The six biggest F1 mysteries to start solving at the Bahrain Grand Prix

Henry Valantine
Oscar Piastri in F1 testing before the Bahrain Grand Prix.

The Bahrain Grand Prix will be the first chance to see the F1 2024 cars run in anger.

Testing is now over and the Bahrain Grand Prix is not far away, and the new F1 2024 cars will be run in anger around Sakhir in a matter of days.

While we garnered some kind of idea about who may or may not look the quickest out there, testing is famously a somewhat misguided barometer about how exactly each team sits in the pecking order, with engine modes and fuel loads a closely-guarded secret.

Plenty of optimism was flying around the paddock after testing completed, but here is what we are set to learn heading into the Bahrain Grand Prix this weekend.

Just how far ahead do Red Bull sit with the RB20?

The consensus coming away from testing was that, despite wholesale changes having been made to a hugely successful design concept, Red Bull appear to have the fastest package once again with the RB20.

The only question, then, is by how much.

Red Bull motorsport advisor Helmut Marko expected that to be around three tenths per lap, playing down expectations after Max Verstappen went a full second clear of everyone else on the first day of testing, but the full extent of Red Bull’s likely advantage will be on show in qualifying on Friday.

Or not, maybe someone might even surprise us?

Who is at the front of the congested chasing pack?

Just as they were last season, Ferrari, Mercedes, McLaren and Aston Martin all look to be in the fight to be ‘best of the rest’, but each have their own unique features on their cars which hope to give them the edge.

McLaren admit that Bahrain has never been their best circuit to suit their car, so a strong result this weekend would bode well for their season ahead, while Mercedes have drawn looks for the unique approach they have taken to their front wing design this year.

Aston Martin enjoyed three trouble-free days of running in Bahrain, while not showing too much of their hand on outright pace, but Ferrari appear to have potential in the SF-24 to challenge early on.

Daniel Ricciardo labelled the Scuderia as “strong favourites” to appear on the podium alongside Red Bull this weekend, with both Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz having commented on the improved driveability of their car this year.

It’s a long old season ahead, and there could be any number of switches in the competitive order depending on the circuit.

Where will RB sit after their huge revamp?

Possibly one of the biggest questions in the paddock, given RB’s new closer alignment with Red Bull for the season ahead and subsequent rebrand from AlphaTauri.

Ricciardo looked to temper expectations surrounding Red Bull’s sister team despite admitting he has a “decent car” to drive, though the team have also acknowledged that they are looking to target the front of the midfield this year if they can get there.

The Faenza team have never finished higher than sixth in the Constructors’ Championship, going all the way back to their days as Minardi, but given the strength of the cars at the front, they will have a big task to crack the top five this year.

Will the drivers be able to make a big difference in the midfield?

In a word? Yes.

Given how congested the bottom half of the field became towards the end last season, a repeat of that this time around should mean that the drivers will be able to make a significant contribution behind the wheel.

Multiple drivers have already spoken about the importance of even one or two tenths on a qualifying lap this year, and if that plays out, we should be in for some thrilling Saturdays and mixed-up Sundays, with potentially all 10 teams in the fight for points.

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Have Haas finally solved their tyre woes that plagued last season?

Haas team principal Ayao Komatsu stressed that the team’s running in Bahrain testing would be mostly centered around trying to understand their long-run pace and looking to get on top of the tyre degradation problems that scuppered their chances last season.

While last year’s VF-23 showed itself on more than one occasion to be a quick car over one lap, the amount it fell away in race trim was alarming.

“First and foremost, the overall objective of pre-season testing was to improve our race performance and race tyre degradation management which was the key weakness from last year, so we totally focused on that,” Komatsu explained ahead of the weekend.

“As an overview, I think we achieved our original objective of understanding tyre performance, giving a direction to the aero team for the future development plan, and then signing off on qualifying performance and reliability.

“I think the way we worked during testing, focusing first on race performance, then working on qualifying, that’s how we’re going to continue.

“Last year, we could qualify P8, but we knew we wouldn’t race there, so we can tune that.”

Positive words from the Haas camp as they work towards a fix, but there will be one question on everyone’s lips this weekend…

Can anyone stop Max Verstappen this year?

Perhaps the biggest mystery of all.

The Bahrain Grand Prix will give the biggest indicator as to whether Verstappen, who ended the 2023 season on a seven-race winning streak, will simply be able to pick up where he left off once again.

If that’s the case, then the rest of the grid should likely be afraid about their prospects of challenging for the World Championship because, as we saw last year and the year before, when he was in harmony with his last two cars, there was very little that was able to stand in his way.

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