F1 is back! Five big things to look out for in F1 2024 pre-season testing

Henry Valantine
Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari have their F1 2024 cars.

F1 2024 begins testing in Bahrain this week, with all 10 cars set to take to the track together.

That off-season flew, didn’t it? And it’s not like we’re short of things to talk about as the first proper F1 2024 track running takes place in Bahrain this week.

Pre-season testing takes place for three full days in Sakhir from Wednesday until Friday (21-23 February), and it will give us the first chance to see the new cars running together on the track before the first round of the season at the same circuit a week later.

Testing wasn’t always televised but now that fans have the opportunity to watch it unfold in real-time, as well as keep up with the action on PlanetF1.com, we thought we’d look at the main things to look out for in pre-season testing – for anyone new to watching it or otherwise.

Every single pair of eyes will be looking at the Red Bull RB20

Just how have Red Bull followed up the most statistically successful car of all time?

The design of the car looks pretty different to the RB19, having seemingly taken some inspiration from Mercedes on the outside at least, but having been the yardstick for the last two seasons, every team will have their eyes on their own data as well as what they can gather from Red Bull to see how they’re getting on.

As much as they argue otherwise, it’s only human nature to look at how they measure up against the best from the previous seasons.

Don’t count on anyone wanting to reveal their secrets, however…

Get set for plenty of barriers around F1 team garages

A lot of eager photographers will look to take as many pictures as they can of the new cars on track, but once they are back in the garages, every possible secret will be kept by the teams.

As a result, it’s common for barriers to be put up by the teams in front of their new car in between runs while they make setup changes and different tweaks.

Should there be a stoppage on track, cars are often then fully covered up to keep prying eyes from taking pictures to then feedback to their employers as well.

The return of the word ‘sandbagging’

Ah, ‘sandbagging’, the time of year that we get to hear that old chestnut return to the Formula 1 lexicon.

If you’re new to F1 and haven’t heard it before, you’re about to hear it a lot more this week.

Essentially, sandbagging is the act of teams either deliberately running their cars in less powerful engine modes or drivers not pushing over the course of a full lap, to hide their true potential in pre-season testing.

So the key thing here is to not read too much into the leaderboards at the end of each day, but rather something else…

Lap count, lap count, lap count

Absolutely critical for the teams this week will be how much they can run their cars around Bahrain.

With such limited time for testing now, every second they can spend on track is a valuable one. A high lap count at the end of each day, if not a sign of outright pace, is a good early sign of reliability and that a team’s car is at least sturdy.

Put simply, more laps means more data which the teams can then use to inform their next steps to hopefully bring more performance moving forward.

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Don’t expect the drivers to give the game away… too much

Despite there not being too much to be able to take in terms of outright lap time from pre-season testing, more often than not we can find out who has hit the ground running and who is struggling heading into the new season.

Among last year’s pre-season predictions, while it was the consensus that Red Bull would be quick, for them to turn up and be *so* far ahead of everyone else really was a surprise.

McLaren’s early pace struggles were evident, and while drivers are often coy about their chances heading into the first race of the season, Fernando Alonso made the claim that Aston Martin were faster than some front-running rivals over a race distance.

He said: “We put fuel in for those 57 laps and did the full race with the full set-up, even changing tyres. At the same time, Ferrari were doing the same programme as us with the same fuel for the race, same stops – and we were slightly faster.”

He was proven right, taking P3 behind the Red Bulls the following week, and this was also proof of just how much data the other teams have about each other.

Read next: Revealed: Top-four tech clues as Red Bull step away from the convergence they began