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red bull rb20 verstappen

Bahrain Testing Day 1: Verstappen and Red Bull on another planet

red bull rb20 verstappen

Max Verstappen and Red Bull fired the first warning shot at their Formula 1 rivals on the opening day of Bahrain F1 Testing, their aggressive narrow-pod RB20 a second faster than anyone else by a whopping 1.14 seconds.

Sure, it’s early days, but history shows that teams who hit testing with a hot out-of-the-box racecar tend to be well-placed for the rest of the season. Doing two stints over eight hours, Verstappen was the busiest of all with 143 laps on his chart at the end of day one.

The Red Bull RB20 is the benchmark already. Verstappen set the pace that was well over a second faster than the RB19 on day one in Bahrain ahead of the 2023 F1 season. In a year their package has improved by 1.5 seconds. Last year Max did 157 laps on the opening day.

In other words: more of the same thing. Ominously the RB20 may be an even better ride than the mighty RB19, the latter copied by most of the teams this year. They may well be still a step behind, if not further back. Verstappen’s best lap in the RB20 came when evening set, set on fresh C3 Pirelli tyres.

Next best and looking a lot better at the start of the season than they have in a while, Lando Norris was P2 at the day’s end with 72 laps completed in the afternoon session when running was a second and a bit faster in the second session as the track rubbered in.

Earlier in the day, Oscar Piastri gave the McLaren MCL38 its F1 testing debut before ticking off 57 laps and ending fourth fastest in the morning session, which dropped to P9 after the later running.

Ferrari had a solid day

Charles Leclerc’s second quickest (behind Max) in the first session was seven-tenths shy of the best time in the Ferrari SF-24. Later on afternoon duty, Carlos Sainz ended P3, 1.2 seconds down on the #1 Red Bull. Last year, on day 1 Sainz’s best effort was 1:33.253s. The two Charlies combined to cover 133 laps today in Bahrain for the Reds.

The lap times show that Ferrari found 1.2 seconds in the SF-24 between this year’s opening day of testing and last year at the same time. Impressive but notably, three-tenths of a second less than what the Red Bull RB20 showed in comparison today.

Daniel Ricciardo raised eyebrows in the VCARB (formerly AlphaTauri) with the fourth fastest tiome of the day, ending 1.2 seconds down on the top time with 41 laps completed. In the early session teammate Yuki Tsunoda was fifth fastest, doing 64 laps in the process.

Alpine also had an interesting day with Pierre Gasly ending the first day an impressive fifth fastest and in the meat of an illustrious mid-pack, 1.4 off the best time of the day. Teammate Esteban Ocon survived a highspeed moment during his 6o lap stint in the Alpine A524. Ending the morning 2.1 seconds adrift of the top time.

Fernando Alonso was second quickest in the morning in the Aston Martin AMR24 and the busiest of all, racking up 77 laps during the four-hour stint. Lance Stroll took over for the afternoon, ending the day sixth fastest, 1.6 seconds adrift of the top time. But notable P2 to P5 were covered by half a second.

Are Mercedes sandbagging or do they have a problem?

This suggests a “Groundhog Season” ahead in which Red Bull dominates and the rest battle it out, at very close quarters. AKA 2023. Indeed it is early days, but this is a gap seldom seen in testing and Verstappen, as he does, flaunted it from the moment he sat in the car, got rid of the ‘winter cobwebs’ on a slippery track before delivering the goods as the Bahrain International Circuit rubbered up.

Mercedes? Oh yes, they were there. Claiming a decent race car before the W15 ran it did not show up on day one. By design or not, George Russell, like Verstappen spent the whole day in the car while teammate Lewis Hamilton watched, but was only good for P6 in the AM stanza and P12 at the evening’s end. A massive 2.7 seconds down on Max after a 121-lap spell in the cockpit.

This suggests Mercedes is sand-bagging or in serious trouble or a combo of the two. Last year on the the opening day in Bahrain, Russell’s best effort was 1:34.1s, the same as this year. Hamilton, who also ran on day one last year, did a 1:33.5s which is over half a second better than this year’s best effort on opening day of F1 testing.

Even Guanyu Zhou in the Sauber C44 and Logan Sargeant in the Williams were quicker than Russell’s best effort during their afternoon time in their respective cockpits. Th American handed a lifeline after a porr rookie season, and also survived a spin with no damage.

In the morning Valtteri Bottas did the first laps with the C44, completing 68 laps on his way to P7 before lunch. He was 1.8s down on Verstappen’s top time at that point. Niggles plagued the early running of the Williams FW46, which meant Alex Albon did only 40 laps during his time in the car.

The Haas VF-24 was 4.5 seconds off the pace

Alarmingly four seconds off the pace were both Haas drivers in the VF-24. Kevin Magnussen had the ‘honour’ of the first drive of 62 laps in the morning. After which he was slowest of the ten drivers on duty by 3.1 seconds.

Nico Hulkenberg took over the VF-24 for the rest of the day, doing 82 laps but well off the pace with his best effort a huge 4.5s which can hardly be explained as it is slower (!) than last year’s VF-23 on the first day of Bahrain F1 testing. What would they learn running the car at that pace if indeed it is a ploy.

Two more intriguing days of 2024 F1 Testing remain and already we have questions that may be answered on Thursday and Friday but maybe not, among them these:

  • Has Red Bull increased the gap to rivals with the RB20?
  • Who is Best of the Rest?
  • Are Mercedes in serious trouble? Sandbagging? Or both?
  • Is the Haas as bad as it seems?
  • What happens when Red Bull and VCARB end a Grand Prix qualifying or race 1-2-3-4?

We will know soon enough. Watch this space!

2024 F1 preseason testing bahrain day 1 lap times graphic

2024 F1 preseason testing bahrain day 1 lap times graphic track