As F1 returns, is winning the first race crucial to becoming the World Champion?

Sam Cooper
The podium at the Bahrain Grand Prix.

F1 is finally back with the Bahrain Grand Prix this weekend.

It is often said you should set the tone for a season ahead but just how true is that in F1?

The 2024 season is slowly appearing over the hill after a dramatic off season and, with cars getting back on track and racing, many have already given Max Verstappen and Red Bull the crown.

But should the Dutchman prevail in Bahrain, does that mean the title is already over?

Winning the first race is not everything history shows

You would think that winning the first race is a must for any title contender but the stats would suggest it is not as influential as you may think.

Since the 21st century, just 12 drivers out of 23 seasons have won the opening race and gone on to become World Champion.

In the more recent history, it is less frequent with Verstappen’s 2023 victory breaking a run of six seasons where the eventual World Champion did not win the opening race.

Lewis Hamilton would appear to be a particularly slow starter of the season despite him dominating the title in the late 2010s. The only time he ever won the opening race was during the 2015 campaign and previously with McLaren in 2008.

In the early 2000s, it was very much the case of win the opening race and you have a good chance of being World Champion.

From 2000-2004, Michael Schumacher only failed to win once during his title-winning seasons while every champion between Alonso’s second championship in 2006 and Jenson Button’s in 2009 won the opening race.

Sebastian Vettel was another driver who tended to not win the opening race of a year and did it just once in 2011 on his way to a title.

While Drivers’ may be up in the air, Constructors’ is a much more certain thing

So if winning the first race as a driver historically has not been such a make or break thing, it would seemingly be far more important for the Constructors’.

In the 23 seasons we have had so far this century, the eventual champion has won 17 of them.

And it’s bad news for Ferrari fans as of those seven occasions where the constructor did not win the opening race, Ferrari won four of them.

But again, the recent years have seen the ratio skewed somewhat as 2022’s victory by Leclerc was the third time in six years that the champion constructor did not win the opening race. recommends

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How important is testing?

Leading up to the race, the one thing we have all heard is that the results mean nothing and to be fair, the stats largely back that up.

In the past 10 years, only four times has the eventual champion topped the times in testing. Those instances came in 2022 and 2023 with Red Bull then Mercedes in 2015 and 2020.

But away from the winners, 2024 may already be off to an ominous start for Ferrari as the last four times they finished quickest in pre-season testing, they went on to finish second in the Constructors’ table.

Read next: F1 2024 pre-season testing: All the key stats and facts from Bahrain