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Bahrain GP: What went wrong for Mercedes, Ferrari, McLaren and Aston Martin as Red Bull dominated?

Reigning world champion Max Verstappen dominated the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix for Red Bull; Mercedes, Ferrari, McLaren and Aston Martin all have room for improvement; watch the Saudi Arabian GP from Thursday live on Sky Sports F1, with next Saturday's race at 5pm

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Highlights of the F1 2024 season opener at the Bahrain Grand Prix

After Max Verstappen dominated the Bahrain Grand Prix, Sky Sports F1 analyse what went wrong for Red Bull's rivals in the season opener.

While most expected Red Bull to retain an advantage after producing the most dominant season in the sport's history in 2023, there had been plenty of optimism that the margins would reduce over the winter.

This belief was largely based around the fact F1 is entering its third season under the same design regulations, with performance usually converging as a cycle of rules goes on.

It will therefore have been of significant disappointment to Mercedes, Ferrari, McLaren and Aston Martin - the teams hoping to challenge Red Bull - that Verstappen was able to ease to victory by 22 seconds in Bahrain.

George Russell, Charles Leclerc, Lando Norris - Bahrain GP
Image: Red Bull's rivals failed to mount a major challenge in Bahrain

If that wasn't enough, the fact that Sergio Perez was able to seal a one-two for the reigning constructors' champions left no doubt that Red Bull will take some beating this season.

While it's possible that Adrian Newey has simply designed another almost unbeatable car after 'aggressively evolving' last year's field-leader into the RB20, there are reasons to believe the other teams can pose a greater challenge across the remaining 23 races of F1's biggest ever season.

Leclerc spurns pole chance before braking issues ruin race

While Carlos Sainz appeared to maximise the performance of his Ferrari as he took the final spot on the podium in third after keeping Perez honest in the battle for second, the same could not be said of Charles Leclerc.

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The Monegasque, who Ferrari have chosen over Sainz to keep as Lewis Hamilton's team-mate for the 2025 season, cut a frustrated figure during and after Saturday's race.

The disappointment actually started earlier for Leclerc as he missed out on a pole position he had the pace to claim on Friday. The Monegasque's Q2 time was faster than Verstappen's pole effort in Q3, and Leclerc blamed the way Ferrari chose to use his tyre allocation for taking him out of rhythm.

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Charles Leclerc thinks it will be very difficult to beat Red Bull in the race but rues not having a second set of softs in qualifying to get pole

So Leclerc lost the ability to at least control the early stages of the race from the front, but it turned out that would have made little difference.

After making a decent attempt at passing Verstappen around the outside into Turn 1, Leclerc began to struggle hugely with his braking, locking up with regularity and dropping back through the field.

Having been overtaken by Sainz, Perez and George Russell, Leclerc finally appeared to find a more agreeable setup for the final stint, when he tracked down the Mercedes to salvage fourth place.

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Charles Leclerc took fourth position after George Russell ran wide at Turn 10 of the Bahrain Grand Prix

"I couldn't go round (turns) nine and 10 for a few laps," Leclerc told Sky Sports F1. "I was having crazy balance to the rears, lock-ups every lap and I was making big changes.

"It's been a very frustrating race. I was waiting for this race for a long time. I wanted to show what we were capable of and in the end, we could not show anything on my side because we were completely out of place with break balance and the car in general wasn't where I wanted it to be.

"We have to analyse where it went wrong, so this issue will not happen (again)."

The fact that Sainz had a far smoother evening suggests that if Leclerc can set his car up better in future, his natural speed should enable him to pose a greater challenge to Red Bull.

Aggressive cooling setup leaves Mercedes with overheating engine

Russell made a very positive start, taking second from the struggling Leclerc in the early stages, but would later begin to struggle himself with an engine overheating issue that impacted both Mercedes cars.

"Made a really good start, got into second and then here we go, these big red alarms on my steering wheel," Russell explained to Sky Sports F1. "I had no battery left, went to turn my power down (and) it was losing fourth tenths just in power. It was so difficult holding them off, I'm surprised we managed to do it for the first 10 laps or so."

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George Russell describes the Bahrain Grand Prix as a 'difficult day' having struggled with the car's cooling issues

The Brit ultimately lost fourth to Leclerc with 10 laps to go, but says that Mercedes were over-aggressive with their setup and should be able to rectify the issue for Saudi Arabia, despite hotter conditions being expected in Jeddah.

"All of the teams have five or six cooling specifications, we went with the most aggressive option and clearly just went too far," Russell said. "It was just simply a decision that we chose the wrong body work for the conditions today.

"We've seen Ferrari have always been strong here in Bahrain and I would argue this is a bit of a weak circuit for us. I think we would have been in a fight for P3 if it wasn't for the cooling issues today.

"Yesterday we showed the full potential of the car, normally our race pace is faster than qualifying, today we got it wrong."

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Lewis Hamilton was disappointed in the team's performance and was hoping the Mercedes would be better in Bahrain after finishing in seventh

As for Hamilton, the seven-time world champion was left bemoaning his qualifying setup after only managing a disappointing ninth on the grid. His explanation on Friday was that he had moved perhaps too far towards a favourable race setup, but that didn't play out as he was only able to gain two places on Saturday.

"I think if I would have qualified better, I would be a good couple of places ahead because the last stint was good," Hamilton told Sky Sports F1. "It was about discovery. I found out a lot of things about the car to improve and I'm sure the team will."

A track that simply doesn't suit McLaren

McLaren's impressive form during the second half of the 2023 season meant that over the winter, many were projecting Lando Norris as Verstappen's most likely challenger for 2024.

Warnings in the weeks leading up to the season that McLaren were not quite where they intended to be tempered those expectations, and therefore sixth for Norris and eighth for team-mate Oscar Piastri seemed about par for the Woking squad.

It was undoubtedly far better than 12 months ago when a disastrous winter saw them start the 2023 season among the backmarkers, and Norris believes there is more to come in Saudi Arabia.

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Ted Kravitz is in the paddock to review all the biggest stories from the Bahrain Grand Prix

"The car's taken a good step forward, that's a fact," he told Sky Sports F1. "For us to perform decently well in Bahrain on a track that just doesn't suit our car - it's too tight and too slow and twisty - I think we're happy with the fact that we're racing Mercedes.

"It's a decent gap - over 20 seconds to Carlos in the Ferrari - but I think it's a good start to the year and we know we've got some things to improve on. As tricky as it felt, for us to still be as competitive as we were, was a good sign."

Norris also suggested that the Bahrain International Circuit was likely to have brought out the best of the Red Bull, and that the RB20 is likely to come under greater pressure at most other tracks.

"I think everyone's closer," Norris added. "I don't think it was as easy for Max. I think we're going to go to some tracks… especially on a day like today, you want a good race car, a car which is nice on tyres and fast, I think that's as good as the Red Bull gets almost.

"So I'm hoping we'll be closer at certain places. We're going to still struggle at certain places, but I think everyone is more compressed, and I think it's a good sign for everyone watching."

Alonso eyes reversal of 2023 Aston Martin campaign

Aston Martin were unable to produce a repeat of last year in Bahrain, when they shocked the paddock by starting the season as Red Bull's nearest challengers.

While Fernando Alonso claiming a podium never seemed to be on the cards this weekend, the gulf between the Astons - Lance Stroll took 10th behind his team-mate - and the rest of the top 10 was surprising.

Alonso, who is in the final year of his contract has been linked with a 2025 move to Mercedes to replace Hamilton, insisted he wasn't surprised by Aston Martin's showing.

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Fernando Alonso says he needs time to decide if he wants to continue racing before contemplating the open Mercedes seat

The Spaniard suggested the dramatic changes the team have made to their design concept means they have more to learn than some of their rivals, and hopes the changes will allow them to do the opposite of last year, when they faded after a strong start to the season.

"We changed completely the philosophy of how to approach the championship, with a good starting point but then a very continuous progress during the season," he said. "Last year, we put everything at the beginning and then we were not able to react to the fast pace of the top teams.

"So we have more hopes this year in the second part of the championship, let's say. Obviously, we need to reconfirm that in a few weeks' time. But I'm confident, I'm happy. I'm where I expected to be, to be honest, fourth of fifth fastest team - as we finished last year. So we start at the same point as we finished in Abu Dhabi.

"Now it's up to us to do a kind of McLaren 2023 step and become a stronger team in the second part."

Watch the second round of the new F1 season - the Saudi Arabian GP - live on Sky Sports F1 this coming week, with practice on Thursday, qualifying on Friday and the race at 5pm on Saturday. Stream every F1 race and more with a NOW Sports Month Membership - just £21 a month for 12 months. No contract, cancel anytime

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