F1 testing 2024: New cars to hit track in Bahrain as Red Bull rivals seek first answers to winter work

This week’s Bahrain test will give the first clues as to whether Red Bull’s rivals have closed up on the world champions over the winter; watch all three days of pre-season testing live from Wednesday on Sky Sports F1, with each day’s track action starting at 7am

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Bernie Collins says it would be a ‘brave’ move from Red Bull to change the concept of their car after dominating last season, but says we will learn more at pre-season testing in Bahrain

A crucial three days of pre-season testing begin in Bahrain for Formula 1 teams on Wednesday as Red Bull’s rivals look to glean the first indication of whether they have managed to close down the world champions’ advantage from last year over the winter.

Each of the 10 teams will put their respective new car through its paces from Wednesday across three days of testing at the Bahrain International Circuit with live track coverage starting from 7am each day on Sky Sports F1.

  • When to watch Bahrain testing live on Sky Sports F1
  • Explained: What actually happens in F1 testing
  • What we learned from Formula 1’s car launches
  • Stream F1 Testing and more with NOW | Get Sky Sports

Pre-season’s sole test is particularly important for the main would-be challengers to F1’s world champions – namely Mercedes, Ferrari, McLaren and Aston Martin – as they look to hit back in 2024 after Red Bull and Max Verstappen produced the most dominant season in the sport’s history last year.

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Ahead of pre-season testing in Bahrain, Bernie Collins explains what flow-vis paint is, how it works and what the F1 teams are using it for

Mercedes’ W15 and Ferrari’s SF-24 cars represent notable step-changes in design from their respective disappointing 2023 challengers, but Red Bull themselves have produced what appeared at their launch to be a surprisingly aggressive evolution of last year’s all-conquering car with the new RB20.

Verstappen, who won 19 of last season’s 22 races and is aiming for a fourth consecutive world championship this year, described his 2024 challenger as “not a conservative car” while noting the continued convergence from everyone else towards Red Bull’s class-leading design of the past two seasons.

“If you look at most of the cars for sure they learned a lot of what direction that they want to develop in,” said Verstappen when asked if he expected a closer challenge at the front this year.

“That’s also a bit normal – when you keep the regulations the same for a while at one point people understand maybe where there is a bit more potential to find lap time. More or less everyone has a similar sidepod design nowadays.”

Red Bull are again expected to at least start the season as the team to beat after winning back-to-back world title doubles so far in the current era of regulations.

Bahrain testing begins for Red Bull against the backdrop of the ongoing investigation in to team principal Christian Horner over a claim of inappropriate behaviour made against him by a colleague. Horner categorically denies the allegations.

‘No one has given up’ – have the chasing pack made a winter step forward?

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Speaking to Sky Sports News last week on the day McLaren launched their MCL38 car and ran it for the first time in a shakedown at Silverstone, team principal Andrea Stella – whose squad staged a superb mid-season resurgence last year to often emerge as Red Bull’s closest challengers – said he believes that none of the chasing pack were writing off the final two years of F1’s current regulation era despite the hitherto dominance of the reigning champions.

“I fully believe that all teams, or at least all those that started from a position close to Red Bull, they still definitely want to catch Red Bull,” Stella said.

“Our position is that they still may have a position of advantage because they haven’t developed their car very much last year so we expect they will accumulate some of their knowledge into the design of the 2024 car.

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Lando Norris looks ahead to the 2024 Formula One season after testing out the MCL38 for the first time at Silverstone

“When I read the quotes from some of the other top teams they seem to be very optimistic as well, so no one has given up.

“There are two more seasons with these regulations and I’m sure already within this season somebody may already think ‘we are going to catch Red Bull’ from a performance point of view.”

That, in truth, is what the chasing pack would now have already hoped to be doing on the eve of the third year of the current ground-effect technical rules introduced in 2022.

Mercedes and Ferrari particularly had high hopes this time last year of being in that position to challenge Red Bull but soon realised from the early phases of testing in Bahrain that it was not going to be the case in the way they hoped with their 2023 challengers.

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Martin Brundle gives his view on what we can expect from Lewis Hamilton’s final season at Mercedes and why he may look to bring some familiar faces with him to Ferrari

Speaking last November as the Red Bull-dominated 2023 season reached its conclusion, Mercedes’ Toto Wolff replied when asked when in that year they realised there were up against it with the W14: “Bahrain testing. No, I think from a Mercedes standpoint, we had a really good end of the season in 2022 and we believed that we can fix this, stick to the concept of the car and get better out of the blocks in ’23. And already in testing, we could see that that didn’t happen.

“The drivers basically described the same pattern of behaviour of the car, it was unpredictable, no rear end and it was clear that this is not going to go our way.”

And Ferrari counterpart Frederic Vasseur said: “Yeah, the first morning of the test, I think that it was quite obvious already.”

Improving flaws inherent in their 2023 cars, such as handling and unpredictability, have been key winter focuses for both teams in their ongoing pursuit of Red Bull.

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Craig Slater is at Silverstone with Aston Martin sporting director Andy Stevenson as the AMR24 takes its first run ahead of the new Formula 1 season

While McLaren and Aston Martin, who made the biggest step forward last winter to start 2023 as Red Bull’s closest challengers, had moved closer earlier to the world champions’ proven design philosophy, the latter’s technical director Dan Fallows believes there are still lots of performance gains to be found from these current cars.

“We are really into finding lap times now which are things that are smaller details, they are more detailed elements of the floor and other parts of the car. But there’s still a lot of lap time to come,” said Fallows.

“We take the approach that Red Bull are absolutely beatable, that’s what we are chasing after, we are focusing on them and that’s what we are aiming for.”

Sky Sports F1’s pre-season testing schedule

Wednesday February 21 – Day One

  • 6.50am-11.05am: Morning Session
  • 11.55am-4.05pm: Afternoon Session
  • 8pm: Testing Wrap
  • 8.30pm: Ted’s Testing Notebook

Thursday February 22 – Day Two

  • 6.50am-11.05am: Morning Session
  • 11.55am-4.05pm: Afternoon Session
  • 8pm: Testing Wrap
  • 8.30pm: Ted’s Testing Notebook

Friday February 23 – Day Three

  • 6.50am-11.05am: Morning Session
  • 11.55am-4.05pm: Afternoon Session
  • 8pm: Testing Wrap
  • 8.30pm: Ted’s Testing Notebook
  • 9pm: Development Corner

When is the first F1 race?

Just one week after testing, the opening race of the 2024 season will begin with the Bahrain Grand Prix from February 29 to March 2.

Due to the Muslim holy period of Ramadan, the Bahrain and, seven days later, the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, will be held on a Saturday.

This means practice one and two will take place on Thursdays, with final practice and qualifying on Fridays.

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Watch pre-season testing from Bahrain live from Wednesday at 6.50am and then every round of the new season, starting with the Bahrain Grand Prix from February 29-March 2. Stream every F1 race and more with a NOW Sports Month Membership

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