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For 2024 F1 Season, Red Bull is the Focus

For Red Bull’s nine rivals in Formula 1, there is a mix of hope and realism that the sport’s dominant team can be beaten this season.

Last year, Red Bull and its champion driver, Max Verstappen, rewrote the record books in defending their constructors’ and drivers’ titles.

Ahead of the new season, which starts with the Bahrain Grand Prix on Saturday, Verstappen said his achievements would be “very tough to top, but it’s not our goal. It’s about trying to deliver another very competitive car.”

Since the introduction of new aerodynamic regulations in 2022, designed to help one car follow another more closely and aid overtaking, Red Bull has won 38 of 44 Grands Prix. In 2023, Verstappen set the record for most wins in a season, 19 from 22 races.

The belief among many team principals and technical directors is that under the current regulations the limits can be pushed only so far and Red Bull will be caught.

“Inevitably, when you have a team that’s doing as well as Red Bull has done since 2022, there will be some kind of convergence on their solutions,” said Dan Fallows, the Aston Martin technical director. “We take the approach that Red Bull is absolutely beatable. That’s what we are chasing after, what we are aiming for. We are focusing on them.”

Last season, Red Bull was beaten twice, by Carlos Sainz of Ferrari in the Singapore Grand Prix, and by Oscar Piastri of McLaren in the sprint race in Qatar. Piastri’s teammate, Lando Norris, said it was possible for Red Bull and Verstappen to be beaten in a Grand Prix this year, but has questioned whether they can lose their championships.

“If you ask ‘Are they beatable?,’ you’re going to have to say yes, and we’re going to want to believe in saying yes because we were very close at times last season, and at certain times we did beat them,” he said.

“If the question is, ‘Can we beat them over a season?,’ that’s going to be the challenge, and I think that’s going to be very difficult to do with how well they’re performing.”

After improvements to the McLaren were introduced at the Grands Prix in Austria and Singapore last year, Norris scored more points than any other driver except Verstappen over the final 14 races.

Andrea Stella, the McLaren team principal, is expecting Red Bull to maintain its advantage, but is hopeful that the gap can be closed.

“If we maintain the development rate we had in 2023, we can be in a strong position,” he said. “Whether that’s enough to challenge Red Bull and the other top teams, that will certainly have made good improvements, we will find out.”

Verstappen dominated last season to such an extent that his record for most points in a season, 575, was enough to win the constructors’ title on his own. Second-place Mercedes scored 409.

Mercedes, like Ferrari, has redeveloped its car for this season. Mercedes, which won eight consecutive constructors’ championships from 2014 to 2021 before the regulation change the following year, has introduced a new chassis and gearbox.

Toto Wolff, the Mercedes team principal, is pragmatic.

“On one hand, you need to be realistic about the odds of beating a team that is a fair chunk ahead under these regulations and who got things right over the last two seasons whilst we have not,” he said. “There are no miracles in sport.

“On the other hand, our ambition is strong. It is Red Bull and a very successful car that are the benchmark we are aiming to beat. I do not know when that will happen, we do not have any crystal ball. But we will know soon enough how far ahead they are and the task in front of us.”

Lewis Hamilton, who has won six of his record seven drivers’ championships with Mercedes, leaves the team at the end of the year for Ferrari.

Hamilton triggered a clause in his Mercedes contract that will allow him to depart a year early. He said he was fulfilling “a childhood dream” by joining Ferrari, but is determined to end his career with Mercedes “on a high.”

“It would be the greatest honor to be able to help them get back to the top,” Hamilton, 39, said. “I feel the most motivated and focused I’ve ever been. I never thought, at this point in my life, that I would have hunger like I do right now.”

Hamilton will partner with Charles Leclerc at Ferrari in 2025. Leclerc, who signed a multiyear extension to his contract during the off season, is looking to build on a strong end to last year.

“As much as 2023 was a disappointing season because we weren’t fighting for the positions we wanted to fight for, there was a very good reaction from the team,” Leclerc said. “The second part of the season was really good.

“Our goal is to start this season on the strong basis we ended last year and then to have a similar kind of progression to put Red Bull under pressure as soon as possible.”

His teammate, Carlos Sainz, who is searching for a new team for next season after losing his seat to Hamilton, said Ferrari had done everything it could to close the gap with Red Bull.

“Even though Red Bull is going to come out super strong, Ferrari is capable of closing that gap and putting ourselves in a position of fighting for more wins,” he said.

“Let’s wait until the first race to see how competitive we are, and then I’ll be able to tell you how many wins I think we can achieve this season.”

At the start of last season, Aston Martin started strongly, with Fernando Alonso finishing on the podium in six of the first eight races but failed to win.

Alonso, 42, is encouraged by the words of his technical director, Fallows, that Red Bull is beatable. “That’s a good thing he says that,” he said. “It puts a smile on my face. We have to be optimistic at this part of the season.

“First, we have to be regularly in the points, fighting for podiums, as we were last year, and if we are in that position, it would be lovely to achieve the first victory in green for Aston Martin. Hopefully, I can be behind the wheel at that moment.”

At the introduction of its car, the RB20, for this season, Red Bull unveiled different bodywork, notably to the side pods and engine cover.

Christian Horner, the team principal, said Adrian Newey, the chief technical officer, and his team were working hard despite their 2023 success.

“Logically, there’s going to be convergence with stable regulations. We can see other cars have taken an influence from RB19, and we’re expecting other teams to converge,” he said referring to last year’s car. “But the team has done a wonderful job on RB20. There’s been no complacency. They’ve continued to evolve and push the boundaries.”

Verstappen agreed. He said the new styling was “controlled aggression.”

“When I saw the drawings of the new car I was like, ‘Wow! That’s quite different in a way,’” he said. “They’ve not been conservative.”

“What I like about the team is that we had a great package, but they took the chance to go all out and try to make it better. From what I see within the team, everyone is happy with what they achieved in the winter. There are no question marks.”

After three days of preseason testing in Bahrain last week, Sainz finished with the fastest time but it was accepted that Verstappen and Red Bull will again be the combination to beat.

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