Five biggest F1 2024 surprises: Big McLaren exit, post-Steiner Haas thrive and more shocks

Sam Cooper
Nico Hulkenberg, Carlos Sainz and Daniel Ricciardo

While Nico Hulkenberg and Carlos Sainz are enjoying good seasons, Daniel Ricciardo’s has been the opposite.

We may only be four races into the 2024 season but there have already been plenty of surprises up and down the grid.

With F1 almost at the end of its first Asian stint, we have plenty of data to pour over and spot some surprising trends of the season so far.

Haas defying pre-season predictions

I will be the first to hold my hands up and admit I had Haas dead last in my pre-season predictions.

My thinking was they had just lost two key staff members in Simone Resta and Guenther Steiner, had a flawed car in F1 2023 and appointed the technically experienced but new to the role Ayao Komatsu as team principal.

How wrong I was. Komatsu is unlikely to play a starring role in the next series of Drive to Survive (we’re sure he’s devastated…) but what he has done is brought about a tranquillity to the team. His engineering-focused brain will have allowed him to help the team overcome the tyre issue that plagued their 2023 campaign and they currently have four points, 33% of what they achieved in the entirety of 2023.

Competition for the lower points paying spots is incredibly fierce but right now, Haas look like the leading contender.

Read next: Nico Hulkenberg urged to make ‘smart move’ as Haas look at ‘other ideas’ for F1 2025

Carlos Sainz being so good

There was every reason to think Carlos Sainz would start 2024 poorly. He had just been informed he was being booted out of the team, had finished behind Charles Leclerc in 2023 and was now having to also focus on where he would be racing in 2025.

And yet, the reverse has happened. While Max Verstappen continues to dominate, it is not unreasonable to think Sainz has been the second-best driver on the grid.

The new Sainz first came to the fore in the season opener as he did not wait to ask for permission to overtake Leclerc twice, one of which was a manoeuvre that may have left some dressed in red wincing, but his form has kicked on from there.

A break for the removal of a faulty appendix saw him return with a comfortable win in Melbourne, remaining the only non-Red Bull driver to win in two years, and he again had the better of Leclerc in Japan.

Right now, it seems Sainz could walk into any team on the grid and he is looking on course for his best season ever in the sport.

Read next: F1’s hottest property? Binned Carlos Sainz lands another punch on Charles Leclerc

Alpine being quite this bad

While many predicted a poor start for Alpine, the reality of their demise has been much more alarming than perhaps even the worst predictions.

The team have progressed from Q1 on just two occasions out of eight attempts, have yet to register a point and sit bottom of the standings.

Following the removal of Otmar Szafnauer and Alan Permane during the 2023 summer break, there has been yet more disruption as technical director Matt Harman and head of aerodynamics Dirk de Beer walked away in March, leaving Alpine with a new technical team formed of not exactly household names.

The engine is a problem, too. The Renault unit is around 20-30 horsepower slower than the other three suppliers and plans for an equalisation push were dropped last November.

Rumours of a potential sale have been dismissed but it is hard to see how the team can go on much longer like this.

Read next: Alpine respond to team sale rumours after troubled start to F1 2024

McLaren’s sudden departure

This one came as the biggest surprise of all as David Sanchez walked out of McLaren just three months after joining.

To give it some context, the former Ferrari man waited more than nine months on the sideline to join McLaren as he was forced to serve out his gardening leave and will likely have to sit out for a similar time again if he wants back into the sport.

In the aftermath, team principal Andrea Stella said the move was made to make the team more “efficient”, which is not a ringing endorsement of Sanchez’s ability.

“I think compared to when we agreed [for him] to join [from] Ferrari, we had some change of context,” Stella told Sky Sports in Suzuka.

“We thought together that he needed to have some fair opportunities, potentially with a bigger role that I’m sure he deserves and he would fill with full qualities, potentially [at] some other teams.”

Whether there was an argument behind the scenes may be something we never hear the truth of but to leave so soon after joining a team seemingly on the up was a puzzling move.

Read next: Explained: What McLaren’s cold press release reveals after surprise big-name exit

Daniel Ricciardo’s returning doubts

Heading into the season, there was a lot of optimism around Daniel Ricciardo and RB. Fresh from their rebrand, it was thought the Red Bull second team would be taking a step forward and Ricciardo would be the one leading them. As it stands, the opposite has happened.

RB’s pre-season hype proved to be somewhat unfounded but even as the car improves, it was Yuki Tsunoda in the points, not Ricciardo.

His latest race saw him DNF early on and he is resembling the figure we saw at McLaren, a driver who has lost his innate confidence.

Ricciardo’s career is very much at a crossroads and hopes of returning to the Red Bull seat look further away than ever.

Read next: Daniel Ricciardo warned of crushing F1 career conclusion with ‘next couple races’ timeframe