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Five things to look out for at Bahrain GP including Lewis Hamilton dilemma and little-known F1 rule

Five things to look out for at Bahrain GP including Lewis Hamilton dilemma and little-known F1 rule

The Formula 1 season is finally back and we brace ourselves for the longest season EVER with 24 races across the world, starting in Bahrain.

Formula 1 is finally back after the winter break with the sport set for its biggest season ever with a record-breaking 24 starting in Bahrain this weekend, and finishing in Abu Dhabi in December.

The cars were back on track last week for the three-day pre-season testing period, with the drivers and teams desperate to extract as much data as possible from their new cars.

Whilst testing never tells the full story with teams often accused of 'sandbagging' (purposely limiting car performance in order to surprise the competition come race day), it still acts as a good guide when predicting the pecking order ahead of the season.

The three days of testing were topped by Max Verstappen (Day 1), Carlos Sainz (Day 2), and Charles Leclerc (Day 3).

With the Bahrain Grand Prix just days away, here are five things to look out for throughout the race weekend.

The race is on Saturday

Not to sound too much like Will Buxton from 'Drive to Survive' but the most important part of a F1 weekend is the race, so it's pretty important you don't miss it.

The first two races of the season in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia will be on a Saturday therefore pushing qualifying forward to Friday, and the first practice sessions to Thursday.

A Formula 1 Grand Prix is almost always on a Sunday with a recent exception being the Las Vegas Grand Prix which took place at 6 am on Sunday UK time, but Saturday night in Nevada.

The reason behind this season's changes are due to Ramadan, which starts on the 10th of March.

Saudi Arabia's round was initially scheduled for that Sunday but has been rescheduled to take place a day earlier as a result.

As per FIA rules stipulating a full seven-day gap between Grands Prix, the opening round in Bahrain, scheduled for the week before, has also been adjusted to align with the revised schedule. So don't miss it.

Will Lewis Hamilton play ball?

Despite Max Verstappen winning 19 of the 22 races last season the name on everyone's lips is still Lewis Hamilton, as the 39-year-old announced he would be signing for Ferrari for the 2025 season.

This leaves Mercedes in the awkward position where they have to complete a full season with Hamilton knowing he is heading to a direct rival in a year's time.

Any team in Formula 1 needs both of its drivers to be performing well and working together in order to compete in the championship and score points, but this isn't always as easy as it seems.

Lewis Hamilton and George Russell
Lewis Hamilton and George Russell

With Hamilton heading towards the exit door Mercedes might not see the benefit in sacrificing their future lead driver George Russell, in order to maximise Hamilton's results.

On the other hand, Hamilton himself won't be too keen on helping Russell, knowing he won't have to deal with the long-term consequences of disobeying team orders. This is certainly a dynamic to keep an eye on in Bahrain.

Ferrari to fight for pole?

Scuderia Ferrari appear to be Red Bull's biggest competitor heading into the 2024 season, with the Italian team topping the charts in two of the three days of testing.

Ferrari's biggest focus over the winter was improving car performance in the race, with their pace over one lap often matching Red Bull in 2022 and 2023.

These developments seem to have worked with both Leclerc and Sainz putting in consistent lap times in long runs during testing, demonstrating their improvements in controlling tire degradation.

The car also looked a lot more stable during push laps and seemed to be 'oversteery' rather than 'understeery' which suits the driving style of their qualifying expert Leclerc.

A Leclerc pole resulting in a Verstappen win has become almost a Formula 1 tradition in the last two seasons, with Verstappen comfortably picking up more wins from a Leclerc pole position than Leclerc himself.

Despite this looking a damning stat on paper, all it really means is Ferrari have an extremely fast driver who is able to outperform his car and stick it on pole.

Red Bull will remain favourites for Saturday's race, but a potential upset on Friday could be on the cards.

Are Mercedes Sandbagging?

Every year we get the same paddock rumours about Mercedes sandbagging during testing, but this year they may actually have some weight to them (get it?).

Over testing, Mercedes had the slowest top speed out of any of the 10 teams and by some way too, as they clocked in 11.8kph slower than Ferrari.

Despite their apparent lack of straight-line speed, George Russell put his car P2 on the final day of testing, clearly showing the car is performing well when cornering.

There has been much speculation online that due to the slow top speed Mercedes must be either running high fuel loads or using lower engine modes, meaning they might have a few tricks up their sleeves come the first practice session.

The alternative is that the Mercedes have simply built a slow racecar which seems incomprehensible, as the team completely changed the concept of their car this year in order to reduce drag and solve this problem.

Have McLaren gone backwards AGAIN?

Over the winter it was almost universally agreed that McLaren would be the ones to watch in 2024, with their huge upgrades at Silverstone last year taking them from the low midfield to podium challengers.

The McLaren did look good in testing, with Lando Norris' confidence in the car clear to see as he could really throw it into the corners, but despite their progress last season they seem to be a step away from the front.

Lando Norris- Getty
Lando Norris- Getty

Speaking after testing Norris who always gives an honest assessment said: "I think we've definitely taken some steps in the right direction, but I think it's still a very long way behind Red Bull and a long way behind Ferrari. So, plenty of work for us to still try and achieve."

Norris is one of the most highly-rated drivers on the grid and recently put his faith in McLaren by putting pen to paper on a long-term deal despite rumours of a move to Red Bull.

Whilst as previously emphasised testing really doesn't tell the whole story, many experts are placing McLaren as the fourth-best team on the grid which won't be what Norris was expecting when he signed his deal.

However, McLaren demonstrated their ability to make huge strides throughout a season in 2023 and CEO Zak Brown will be praying they can do the same this year if the testing timings are to be believed.

Featured Image Credit: Getty

Topics: Formula 1, Max Verstappen, Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Ferrari, McLaren, Charles Leclerc, Red Bull Racing, Lando Norris