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

Thomas Maher
F1 testing 2024 first impressions.

Our own Thomas Maher was trackside in Bahrain for testing, and saw the new F1 2024 cars up close.

The first day of F1 2024 is on the books, and it’s time to start the endless (and probably pointless!) speculation about who is looking good.

Given the stable regulations between 2023 and ’24, it’s perhaps not surprising that the first day of testing in Bahrain ended up being utterly routine.

In fact, if it wasn’t for Alex Albon and Logan Sargeant having their own separate issues during the day, it would have been a day of complete metronomy for pretty much every car on the grid.

How did each F1 car look out on track?

With eight hours of track time and sporadic media sessions sprinkled throughout the day, there was plenty of time to grab a tabard to go trackside at the Bahrain International Circuit.

It’s a pleasant track to navigate, too. The infield section, with a drag strip separating the pit straight from the middle part of the track, means only a short walk to quickly dip between the first handful of corners, and the trickiest corner on the track, Turn 9.

It was to this section that I, together with an Australian and a Dutch colleague, dipped out during the morning session to watch the new cars navigate these sections. We watched from Turn 9 first, checking out the cars trying to meet the elusive apex, while rapidly using up our small water bottles in the sweltering heat.

Almost immediately, even at the early stage of the morning, it was evident the VCARB01 had hit the ground running – Yuki Tsunoda was able to turn the car and get on the power visibly earlier than pretty much everyone else.

From entry to exit, the RB car turned well, remained stable through the apex, and was straight back on the power. In stark contrast, McLaren was very evidently struggling with understeer, but only through the middle phase of the corner.

Red Bull, too, was struggling early on – the surprisingly brisk windy conditions might have played a part in his several wayward moments.

Moving over to watch the cars negotiate through the Turn 2 left-hander, several cars were consistently struggling to stay on the power throughout – the Aston Martin, Stake, and Williams all had dramatic wibbly-wobbly moments trying to keep on the power.

Mercedes and Ferrari, who had quieter mornings, didn’t actually pass us by very often, particularly at speed, but it was notable that the Ferrari looked to be finding grip and traction just that little bit easier than the Mercedes.

But, consistently, it was the McLaren that was audibly holding back on acceleration until a later point in the corner – the car clearly unable to apply the power as early as others.

With the heat of the day dissipating in the evening, it was time to head back out for a second look to see how the cars were handling the cooler temperatures.

Heading to the same observation posts, the huge jump Red Bull had made over the course of the day was surprisingly visible to the naked eye. Gone was the twitchy nervousness of the morning running and, even without any hustling of the car, Max Verstappen put in a time an ominous eight-tenths of a second clear.

In fact, the Red Bull looked so certain on its feet, it almost looked slower than the rest – very much at odds with the times Verstappen was producing.

Similarly impressive was the RB, which looked as sure-footed in the evening as it had in the morning. Aston Martin, Williams, and Stake all continued to struggle to negotiate Turn 2 with complete confidence, while, despite Lando Norris’ impressive time, the front of the McLaren remained ponderous in the middle part of the corner.

Like the Red Bull, the Haas appeared far more compliant than perhaps the team had been expecting in their doomsday prophecies ahead of coming to Bahrain. The car looked surprisingly good and confidence-inspiring. But, unlike the lap times Red Bull produced, Haas really was slow…

Unfortunately, it’s difficult to pass comment on Alpine – despite spending over an hour trackside over the eight hours, neither Esteban Ocon nor Pierre Gasly ever looked truly like they were pushing. Every lap that they passed by, there was a very obvious lack of hustle – lap time certainly wasn’t the key consideration.

So, if a race was to happen tomorrow – who would I put my money on? Based on how good the car looked trackside, there’s little reason to think the Red Bull revolution will backfire. But who is in second? Ferrari, Mercedes, and RB would be my picks, with nothing to differentiate between them.

Is RB at the top of the midfield?

I suspect that the jump in performance Aston Martin made last year is the type of jump RB will have this year, after a dismal 2023.

Certainly, the two drivers were feeling optimistic about their prospects following their first day behind the wheel.

Speaking after the day’s action, a beaming Daniel Ricciardo couldn’t hide his happiness with a successful first day back.

“It’s a continuation of last year,” he told media, including PlanetF1.com, on Wednesday night, when asked about the car.

“Obviously from the outside, it’s very different. Everything inside the car, it’s really an evolution of Abu Dhabi.

“We brought an update for that race and it’s really just a continuation of that now, obviously, there’s a new chassis and everything but let’s say the philosophy is still a continuation there.

“I think a lot of other things will change around the team. Personnel and the way we run the team and go racing but the car felt, in a positive way, quite comfortable because it was similar to last year but yeah, looking at the big car – the Red Bull – we’ve still got some lap time to find.

“There are definitely still some cars that are faster than us. Not only the Red Bull, but I think there are a couple of others.

“So still some things to find, but the general feel and balance are actually okay. So it’s now just finding a bit more lap time. The feeling of the car is okay.”

Yuki Tsunoda was more low-key about the car’s performance, but suggested the VCARB01 could be near the top of the midfield.

“If I look around the midfield, I feel like Williams is hiding a little bit of performance there, to be honest,” he said.

“But, other than that, we’re not in a bad place so far in the midfield fight so we will hopefully continue like this.

“If we’re around the top of the midfield, and able to achieve that at the first race, I think that’s a really good start from our expectations.”

What about the rest of the F1 field?

Next up, I’d put Aston Martin based on how the car was handling, with McLaren somewhere in there as well. Alpine and Williams are difficult to gauge, with the FW46 more visibly tricky to drive at speed. Haas and Stake bring up the rear, with the surprisingly good-looking C44 clearly evil-handling in the hands of Valtteri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu.

Of course, there’s no way of telling the fuel loads in each car – the nimbleness of the RB could be down to lighter fuel loads, while the constantly ponderous McLaren could have been running heavy.

It’s all part of the fun of testing, where the action for the second day gets underway at 10am local time on Thursday for another eight hours of running.

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