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F1: Five things we learnt from the 2024 Bahrain Grand Prix

The season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix was marred by off-track controversy, but there's still plenty to pick apart from the world of F1

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The Bahrain Grand Prix was far from a classic, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty to ponder as F1 heads straight to Saudi Arabia.

F1 Bahrain Sainz McLaren RB
McLaren scored points at the season-opening round in Bahrain for the first time since the start of the current ground-effects era. (Image Credit: @McLarenF1 on X)

It would be easy to say that there was more to talk about in F1 off-track than on it during the season-opening round in Bahrain.

And yes, that may well be true, but there is more to discuss than might initially meet the eye.

Some stories, perhaps unseen at the time, are just getting started. Social media will make sure of that. But I think it’s fair to say that not many of us banked on Laurent Mekies having to mediate the first civil war of the new season.

No doubt Yuki Tsunoda and Daniel Ricciardo’s cooldown lap skirmish will be a major talking point ahead of the next round in Saudi Arabia.

But for now, here are five other things we learnt from the 2024 Bahrain Grand Prix. 

Carlos Sainz is a man on a mission

He may well be consigned to his fate – partially, at least; but Carlos Sainz isn’t going down without a fight.

If the opening round in Bahrain has made one thing certain, it’s this: in pursuit of a new home in Formula 1, Sainz will do what he has to, take what he has to, and prove what he has to.

The Spaniard looked mighty impressive during the race. Yes, Charles Leclerc was ailing from brake issues, but twice Sainz forced his way past. He knew he had the pace, but he wasn’t going to wait on Ferrari to make the switch – and why would he?

This season is essentially a yearlong audition for him to showcase the best of Carlos Sainz. Often overlooked in conversations about the quickest drivers in F1, the 29-year-old has flown under the radar, quietly and consistently picking up strong results from strong drives.

Not anymore. With existing links to Sauber’s transition into Audi, and more recently, murmurs of a return to the Red Bull family, this time with the senior team, Sainz may well find himself with his choice of suitors – there’s a seat going at Mercedes, too.

And why wouldn’t he? If Bahrain is anything to go by, a motivated, reinvigorated Carlos Sainz is a force to be reckoned with.

The hype might be real yet

Not strictly F1, but the first round of arguably the most highly anticipated Formula 2 season is in the books. Suffice to say, it didn’t quite go as expected.

All off-season, I’ve said that even though the cars feel relatively similar – from accounts from the drivers – that doesn’t necessarily mean that we won’t see at least a slight realignment of the pecking order.

These new F2 cars derive more downforce from the floor – in keeping with the current ground effects era of F1 – than before. There will no doubt be set-up subtleties for the teams to learn of and overcome.

It’s too early to count any teams and drivers in or out of the championship fight, but the Invicta duo were in fine form in Bahrain. After being stripped of pole, Kush Maini made up 15 places during the feature race.

Likewise, Campos were right on the pace. Isack Hadjar was brutally unlucky on Saturday, but rookie teammate Pepe Marti’s double podium cannot be ignored.

Zane Maloney – newly minted in Sauber green – was peerless in the races, taking both victories in imperious fashion. So, keep an eye on him, because yes, Theo Pourchaire has long been in line for a Sauber F1 seat, but Maloney isn’t going to make the choice easy if it comes to that.

Perhaps the most highly anticipated prospect since Max Verstappen, all eyes are on Andrea Kimi Antonelli. He proved in the feature race that, despite an uncharacteristically off-colour weekend for PREMA, he is the real deal.

Able to match – and slightly outperform – his more experienced teammate Ollie Bearman during qualifying and the sprint, the Mercedes junior fought his way through the pack in the feature race to take his first point in F2 whilst Bearman languished at the back of the field.

A tale of two cities

A year ago, in this same piece, I highlighted that with Aston Martin’s step forward, the dominance of the leading four teams would create a scarcity of points for the midfield.

With those teams all closely matched for pace, on any given weekend, there might only be a maximum of four points realistically up for grabs (two for P9, one for P10 and one for fastest lap, maybe). That issue was further exacerbated by McLaren’s mid-season revival, and it shows in the constructors’ standings – from both last year, and this opening round of this season.

Alpine have fallen into the clutches of those behind them, and maybe even further still. Haas, meanwhile, look to have corrected some of the issues that’ve plagued them during races in recent times. In fact, despite an early mistake forcing him to pit for a new front wing, Nico Hulkenberg was able to show strong pace and Kevin Magnussen kept the RBs at bay.

This, for intents and purposes, has created a two-division sport. And with the top five teams taking all the points, if this season remains as reliably as it started, the battle between P6 and P10 in the constructors’ could be determined by fine, fine margins.

A proven point for Perez and Stroll?

Two of the most under-fire drivers currently racing in F1 are Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll. (We’ll get to Logan Sargeant another time, I’m sure.)

To many, Perez is a candidate for mid-season replacement, whilst Stroll is considered by quite a few to only be in the sport on account of his father owning the team he races for.

After lacklustre 2023s, saying that they both have a point to prove is perhaps an understatement.

Both blighted by underwhelming qualifying sessions at many points last year, things didn’t quite go according to plan on Friday. Stroll failed to make Q3 and lined up P12, whilst Perez could only manage P5 – some three-tenths off his teammate.

I’ll caveat that by saying that it’s generally accepted that Red Bull want their second driver roughly within three-tenths of Max Verstappen. But either way, neither were where they expected to be or should be, given the cars at their disposal.

However, Saturday was a different matter.

Perez calmly and systematically dispatched those ahead of him and would have done so sooner had it not been for a first corner concertina. P2 was the best he could have hoped for, and he looked comfortable in holding off Sainz.

What might worry him is the 22-and-a-half-second deficit to Verstappen at race end, but much of that was accumulated early whilst Perez fought his way through.

Meanwhile, Stroll put together a spirited drive from the back after being tagged by Hulkenberg in turn one. Recovering to P10 and a point was a fine reward for a fine performance – one that was punctuated by Fernando Alonso only managing P9 from his P6 start.

If both Perez and Stroll can do this week in, week out, they’ll be just fine.

Don’t count McLaren out

If you’d tuned into qualifying or the race in Bahrain hoping to see McLaren fighting right at the sharp end, you’d have perhaps been disappointed.

P7 and P8 on the grid is towards the bottom of expectations for them this year, and Lando Norris improving to P6 during the race, with Oscar Piastri holding steady two places back, might not look like an awful lot on the face of it.

But there’s more nuance to their result than immediately meets the eye. It’s by far their best performance in Bahrain in the current era, on a track that doesn’t suit their car. Plus, the team have been open about the fact that there are upgrade targets they’re yet to fulfil.

Realistically speaking, Bahrain is roughly as bad as it’ll get for McLaren. The fact they were able to match Mercedes is promising.

Whilst there may be work to do to reel in Ferrari, the Italian team aren’t worlds ahead – Norris qualified just two-tenths back from Leclerc, who lined up on the front row.

The Woking-based outfit look to have consolidated their gains from last year and if the optimism coming out of the team are to be believed, they’re still finding ample room to grow the MCL38 and their current car concept.

So, in short, don’t be too disheartened. There’s room to grow for McLaren, and if anyone knows how to make serious gains during a season, it’s them.

Featured Image Credit: @ScuderiaFerrari on X

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