we’re in a good position. We had a decent car at the end of last season.

“I think we’ve definitely taken some steps in the right direction, but I think it’s still a very long way behind Red Bull and a long way behind Ferrari. So, plenty of work for us to still try and achieve, but also plenty of things that we’ve learned over the last few days for us to implement before next week.”

Lando Norris, McLaren F1 Team

Lando Norris, McLaren F1 Team

Photo by: Motorsport Images

McLaren’s MCL38 was hit by a spate of minor teething issues that restricted Norris, in particular, to 145 laps over three days, which is still a reasonable number but fewer tours than most of his peers.

Norris said the issues were “not the end of the world” although he did miss out on some helpful long runs.

“Yes, just a few setbacks here and there over the last few days,” he said. “Not the end of the world, definitely, but you always want a perfect day.

“We didn’t get any long-running high-fuel stuff [Thursday] night, and we moved into [Friday] morning, and we still didn’t get it.

“So, not exactly what I wanted, but still plenty of things learned and a lot of stuff that I wanted to get done.

“I was happy for the most part, but [there are] a couple little things that I wish I could have done more.”

Watch: Time for the Debrief – F1 2024 Pre Season Testing Day 3 Reaction

The Ferrari race sim offering clues to its Red Bull-beating potential

It is why Ferrari duo Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc coming out on top of the overall timing sheets over the course of this week’s Bahrain test has barely registered in conversations.

Sainz’s overall test-topping time of 1m29.921s, set on the second day, was around seven-tenths faster than the Red Bull benchmark of 1m30.679s set by Sergio Perez on the same afternoon.

However, no one is suggesting that it has any resemblance to the true picture of performance (even taking into account a 0.6s time difference in the tyre compounds they used).

PLUS: Why it’s a Red Bull vs Ferrari battle in F1 2024 testing’s long run times

Indeed, the consensus among the paddock is that Red Bull is clearly going into next weekend’s F1 season opener as the team to beat.

What is not so sure, though, is exactly how big its advantage is, because there is another Sainz element to the Bahrain test that has offered F1 plenty of food for thought about where the competitive picture lies between his Ferrari team and Red Bull.

As teams crunched through the data, it was a race-sim run from Sainz on the second evening, running in similar but not identical conditions to Perez on the same programme, that offered some intrigue about just how good the new SF-24 may be.

Carlos Sainz, Ferrari SF-24

Carlos Sainz, Ferrari SF-24

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

In pure lap time, the timing sheets suggested it was advantage Ferrari, in fact. Over the three race stints, Sainz proved to be quicker than the Red Bull.

The Spaniard’s advantage on the C3 averaged just more than 0.4 seconds – and stretched to more than one second on their final stints, which were both on the C1 hard compound.

The scale of that advantage was so extreme that it almost certainly points to Perez having run heavier on fuel. With it widely accepted that 10kg of weight equates to around 0.3 seconds of lap time around Bahrain, there is quite a high degree of variability to be exactly sure of how much of a realistic picture their two runs offered.

But one thing is not in doubt from the Sainz race sim – that the high tyre degradation which derailed much of Ferrari’s 2023 campaign appears to have been cured.

Sainz’s form was incredibly consistent. Looking at his final stint on the C1 in particular, it was a world away from how things played out in last year’s Bahrain Grand Prix, when both he and Leclerc struggled massively with tyre degradation.

His run on the C1 played out like this: 35.5, 35.7, 35.5, 35.6, 35.3, 35.4, 35.5, 35.2, 35.3, 35.1, 35.2, 35.2, 35.1, 35.1, 34.9, 35.3, 35.8, 35.5, 35.6.

Carlos Sainz, Ferrari SF-24

Carlos Sainz, Ferrari SF-24

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

For team boss Fred Vasseur, it is this consistency – and the fact that both drivers can feel the improvement with the car – that has been a more important signal from the test than any number comparisons between Ferrari and Red Bull.

“Before the long stint, the most important was the feedback from Carlos and Charles that they are in a much better place with the car,” he said. “It is much more consistent with less degradation.

“I think this is important for the race for sure. But now it is a bit more difficult to know exactly where we are in terms of pure performance, because with the level of fuel we can play a lot, and I think nobody knows exactly where we are relatively.”

Indeed, teams are well versed in the art of misdirection in testing, to try not to alert rivals as to what they are up to.

Verstappen in particular did several long runs on Friday, but each time was filled up quite a bit in a bid to not show off the full potential of the car. He was fast and super consistent – indeed there was even an element of negative deg in terms of lap times dropping over the stint as the fuel came off.

Interestingly, he was also relatively slow through the speed traps while doing this, which hinted that engine modes may well have been turned down too.

Watch: Time for the Debrief – F1 2024 Pre Season Testing Day 3 Reaction

For now, Ferrari is encouraged by what it has heard from its drivers and what it saw from that Sainz long run on Thursday. But deep uncertainty remains over what Red Bull was really up to in the test with its fuel loads.

As Vasseur explained about whether he thinks Red Bull is miles clear: “If they run with 20 kilos we are in a good shape, but if they run with 80kg we are nowhere. Nobody knows except them.

“But if you start to get too much focus on the others, you are losing a little bit the paths of your decisions.

“We had a long list of items to tick and the testing to cover and we were focused on this. In one week’s time now, we will have a big answer!”

Steiner to make Bahrain F1 paddock return in German TV role

He will attend seven races with German broadcaster RTL, as well as the Australian GP with Channel 10, and is in talks about other potential work that fits his schedule.

His RTL commitment is weighted towards the second half of the season, with Bahrain followed by Hungary, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, Azerbaijan and Las Vegas.

The 58-year-old had his first taste of TV punditry at last year’s NASCAR event at COTA, where he performed a similar role on a visit to the USA between F1 events.

“I’m just what they call the expert commentator, like in the good old days Niki Lauda did,” Steiner told Autosport.

“It came together very quickly. They texted me last Sunday, asking if I was interested. We talked on Monday, they had a meeting between themselves, and on Tuesday, they asked if I could do it. I said, ‘Sure, why not?’.

“It’s just they were looking for somebody, and I think they want to rejuvenate a little bit their programme, not always the same people, and just came up with my name, and I spoke with them.

“As I always say, my life is always full of surprises. When people asked me in January ‘What are you going to do now?’ I said, ‘I’m not worried about what I’m going to do. I mean, I don’t know what is coming.’ And these things came.”

Guenther Steiner, Team Principal, Haas F1 Team, speaks to the media

Guenther Steiner, Team Principal, Haas F1 Team, speaks to the media

Photo by: Simon Galloway / Motorsport Images

Regarding his one-off Australian TV appearance he said: “It’s four or five weeks out. So I don’t really know yet what I’m doing there! I think I’m doing something similar.”

Steiner admits that his NASCAR experience with Fox Sports at COTA last March was an eye opener and useful preparation.

“Absolutely,” he said. “At the time I didn’t know enough about it, and when people said, let’s try to do this, I said ‘Yeah, let’s try it.’

“Now I’m really happy that I did that, because at least I know roughly what it involves because when I went to Austin last year, I had no idea how to do TV because I’ve never done it before. That was a good experience, it was doing something different. I think I can do a decent job.”

Steiner says he has no qualms about voicing critical opinions of drivers and teams if they are justified.

“As long as you stay professional about it, you need to have an opinion, you cannot say everything is good,” he said.

“I’ll try to stay factual. I never start with I need to piss somebody off. Actually, I’m the opposite. I don’t want to piss anybody else in my life. I do it without trying!

Guenther Steiner, Team Principal, Haas F1 Team

Guenther Steiner, Team Principal, Haas F1 Team

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

“I’ve got an opinion, I achieve it without trying, but I’ve got an opinion and it’s not against that person. I’m not the guy who judges people, I just explain facts. I’m the last one to judge people.”

He also insists that he won’t resort to the colourful language that has become a trademark of his appearances in Drive to Survive.

“How many times did I swear in an official interview?,” he said. “How many times did I swear in the FIA press conference? Who did swear there? Perfect Fred [Vasseur], perfect Toto [Wolff]. Not Guenther!”

Steiner says he has other opportunities to work within F1, but he doesn’t want to commit to too much travelling.

“I’m speaking with a few people, and I’m getting now a little bit, hey, I don’t want to do 24,” he said. “It’s one of these things, you start with something, and all of a sudden, it’s growing.

“There’s quite a bit going on, but I’m not jumping at everything, and I just evaluate. Because otherwise, if you maybe do one thing, you then cannot do the other thing.

“I wouldn’t say I’ve got a big choice, but I can choose in the moment, which is a nice place to be. A very fortunate place to be.”