As the final 2024 launches take place over the coming days, the focus in Formula 1 will soon shift to the on-track action and whether anyone can catch Red Bull; watch every F1 race live on Sky Sports F1 and pre-season testing in Bahrain from February 21-23
Sunday 11 February 2024 09:52, UK
After a flurry of drama kickstarted by Lewis Hamilton's move to Ferrari, the 2024 Formula 1 season is almost upon us.
With pre-season testing, which is live on Sky Sports F1 from February 21-23 in Bahrain - just over a week away, all that's left is for the top five teams from last season to launch their 2024 cars.
Red Bull's Max Verstappen, who will be seeking a fourth successive drivers' title, is undoubtedly the driver to beat, but with further convergence expected in the third year of the sport's current regulations, the Dutchman shouldn't have things all his own way again.
Before we see the cars on track though, Aston Martin, Ferrari, Mercedes, McLaren reveal their challengers over the coming days.
The big question is whether any of them have built a car capable of competing with Red Bull, who are set to be the last team to reveal their latest model on Thursday.
|Monday, February 12
|Tuesday, February 13
|Wednesday, February 14
|Wednesday, February 14
|Thursday, February 15
After a fine start to 2023, Aston Martin were overhauled by Mercedes, Ferrari and McLaren, but they have already proven that an off-season can suddenly change the pecking order.
It's naturally harder to make big gains the closer you are to the front and Aston Martin will be scratching their heads a little after they were out-developed by other teams.
However, technical director Dan Fallows, poached from Red Bull, is now approaching two years with the team and will surely have some ideas up his sleeve to get Aston Martin back near the front.
The Silverstone-based outfit also moved into their new factory last summer which should result in greater collaboration in the state-of-the-art facility.
Their 2023 car was very strong in the low-speed corners, which enabled Fernando Alonso to claim six podiums in his opening eight races with the team.
Alonso might be 42 but he's still incredibly motivated, and being fully familiar with his surroundings could aid his attempts to end his run of more than a decade without a win in F1.
"This being my second year with the team will help. I don't need to do many of the things I had to do at the start of this year," Alonso said. "I don't need to put names to all the faces. I don't need to do seat fittings, learn the terminology and do all of the other accommodations that have to happen when you're a new driver in a team.
"Everything will just be easier. We can focus more on performance and preparation for the first couple of races right from day one. We also have a very strong baseline to work with from 2023. When we arrive at a race, the work we do will be an optimisation of what we did last year."
At the end of last season, Ferrari were Red Bull's closest challengers as Charles Leclerc took three podiums in the final four races.
If not for Carlos Sainz's misfortune when a loose drain cover in Las Vegas practice set him back for the rest of the event, Ferrari would likely have beaten Mercedes to the runners-up spot in the constructors' standings, as they missed out by three points.
The performance was there for Ferrari though and they have always been good in qualifying, particularly in Leclerc's case.
A weakness of Ferrari's cars in recent years has been tyre wear. However, their race pace was generally strong in the second half of the season and the experiments they trialled during Friday practice sessions in the summer, especially at Zandvoort, really paid off.
Frederic Vasseur enters his second campaign in one of the toughest jobs in F1 as Ferrari team principal and the upward trajectory of the team has instilled confidence that perhaps wasn't there under Mattia Binotto.
"It's not that Red Bull have a magic bullet that puts them four tenths ahead," Vasseur told Sky Italy. "They are probably better than us with 10 things worth four hundredths. We need to do small steps everywhere and keep this mindset."
Ferrari will change 95 per cent of the components from last year's car according to Vasseur, most likely in a bid to improve high-speed corner performance.
Mechanically, the 2023 machine was very good as you could see how the car's quick change of direction, the way it rode the kerbs and its traction all contributed to Sainz's stunning Singapore win, plus his pole position at Monza two weeks earlier.
Ferrari have a very strong driver pairing, but there might be less teamwork than over the past three seasons, with Sainz likely to prioritise his own interests knowing that he's on the way out.
Coming off the back of a first winless campaign in 12 years, Mercedes are desperate to hit back in Hamilton's final season with the team, after seeing fierce rivals Red Bull romp away with the last two constructors' titles.
Mercedes are set to change "almost every component" on their new car, even though they already abandoned their zero-sidepod concept ahead of last year's Monaco Grand Prix in May.
Perhaps this call has come from technical director James Allison, who returned to the role after Mike Elliott was moved into a different position, before leaving in October.
Allison played a major role in Mercedes' 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021 championship-winning cars before focusing on Ineos' America's Cup team in sailing from April 2021 to April 2023.
Toto Wolff will remain as team principal until at least the end of 2026, after signing a new deal in January, who insists Hamilton's decision to leave for Ferrari in 2025 would have had no impact on his own extension.
"We're changing the concept, we're completely moving away from how we laid out the chassis, the weight distribution, the air flow," Wolff said at the end of last season. "Literally, there's almost every component being changed, because only by doing that, I think we have a chance.
"We could get it wrong also. So, between not gaining what we expect, to catching up and making a big step and competing at the front, everything is possible."
Should Mercedes build a more competitive car, they have a formidable driver line-up to challenge Verstappen too.
Hamilton is still, arguably, the driver best placed out of anyone to defeat Verstappen if it comes to a straight fight, but could George Russell be given favourable treatment as he lays claim to the position of lead driver at the Silver Arrows?
Russell, by his own high standards, didn't have a good campaign and was often off the pace when Mercedes had a car quick enough to challenge for the podium.
We're yet to see how he will fare in an F1 title fight, but the raw speed is still there and don't forget he's team-mates with one of the greatest drivers the sport has seen.
There is clear momentum at McLaren after they jumped from near the back of the grid at last year's season-opener in Bahrain, to the front of the midfield, then to fighting for wins in the space of six months.
Andrea Stella had a massive challenge ahead of him when he became team principal in January 2023 but he's got the Woking squad heading back in the right direction and the future looks very bright.
Rob Marshall joins from Red Bull as McLaren's new technical director and David Sanchez arrives from Ferrari as technical director of car concept and performance, which will only boost the team.
Chief executive Zak Brown says Marshall is already making an impact at McLaren, who last won an F1 title in 2008.
"He has got a lot of energy, a lot of ideas. He's been around a lot of world championship cars so I'm sure he'll bring some valuable experience to the table," said Brown.
McLaren were particularly strong in the high-speed corners throughout last year as they showed in Japan and Qatar where Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri secured back-to-back double podiums.
Norris was locked down by McLaren for the long term as he signed a new deal in January, likely in a bid to stop him moving to Mercedes. The 24-year-old has been driving brilliantly since 2021 and largely maximised results when McLaren had a sniff of the podium last year, even if he was harsh on himself.
"I hate ever being confident or overconfident about things, I'm never that kind of guy," he told Sky Sports F1 when asked if McLaren are set for a big year.
"But I think so, because of what we have. We have a lot more things in place, of course we've got a few new guys who are starting as well, coming from other teams. But now we're in the strongest place we've been for probably the last 10 years.
"If there's ever a time in my life, over the last five years, I want to be a bit more confident, it's probably going into 2024."
Stella is also hoping that the team's access to their own wind tunnel since the middle of last year should enable them to continue an upward trend.
"We don't see any diminishing returns but this will have to be proven once we put the car on the ground," he added. "When it comes to the wind tunnel development, or CFD development, we see the gradient that we established last year that led to the Austrian and Singapore Grand Prix development, it seems we can maintain it.
"I expect that's where the launch car will be at the start of the season. In the ground we are already starting to work on further developments and hope to bring it relatively soon in the season and they also seem quite interesting. I would say in terms of the regulations themselves and the development we are looking that a linear gradient can be maintained."
24 races in 2024! Watch every round of next season live on Sky Sports F1, starting with the Bahrain Grand Prix from February 29-March 2. Stream every F1 race and more with a NOW Sports Month Membership
You can now start receiving messages and alerts for the latest breaking sports news, analysis, in-depth features and videos from our dedicated WhatsApp channel!