Alright, alright, we’ll level with you: it hasn’t been the best buildup to the F1 2024 season with silly new team names and yet another identikit street circuit signing up to the calendar.
And following the announcement of Lewis Hamilton’s sensational switch to Ferrari, some of us (ahem) would be quite happy to sleep through the entirety of the next 12 months and wake up in 2025. But there are still plenty of reasons to look forward to the year ahead, right? Right?! Hello? Anyone there?
As the countdown to the season opener in Bahrain continues, here are five reasons to stay excited about F1 in 2024…
Max Verstappen and Red Bull making more history
Only a fool would pretend that Max Verstappen and Red Bull are not booked in for more success after a historic 2023 campaign, yet maybe (hopefully?) not to the same extent.
Crucially, both team and driver are aware that a repeat of last season will be almost impossible, Verstappen commenting immediately after alighting from the RB19 for the final time in Abu Dhabi that “it will be hard to do something similar again.”
That should protect them from being plunged into crisis when Verstappen and Red Bull do eventually go a race or two without a win, yet they are set to start the new season on the verge of making more history.
If Verstappen can open 2024 with three straight victories in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Australia, he will equal his own record of 10 consecutive wins.
And if he does indeed claim a fourth World Championship this year, he will become only the second driver in history to go from zero to four titles in a single great leap.
The only other man to do that? Sebastian Vettel with Red Bull, of course…
Mercedes being back in the hunt for Lewis Hamilton’s last dance
Is the empire in danger of falling?
After two years to forget, a third – having already lost Hamilton before the new season even starts in a damning reflection of his loss of faith in the team – is simply unthinkable for Mercedes.
Yet, thankfully, every word uttered by technical director James Allison over the winter indicates that the team finally understand the secrets behind Red Bull’s success.
Turns out it wasn’t the sidepods after all – listen up, Mike Elliott – but the interaction between the suspension and the car’s underfloor tunnels, forming the base for a stable and efficient aerodynamic platform.
Nobody expects Mercedes to arrive in Bahrain with a Red Bull beater, but a driveable car with a clear development direction would make for a solid starting point in the run up to the end of the current rules cycle in 2025.
And a Mercedes capable of challenging for semi-regular wins again would at least allow Hamilton to sign off in some sort of style.
Charles Leclerc being back to his best
Hamilton may believe otherwise but, unlike Mercedes, there is no sign yet that Ferrari have become wise to Red Bull’s deepest secrets.
As Allison spoke at length about the importance of cracking suspension design, Ferrari technical director Enrico Cardile appears to have taken the opposite view by arguing that suspension is “overrated” in the current era.
So who knows what exactly Ferrari will come up with when the new SF-24 is launched on February 13 – but on your head be it, Mr Cardile…
If going their own way on car design proves an inspired move by Ferrari, it will be fun to watch Charles Leclerc return to something close to his best ahead of Hamilton’s arrival.
Even in the most challenging season of his career, Leclerc still ended 2023 with four pole positions on merit, his traditional late-Q3 detonations in Baku, Austin, Mexico and Vegas reminders that he remains on balance the fastest driver of all over a single lap.
Leclerc seemed to spend much of last season stewing in his own self-pity after Ferrari failed to deliver him a title challenger, culminating in being pipped to pole by Carlos Sainz in consecutive races at Monza and Singapore, but a floor upgrade at Suzuka brought him back to life in the final weeks of the season.
Leclerc is just too talented to make up the numbers. Give him a competitive car and he will lead the charge of the red brigade.
Daniel Ricciardo’s moment of truth
Is the Daniel Ricciardo of old still in there?
The evidence so far remains inconclusive at best.
It it feasible that Ricciardo has already missed his best chance of sealing a return to Red Bull, his broken hand after the summer break leaving him in no position to capitalise as Sergio Perez’s season slumped from chaotic to disastrous.
An impressive run to seventh in his second race back from injury in Mexico was the only real highlight, Ricciardo otherwise lagging behind Yuki Tsunoda.
And as much as they really might like to do it, Red Bull need to see more than that to justify handing Ricciardo back his old seat alongside Verstappen.
Ricciardo has been open that he and Red Bull are still in the process of untangling the bad habits he developed at McLaren, still trying to piece him back together to make him the driver he once was, but at 34 the clock is ticking rapidly.
Yet might the car of his dreams arrive just in the nick of time?
The Red Bull junior team’s increased links to the World Champions for 2024, replicating Haas’s long-term relationship with Ferrari, is likely to lead to a significant step forward in performance (and, potentially, result in the biggest political storm of the season).
If Ricciardo finds himself driving what is effectively a second-hand RB19 this year, a couple of early-season podiums – while Mercedes and Ferrari slowly get to know their new cars – could build a momentum that even Helmut Marko would find irresistible.
Oscar Piastri growing stronger all the time
So what next for Oscar Piastri after the greatest debut season since Hamilton?
A mean-spirited bunch made efforts to discredit his achievements in 2023, pointing to the 108-point deficit to Lando Norris in the Championship as evidence that Piastri was nothing special.
Yet a rookie year in which he outqualified Norris at traditional driver circuits Spa and Suzuka – on his first-ever visit to the latter – and converted pole to victory in the Qatar sprint race was exceptional.
In almost every facet he is a Verstappen clone, from the same natural touch and feel for a racing car to his apparent immunity to any kind of pressure.
It is inarguable, though, that there are areas to work on with tyre management emerging as a consistent weakness against Norris last season.
Nothing to worry about there as mastering the Pirelli tyres is a notoriously difficult challenge faced by every rookie to have arrived in F1 for the best part of 15 years.
Even Max was not adept in that area until he spent a large proportion of his second F1 pre-season focusing on getting to grips with the tyres.
Piastri is similarly self-critical and intelligent enough to understand it is something he must address.
And when he does, Norris will have some job on his hands trying to contain him for much longer.
The silliest silly season in years? New contracts for Leclerc and Norris already robbed us of intrigue before Hamilton dropped the mother of all bombshells. With no outstanding candidate except Fernando Alonso – dare they? – expect a fierce fight for the vacant Mercedes seat.
Audi making their first big splash in the driver market. Don’t rule out a big name signing up for next year (Sainz surely has his name on an Audi seat if he wants one) with the aim of getting comfortable ahead of Sauber’s 2026 rebirth.
McLaren’s march towards the front continuing apace. As the first team to suss out and correctly implement Red Bull’s ideas, they should start the season as best of the rest.
Alonso making his fellow drivers look like amateurs. Cherish him while he’s still here. And pray that Mercedes bow to public pressure to sign him while you’re at it.
Williams to keep the good times rolling under James Vowles. The appointment of Pat Fry should ensure 2023’s great success story doesn’t end here.
Haas under new management. Now the Guenther Steiner Show is over, the team should be a much calmer and more logical place.
Liam Lawson to find a permanent seat somewhere. That day will be a very good one for F1.