Up close and personal: Final impressions of each F1 2024 car in Bahrain testing

Thomas Maher
F1 testing 2024, Bahrain, Max Verstappen.

Watching trackside on the final day of F1 testing, how did each car compare?

Watching trackside for the final hours of testing in Bahrain shed light on the incredible progress the teams made over the three-day test.

The argument over whether or not three days is enough testing these days is probably more relevant for years in which there are sweeping regulation changes, but there’s little doubt the 24 hours of track time each team had ahead of 2024 proved sufficient to get a handle on their new machines.

While Wednesday’s running saw the cars slithering and snapping out from under the drivers, watching the cars on Friday proved a very different experience.

How did the 2024 F1 cars compare at the end of testing?

Having been slightly laid up by a minor illness on Thursday – probably brought about by the long travel day on Tuesday combined with a coughy fellow passenger on the flight from Qatar – I was in no condition to go scrambling around to watch the cars from trackside.

Having (mostly) recovered for Friday, a busy media schedule of press sessions and interviews – including a forthcoming exclusive with new Haas team boss Ayao Komatsu – meant there was little time to head out on track during the day either.

But with 90 minutes to go in the day, a window of opportunity opened to grab my trackside tabard and head out for another look. Accompanied by my trusty Dutch and Australian colleagues from Wednesday, and eager to compare notes, we headed out into the middle of the circuit to grab a new vantage point taking in multiple corners.

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An elevated ‘cliff’ area right in the centre of the track offered great views of the cars approaching the fast flicks at Turns 6 and 7, the deceptively deep dive into 8, and the uphill climb down into the tricky Turn 9. It was here that we observed a Mercedes photographer (presumably – he was in Mercedes clothing anyway!) taking detailed shots of every car as it approached the downhill left-hander.

Equipped with our really rather rubbish phone cameras, we each got into the spirit of trying to outdo each other for the best photo of the cars as they accelerated out of 8, before turning our attention to actually seeing how the cars were handling.

With a head-on view of the cars negotiating the fast change of direction through 6 and 7, it was really rather impressive to see how each car coped with the steering flick – the most stable of which were, unsurprisingly, the Red Bull. And, perhaps a little surprisingly, the Aston Martin.

Negotiating Turn 8, the Red Bull was straightening up at an earlier point of the corner and back on the power just a few metres before everyone else – the difference visible to the naked eye as the RB20 proved sure-footed lap after lap.

In stark contrast, the Stake F1 car wagged its tail on almost every single lap – so predictable was its waywardness on acceleration that it led my colleague Mat Coch (of SpeedCafe.com) to perfectly time pointing his finger at the moment the rear would let loose, much to our amusement.

But aside from Red Bull being very comfortable and fast, and the Stake being visibly a little scary to drive, the other cars proved surprisingly difficult to differentiate in pretty much every aspect.

From the fast changes of direction, to stability on exit and the heavy braking for 8 before the traction demand to climb out up the hill, every car was impressive – it’s very evident that there are no donkeys on the grid this year.

It’s probably no surprise, this – the prescriptive and stable regulations mean the cars are all incredibly close. Gone are the days of some cars being visibly slower and inferior to the leaders, which ties in with the field spread of a second or two rather than the multiple seconds of just a few years ago.

So what observations could be gleaned from an hour of watching the cars during the final hour of pre-season testing? The midfield is exceptionally close. Ferrari and Mercedes looked identical in every way – albeit the W15 running closer to the ground as it sparked over the bumps lap in, lap out.

Having been unimpressed by McLaren in Wednesday’s running, due to copious understeer that plagued the MCL38 throughout, the car was much more dialled in by Friday evening. But the front end was still more noticeably lethargic through the middle phase of the corners and, given their competitiveness on the laptimes, suggest there’s more to come from the car if that understeer can be addressed.

Spotting Daniel Ricciardo and his manager, Blake Friend, heading around the track perimeter on e-scooters to watch the cars, the Australian gave us a cheery wave – he’s been in great form all three days, buoyed by the fact that the VCARB01 looks a strong car.

On Wednesday, I was particularly impressed by the VCARB’s malleability. But it appears the Faenza-based team just hit their stride quicker than some of the other teams, with the apparent advantage that they had over other midfield runners having dissipated by Friday evening.

We headed up the hill to watch the cars blasting into the drop into Turn 9 where, again, every car appeared impressive – apart from the Stake and the Alpine, which both had to brake a little earlier and carry a little less apex speed than others. It was here that we also witnessed a lock-up or three from the RB, as Tsunoda tried to carry too much momentum through the corner.

So, has my pecking order prediction changed from the first day of action?

Not much, really – it’s hard to see anyone beating Red Bull, it’s the only car which looks infallible on track.

Ferrari, Mercedes, and Aston Martin all look inseparable, with the Ferrari appearing the most consistent of the three, and Aston the most impressive through the high-speed change of direction.

My pick for the surprise of the field is the Haas. While the team have spread doom and gloom about their prospects heading to Bahrain, the car has been a pleasure to watch on track. It’s looked versatile, grippy, and is doing everything it’s supposed to do – but the lap times it’s producing are not fast.

But perhaps this is grounds for some optimism. Haas have been experts at producing cars that are good over a single lap, but terrible over a race distance.

With a car that looks supple (if slow), perhaps the inverse could be true this year – a reasonable platform to build on as the team kicks off their development path for this season.

As it stands, my prediction for the slowest car to start the season is the Stake – even behind the Haas. Twitchy and predictable in its unpredictability, its behaviour is in stark contrast to how good the car looks from an aesthetic perspective.

Read next: F1 Testing 2024: All the action as it happened from the final day in Bahrain