Five things we learned from F1 2024 pre-season testing in Bahrain

It’s been three days of non-stop action in testing this week, as the 2024 F1 season started with hundreds of laps for each driver around the Bahrain International Circuit.

Red Bull, with their bold approach for this year’s RB20, continued to set the pace from the off, with reigning world champion Max Verstappen quickest on day one.

As for the rest of the pack, there appears to be little between the other top-tier contenders: Carlos Sainz was quickest for Ferrari on day two, followed by Red Bull’s Sergio Perez and Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton.

Charles Leclerc was the fastest on the third and final day, with late final-session surges from Mercedes’ George Russell and Stake’s Zhou Guanyu putting them into the top-three.

Here’s what we learned from the pre-season test in Bahrain:

Red Bull maintain huge advantage

They couldn’t get any better, could they? It seems as though they could.

When the talk of the paddock is of Red Bull having an advantage which could be as much as 1.1 seconds, optimism will be sky-high among the peerless world champions right now.

Both on and off track, all the talk was focused on Red Bull heading into this pre-season test. While we’ve had no resolution on the investigation against team boss Christian Horner – though an outcome should be publicised before next Saturday’s Bahrain Grand Prix – how the RB20 performed with an altered approach different from last year’s all-conquering RB19 would be the main storyline.

A backward step, opening a slight door to the chasing pack? Not a jolt of it. Though timings are not everything in testing, Verstappen was fastest on day one (by 1.14 seconds) and fourth-quickest on day three, but on a slower tyre than those above him. Perez concluded day two in P2. It’s no coincidence.

It was not plain-sailing, nor should it be in testing. Perez had a brake issue on Thursday and the long-term reliability of the new concept is obviously an unknown.

But, as expected, Red Bull remain the No 1 outfit.

Christian Horner and Max Verstappen will be happy with Red Bull’s performance in testing (Getty Images)
Christian Horner and Max Verstappen will be happy with Red Bull’s performance in testing (Getty Images)
The RB20 has many features similar to Mercedes’ 2022 and 2023 car, especially the sidepods (Getty Images)
The RB20 has many features similar to Mercedes’ 2022 and 2023 car, especially the sidepods (Getty Images)

Drain cover gate strikes again - and it’s not good enough

As if the opening night farce in Las Vegas wasn’t enough, loose drain covers returned at the start of the 2024 campaign.

Three hours into the morning session on day two was strike one: Lewis Hamilton running over a loose cover at turn 11, forcing an early suspension of the session.

Barely half-an-hour into day three was strike two: Sergio Perez driving over the same spot, resulting in the same issue. The lunch break was subsequently cancelled.

It makes more sense at a new street circuit. But a traditional racetrack (with Bahrain into its 20th year in F1) is harder to swipe away as bad luck. F1 and FIA will only hope that strike three does not occur next Saturday on raceday.


1. Charles Leclerc - 1:30:322

2. George Russell - +0.046 secs

3. Zhou Guanyu - +0.325 secs

4. Max Verstappen - +0.433 secs

5. Yuki Tsunoda - +0.453 secs

6. Alex Albon - +0.662 secs

7. Oscar Piastri - +0.708 secs

8. Fernando Alonso - +0.837 secs

9. Carlos Sainz - +0.925 secs

10. Sergio Perez - +1.161 secs

Ferrari make a positive step

It’s tight between Ferrari, McLaren, Mercedes and Aston Martin – but I have the Scuderia at P2 heading into the first race.

Particularly on one-lap pace – with qualifying a strong attribute for Charles Leclerc last year – Ferrari look to have made a positive step. Most notably, for a team whose drivers are often irritated with the car, their star men are happy. For now.

Ferrari finished top on two of the three days of testing (Getty Images)
Ferrari finished top on two of the three days of testing (Getty Images)

Leclerc was fastest on the final day, the ultimate indicator ahead of grand prix weekend No 1, while Carlos Sainz was quickest on day two. The Spaniard has a point to prove following his brutal axing for 2025. Lewis Hamilton will be watching matters at Ferrari with a close eye, in spite of his team’s own struggles.

For me, the top-five post-testing stands at: Red Bull, Ferrari, McLaren, Mercedes, Aston Martin.

It’s RB - not Visa Cash App RB Formula 1 Team

Is it Racing Bulls? Is it Visa Cash App? The consensus seems to be simple: RB.

Red Bull’s sister team, formerly AlphaTauri, had a refresh over the off-season, with two new sponsors presenting something of an unusual and borderline ridiculous team name.

However, broadcasters and people of the paddock seem to have landed on a simple “RB”, which does formally stand for Racing Bulls.

Daniel Ricciardo in the new ‘RB’ car for 2024 (Getty Images)
Daniel Ricciardo in the new ‘RB’ car for 2024 (Getty Images)

Either way, Daniel Ricciardo and Yuki Tsunoda showed impressive pace over the three-day test – and could put themselves as high as sixth on the grid - nip-and-tuck with Alpine.

No shock surprise this year

A year ago, Aston Martin were the talk of the town. Following a 2022 season which saw Sebastian Vettel lose faith in the project and retire, the hiring of former Red Bull aerodynamicists and Fernando Alonso revolutionised the team’s prospects over a matter of months.

The first sign of the Aston relaunch was in testing. A week after that, Alonso was the next quickest man behind the Red Bull pair as he finished on the podium in the first race.

But the early indications tell us that there has been no such shock this year ahead of the 2024 season. In fact, with a few swaps, the order at the end of 2023 could well be the pecking order post-testing.

And while a competitive midfield is intriguing, the overall ambition will be that the pack can shift closer to Red Bull. Those looking for signs of that in testing though will have been disappointed.