8 things to be excited for about 2024 F1 season

The 2024 Formula 1 season kicks off this week with the Bahrain Grand Prix at the Bahrain International Circuit. Prior to lights out, theScore’s Daniel Valente and Sarah Wallace preview eight things to get excited about on – and off – the track this year.

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Hamilton’s swan song with Mercedes

It’s the final lap for the most dominant driver-team pairing in F1 history. Lewis Hamilton announced in February that his 12th season with Mercedes would be his last, swapping his silver for Ferrari red. Despite the shocking switch, Hamilton and team principal Toto Wolff are adamant that Mercedes is focused on this season’s upcoming competition.

While recent cars may have clouded Mercedes’ once-utter domination on the grid, Hamilton’s excellence remains unchanged. The Brit’s seven championship titles – six with Mercedes in seven years – are tied with Michael Schumacher for the most ever, and he still finished third this past season with the notably finicky W14. In his entire F1 career, Hamilton has never finished lower than sixth in the drivers’ championship. Expect a competitive conclusion to Hamilton’s illustrious Mercedes career. – Wallace

Red Bull’s aggressive bet with RB20

One of the hottest paddock topics has been Red Bull’s radical design revamp. After its predecessors – the RB18 and RB19 – followed an ordinary evolutionary development path, Red Bull went for an aggressive rethink with its RB20. With much of the grid trying to replicate Red Bull somehow, Adrian Newey and the team’s talented engineers have pulled the rug out from under their competitors. And it appears the Milton-Keynes group is aiming to really flex its muscle, taking inspiration from rival Mercedes with its new beefed-up engine covers.

But the biggest question we want answered: Will it work?

The data from preseason testing seems to say yes. By all accounts, Red Bull remains the team to beat as Max Verstappen looked at ease with the RB20 in his hands. A fourth straight championship for the Dutch pilot already seemed like a safe assumption in the offseason, but the conversation might turn back to how many of his own records he could shatter if the RB20 is as fast as it appears. No matter what, Red Bull has made a statement to the rest of the grid that it intends to keep its foot on the neck of competitors continuously. – Valente

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McLaren takes the next step

The papayas are putting in the work. After an abysmal start to the 2023 season with only 15 points in eight races, McLaren implemented a major upgrade for the Austrian GP that catapulted Lando Norris and rookie Oscar Piastri up the standings. Both drivers finished in the top 10, with Norris holding off Carlos Sainz in the final race of the campaign to finish sixth and one point behind Fernando Alonso and Charles Leclerc.

McLaren has only upped the ante this campaign with its MCL38, incorporating the upgrades from last season with new tweaks to improve the car’s aerodynamics. If McLaren can carry the momentum it gained from the end of 2023 into 2024, podiums and Norris’ maiden victory seem almost inevitable. – Wallace

Ferrari, Mercedes improvements

Mercedes and Ferrari punted on the 2023 season pretty early in hopes of rebounding in 2024. But which, if either, has delivered?

Ferrari is seemingly carrying a lot of momentum as it enters its second year under Fred Vasseur. The SF-24 looked good in preseason testing. The haunting thoughts of Ferrari being a tire-shredder appear to be nothing more than a memory, while the 2024 challenger seems to have maintained its signature pace over one lap. If Ferrari has cured its race pace issues in the SF-24, the Scuderia might be a good bet to challenge for podiums and maybe even wins. It’s so far, so good for the Prancing Horse, but the final determination comes when the lights go out in Bahrain.

As for Mercedes, the Silver Arrows had a lot more performance to chase than Ferrari. After two duds in the W13 and W14, Mercedes desperately needed to hope the W15 would be a step in the right direction. It’s unusual to see two past dominant forces like Mercedes and Ferrari struggling to find their footing, but the action is undeniably better when the likes of Hamilton, Sainz, Leclerc, and George Russell are fighting near the front. – Valente

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Sainz’s audition for future seat

Despite their finalized divorce, Sainz and Ferrari will have to awkwardly live together for a year. While Ferrari’s already found a terrific future partner in Hamilton, Sainz goes into 2024 without the same assurance.

To be clear, the Spaniard isn’t a driver who has to prove himself. Sainz is already a multiple-time race winner and has held his own against the likes of Norris and Leclerc in recent years. But the difference between having a great year in Ferrari’s SF-24 challenger and producing a lame-duck season could shape how teams view Sainz on the driver market.

His relationship with the Scuderia will be another area to watch considering it’s reasonable to expect Ferrari to prioritize Leclerc. Will that create friction between the team and Sainz, who has never been shy about voicing his opinions on strategy? How the inner-team dynamics play out with Sainz might be as important as his on-track performance. If he nails both, he could set himself up for a top-seat opening, with Red Bull and Mercedes having 2025 vacancies. A lucrative team-leader role at Kick Sauber ahead of Audi’s 2026 arrival could be in the cards. – Valente

RB shakes up the grid

RB isn’t the only new face in the garage, joining the newly rebranded Kick Sauber, but the Red Bull sister team has certainly made the most noise out of the two.

RB has caught the paddock’s attention for more than just its stunning Toro Rosso-inspired livery. With new leadership at the helm, the team has also elected to go a different direction and fit on as many Red Bull parts as the regulations allow. That’s caused chatter that RB could make a big leap in 2024, much to the dismay of some in the paddock. McLaren’s Zak Brown has frequently voiced his displeasure.

Where RB figures in the pecking order will be revealed in Bahrain, but potentially seeing Daniel Ricciardo fight for competitive positions again should get every F1 fan excited – especially as it relates to his hopes for a Red Bull seat in 2025.

Red Bull’s dual ownership has been a controversial subject around the paddock. It could reach a boiling point if RB is as fast as some fear. – Valente

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All eyes on Checo’s future

No driver enters 2024 with arguably more pressure than Sergio Perez, whose future at Red Bull beyond this campaign isn’t guaranteed.

Perez will have to fight more against his world-champion teammate if he wants to earn an extension that secures him for 2025 and maybe beyond. No one expects Perez to beat Verstappen, but the margin between them will need to be more respectful than the 290-point difference that separated them last season. If that gap persists, the vacancy he creates will be one of the most sought-after cockpit openings in recent memory.

Eyes would immediately turn toward a reunion with Ricciardo, particularly if he continues to impress with RB. While he’s the in-house front-runner, other possibilities shouldn’t be discredited. What about a returning Alex Albon or a shocking promotion of Liam Lawson? Could Sainz potentially rejoin the Red Bull family? Or perhaps Fernando Alonso – a distant wild card – swindles his way into the seat? This possible vacancy has the potential to shake up the grid. – Valente

Better sprint format

Changes to the sprint format have become an annual tradition for F1, but the series is betting it’ll finally get it right in 2024.

Sprint weekends should flow better this season, with F1 moving the qualifying for the sprint to Friday and the mini race opening Saturday’s sessions. That leaves qualifying for the Grand Prix back in its usual later Saturday spot before Sunday’s main race. More freedom on parc ferme conditions during sprint weekends hasn’t been confirmed. However, it would be a welcome addition since it would help prevent the sprints from feeling like spoilers for the Grand Prix race.

Action-packed circuits such as Austria, Brazil, Qatar, and Austin also kept their places on the sprint rotation, while Miami and China will join the bunch in 2024. – Valente