Formula 1 2024: Sky Sports F1 team preview season by answering key questions ahead of Bahrain GP

From Max Verstappen going for a fourth successive title to Lewis Hamilton’s final season with Mercedes, the Sky F1 pundits have their say; watch the Bahrain GP live on Sky Sports F1 with practice on Thursday, qualifying on Friday, and the race on SATURDAY at 3pm

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Craig Slater is joined by Ted Kravitz to discuss the top-10 pecking order after F1 testing in Bahrain ahead of the season-opening Grand Prix.

The 2024 Formula 1 season is upon us, and there are countless talking points after a dramatic winter leading into the sport’s biggest-ever campaign.

The Sky Sports F1 pundits are ready – and they’ve had their say on some of the big topics ahead of this weekend’s Bahrain GP…

Can Max Verstappen sustain his supreme level of performance?

Natalie Pinkham: Short answer, yes. This guy is wired differently from normal human beings. This is a man who is so laid back about training and preparation, and somehow it works for him. He just gets out there and performs. And while he’s got the car that fits him like a glove, then he’ll be very, very difficult to beat.

Will it be impossible? No, because we saw it in Singapore. And it means that various things could happen throughout the year, the busiest year yet, 24 races – that it will be very difficult to sustain a completely winning record. And I think there will be a lot hot on his heels ready to capitalise as and when he does make small mistakes.

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Simon Lazenby: Yes, he can. I mean, from a personal perspective, he’s not the kind of guy that drops his levels at any point. If he’s got the car, he’ll just continue the way he is and poor old Checo [Perez] will have to completely up his game, otherwise I think he’s going to get put away by Max again.

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Max Verstappen gives his thoughts on how the RB20 has performed during testing.

Naomi Schiff: Yeah, I think so. Max has always been a brilliant driver since a very young age and he’s always won everything he’s driven. So I don’t see why that should change now. He’s got equipment that works. I don’t see Max dropping the ball. I think he’s in a really great groove. He’s really enjoying that car, it’s really benefiting his driving style. So, as long as that’s the case, I can’t see him not driving incredibly well. That’s just who he is, it’s what he does.

Rachel Brookes: Yes, he can. He’s young enough to keep going. I don’t see anything stopping him. When you look at last year and you look at all the distractions that could have been going on in his life in the past, they’ve never distracted him from winning a race. Somehow he just zones in and manages to shut everything else out and get on with the job at hand.

Who is most likely to challenge Verstappen this year?

SL: The McLarens ended up the second-best car after the upgrades. If you look at the points, Lando was there. There have been slightly worrying things coming out of Woking in that if they were entirely happy with the car, why are they talking about massive upgrade packages? But I’d love to see McLaren actually challenging at the front all year.

Ferrari are the only ones that have gone their own way with the pull-rod suspension at the rear. Is that something that’s going to enable them to challenge? Can they keep on evolving or have they led themselves down a cul-de-sac? There’s a lot of questions still to be answered, but it’s the usual guys that I anticipate taking the challenge to Red Bull.

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Some of the Formula One drivers make their predictions on their standings at the Bahrain Grand Prix.

NS: I think Sergio will be his biggest contender. Sergio always starts the season strong. If Red Bull have the best car, then the strongest contender to Max, is inevitably going to be Sergio, if he picks up his act. But what we know is that he starts the season quite strong and there are a few tracks that he likes at the beginning of the season. If he’s able to start with a clean slate, he could come out strong again and challenge Max.

RB: Whoever’s got a car that actually has been developed in the right way. Everyone seems to have gone back to the drawing board this year and they’re all starting with a car that they say they can develop, which makes it sound as though they’ve got a pretty generic base, a lot of the teams, and they’re just trying to work out which avenue to go down.

How will Mercedes cope with Lewis Hamilton’s impending departure and will he get a win this season?

Bernie Collins: I think he will win a race. I hope their new car is a lot stronger. I think the dynamic will change throughout the year. So it will start off all friends and then gradually as the year goes on, more stuff will get hidden from him, more changes will be made and more incidents will happen that he’ll have felt unduly done by. So the dynamic will change race by race.

NS: I think they’ll be fine in coping. I think there may be a change of atmosphere, particularly at the beginning of the year, because it’s quite a big, tough pill to swallow for the team. For Lewis, dynamics might be slightly different, but I think once they get into the groove of things, and they’re able to get through that first qualifying, get through that first race, they might be able to put it behind them.

I think what could be a challenge this year, there were some moments last season where Lewis was quite clear that he and George had different requirements of the car. I think from a development perspective, the team are going to be prioritising George because he’s the driver who’s going to be driving that car in the future. So that could hurt Lewis, but I do think that the team will want to, once they get over their emotions, both from Lewis’ side and from the team’s side, I think they’ll want to give him a good send off.

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Lewis Hamilton discusses his reasoning for moving to Ferrari and his relationship with team principal Frederic Vasseur.

SL: I think Lewis will get a win this year. I think for Mercedes to go as long as they have without one is extremely hurtful for them and I think that James Allison is now back and focused, and you underestimate him at your peril. I’ve seen the dynamic first hand and the relationship looked absolutely fine between Toto, George and Lewis at Mercedes’ track day. It probably will have hurt Toto to see Lewis change his mind, but I think with a bit of time and a bit of space, people will understand that Lewis just wants to fulfil his dream of going to Ferrari.

RB: Yes, he’ll get a win in his final season with the team. He’ll have to, that’s the story, isn’t it? That’s the fairy tale. I think it’s interesting because they always talk about the knowledge transfer, and do they want him to know stuff, because will he take it to Ferrari?

I think it’s less of a concern with this season because there’s only one year left of these regulations and then everything changes. So is there really very much you can take for Mercedes? Neither of them are a championship-winning car right now, so I actually don’t think it will affect things too much.

Which two drivers are going to nail down the 2025 seats at Red Bull and Mercedes?

NP: So I think that if Kimi Antonelli has a really strong F2 season and George has a really strong F1 season, they will be a great combo at Mercedes because George is kind of heir apparent for Lewis’ current role in the team and George has been kind of edging closer to that anyway. You saw a couple of mistakes from him that I think will be ironed out this year. I think that, from what we’re hearing, Antonelli is an extraordinary young talent. We’ll have to see whether he’s deemed to have enough experience, because it’s a tall order to throw him in there.

If not him, then I’d like to see Alex Albon get the seat because I think he deserves it. I think he needs and deserves to get back to the front of the grid. Obviously, Alex had a difficult time at Red Bull, so it will be quite interesting to see whether he slots back in at Red Bull, or indeed Mercedes. Either could be an option for him. But in the short term, I think it’s more likely Daniel Ricciardo will get one more year at Red Bull because I think that he gets on well with Max and I don’t think he will ruffle feathers in the same way.

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Alex Albon believes Lewis Hamilton’s move to Ferrari is ‘amazing’ for the sport and says he remains focused on Williams despite rumours linking him to Mercedes.

RB: Well I think the whispers about Red Bull already talking to Alex Albon about 2026 seem to be gathering pace, so I could see Alex. If he has a good year with Williams then I think the seat could be his.

As for Mercedes, there’s so much talk around Kimi Antonelli and what he could do that I have to believe they are considering making a very bold move and bringing in someone as inexperienced and as young as him. However, we haven’t even seen him take to the track in F2 yet, so let’s see what he does this season.

SL: Let’s start with Mercedes. I think it entirely depends – and that’s why it’s such a huge first half of this season for George Russell – if he shows he can go toe to toe with Lewis this year, he gets the team onside, maybe he gets the upgrades because Lewis is going, he’s privy to a little bit more information, he stands out as a team leader – then they take a risk on Kimi Antonelli. If it doesn’t happen that way they go to Fernando Alonso. It’s not a difficult theory to grasp, but I think you can understand that being the equation that they’ve got to work out as this season progresses. But can you imagine Lewis in a Ferrari, Fernando Alonso in a Mercedes, and Max Verstappen in a Red Bull, all going hammer and tongs. That’s what we’ve all been waiting for years for, and I wonder if the manoeuvring has moved it towards this being the case.

There’s two drivers that I think will be considered by Red Bull. Alex Albon might be considered for that. He’s also, by the way, I think got an outside chance of a Mercedes drive, I think he’s being looked at by everybody. But what about Carlos Sainz? Everybody’s talking about him going to Audi in 2026. He’s been a team-mate of Max before. They have gone toe to toe in their past years, and I think that Red Bull could do a lot worse than considering him as Max’s team-mate.

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Fernando Alonso discusses his chances of replacing Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes, but says he would sit down with Aston Martin first, after the history they have together.

NS: So right now I’m putting my money on Esteban Ocon at Mercedes. It may be temporary, it may just be a year to get him in while they figure out who they really want in that seat, or who becomes available, whatever it might be. He’s obviously got a really tight relationship with Toto, a working relationship with Toto as well. It’s mutually beneficial for both of them, for him to do that. He’s been at Alpine for a while now and not really been having successful results, so I can imagine he’s knocking on Toto’s door now saying, ‘give me my chance’. That could be a realistic thing.

As for Red Bull, I think that will vastly depend on Daniel’s performance this year. The similarities between the RB and the Red Bull could get him even more ready for that seat, it could highlight his performances a little bit more. So he has a chance, but I don’t think that’s a definite.

What should Lando Norris’ main goal be for 2024?

NS: Get his first victory. One step at a time, and I think if anyone thinks that way, it’s Lando. I think he always tends to think more pessimistically than optimistically. I think that’s something he’s going to have to work on this year, his mental approach to race weekends, how he thinks through them, dealing with pressure. There were a few moments last year where he kind of dropped the ball on weekends where he had a really competitive car. Has that got to do with the pressure he’s putting on himself? Has that got to do with the pressure that Oscar’s putting on him? Managing that’s going to be really important for him this year.

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Lando Norris says he has no regrets about extending his McLaren contract despite potential openings in big teams after Lewis Hamilton’s shock move to Ferrari.

NP: I think just getting that first win in the bag would be brilliant for Lando. His confidence doesn’t need it, but I just think it’s just a bit unsettling for him, getting so close in Russia [in 2021] and then not getting that win, he’s got the talent to do it. He needs a few things to go his way, but I believe he can do it.

SL: I think it’s a race win and multiple podiums. If he can get more than one win, then McLaren are going in the right direction. He doesn’t need to prove anything. He’s obviously one of the top four or five drivers on the grid and he’s become a great team leader.

RB: To mould that team around him into a multiple race winning team. I think he’s got a challenger now in Oscar, who is going to push him really hard and I think it’s time he needs to take control of that team. If he’s committed to them for so long now, I think he needs to take control of that team and say right, ‘this is my team, this is how we’re moving forward’, and really take a step up in his career and do a bit of a Schumacher at Ferrari and basically make that team his own.

Which team-mate battle are you most looking forward to?

NP: I think Oscar and Lando is going to be fascinating, really, really interesting because they’re both really young. Oscar’s now driven at every track, he’s got all that experience that he was lacking before. He’s worked on key areas that he needed to like tyre management, for example, and I think McLaren are going to be back in the hunt soon, so it will be really interesting to see how that plays out.

SL: I like Sainz versus Leclerc, and the reason I like it is that I think it’s much closer between them than most people think. Number one, Sainz is racing royalty – his old man has just won Dakar for the umpteenth time, so he’ll be a complete professional this year. He can absolutely increase his worth in the shop window by beating Charles, who will now have this spectre of Lewis arriving and having been the golden boy for Ferrari for so long, identified as the team leader, he’s now obviously not going to be the team leader going forward. So how does he respond to that? I quite like what Fred or Elkann, whoever brought him in, has done there.

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Simon Lazenby breaks down how Carlos Sainz will look to put himself in the shop window for a new seat on the 2025 Formula One grid.

NS: Lando and Oscar, because I think that they’re the most closely matched. I think Oscar last year was coming in not fresh at all. He’d been on the bench for a year. It’s his rookie year and he still did incredibly well, the gaps between him and Lando were really respectable. He would have gone home this winter, managed to analyse all of that with some perspective, and he’ll be back stronger this year. So I think he’ll be bringing the fight to Lando. They’re both really young. They’re both really fast. They’re very different. So I think that’s exciting as well.

Which race are you most looking forward to in 2024?

RB: I think the first race, I think Bahrain. Until we get to Bahrain, no one knows anything of how the season is going to pan out. So while I love a lot of the venues, the first race is the one where I’m just like, ‘right, let’s see what you’ve got’.

BC: Austria. It’s always a quickfire race. It’s always really busy qualifying, always very tight margins. It’s always tight in Austria so it’s always good.

NP: I would say Miami, because I think the season will be in a bit of a groove by then, we’ll have a few under our belt and I love the sort of cultural melting pot that is Miami. I can’t wait to see the colour and the fact that the Americans do love to give sport that extra sparkle.

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Sky Sports asked Formula One fans to help create the ultimate F1 track and this is the incredible result!

SL: My favourite race weekend in Europe is Budapest. I enjoy the razzmatazz of the States, but we need to ensure that the racing is as good as in Austin, because Austin, for me, is the standout race weekend and track.

I always love going to Interlagos. For racing reasons, it’s got everything you need. It’s the spirit of Senna, the people, the track, the changeable conditions. It’s just got a bit of everything and I love it.

NS: Brazil, because I love the atmosphere out there, we always get great racing. It’s a good combination of all of that and caipirinhas.

Why is this season going to be better than last year?

SL: This off-season has had some of the biggest stories I can remember. If the racing is as fascinating as what’s been going on, then we’re in for a treat. I think there’s a lot of stories off the track, there’s a lot of stories on the track and I just hope that it’s one of those years where somebody has been able to change their package enough to take Red Bull on.

NP: I think that everybody is under pressure with 24 races, but it’s pressure that they’ll revel in, and I think management will be key and that is not just of the drivers, but that’s of the mechanics, the engineers, the broadcasters. Everybody has to manage themselves and their team better and that will be what separates the good from the great.

NS: I think inevitably, as the years go by in a set of steady design regulations, it will get better and better every year. There’s only so much more the leaders will be able to get out of that set of regulations and the teams behind are just constantly evolving and getting closer. So I have a good feeling about the racing this season, I think it’ll be closer.

RB: Because it always gets better the closer you get to regulation change and the field always closes up. So everything everyone learned last year, particularly you look at McLaren and the back end of their season last year, they learnt a lot about that car and they got close. Aston Martin as well, from their great start, dip in the middle, started to learn a bit more towards the end. There’s no way Red Bull will only lose one race, it’s going to be more than that this year.

Sky Sports F1’s live Bahrain GP schedule

Wednesday February 28

  • 12.30pm: Drivers’ Press Conference
  • 3pm: The F1 Show – 2024 Preview

Thursday February 29

  • 7.50am: F3 Practice
  • 9am: F2 Practice
  • 11am: Bahrain GP Practice One (session starts at 11.30am)
  • 12.55pm: F3 Qualifying
  • 1.40pm: F2 Qualifying
  • 2.35pm: Bahrain GP Practice Two (session starts at 3pm)
  • 4.15pm: The F1 Show

Friday March 1

  • 10.10am: F3 Sprint Race
  • 12.15pm: Bahrain GP Practice Three (session starts at 12.30pm)
  • 2.10pm: F2 Sprint Race
  • 3.10pm: Bahrain GP Qualifying build-up
  • 6pm: Ted’s Qualifying Notebook

Saturday March 2

  • 8.55am: F3 Feature Race
  • 10.25am: F2 Feature Race
  • 1.30pm: Bahrain GP build-up: Grand Prix Saturday
  • 5pm: Bahrain GP reaction: Chequered Flag
  • 6pm: Ted’s Notebook
  • 6.30pm: Bahrain GP highlights

Watch every round of the new season, starting with the Bahrain Grand Prix from Thursday February 29 to Saturday March 2. Stream every F1 race and more with a NOW Sports Month Membership


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