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BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - FEBRUARY 21: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing prepares to drive in the garage during day one of F1 Testing at Bahrain International Circuit on February 21, 2024 in Bahrain, Bahrain. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images) // Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool // SI202402210858 // Usage for editorial use only //

BahrainGP: Verstappen favourite but winning streaks do end

BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - FEBRUARY 21: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing prepares to drive in the garage during day one of F1 Testing at Bahrain International Circuit on February 21, 2024 in Bahrain, Bahrain. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images) // Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool // SI202402210858 // Usage for editorial use only //

Max Verstappen has led the Formula 1 standings since May 2022, and Red Bull’s triple world champion remains firm favourite for victory at the Bahrain Grand Prix season-opener, but there is always the possibility of the record 39-race streak coming to an end.

The 26-year-old and Red Bull enjoyed the most dominant campaign ever last year, the team winning all but one of the 22 races. This year they appear to be even stronger with the Red Bull RB20 which set tongues wagging during Bahrain F1 Testing last week.

Verstappen, who started 2023 by leading Sergio Perez to a one-two victory at Sakhir, won 19 of them and surpassed Michael Schumacher’s 2000-02 record of 37 successive races in the championship lead.

The Dutch driver signed off with seven wins in a row and the evidence from last week’s pre-season testing in Bahrain suggested the streak was set to continue as the sport heads into a record 24-race championship.

After testing, Verstappen reported: “We had a good few testing days and learned a lot from the car Of course, we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves and we still need to make sure we do everything right to have a strong first weekend. All in all, I am excited to get the season underway and start racing again.”

Red Bull are celebrating their 20th season but the anniversary comes with a question mark over team principal Christian Horner, who is under investigation for undisclosed allegations of misconduct toward a female colleague.

Horner has denied the allegations and his future is expected to be decided imminently, before the Bahrain GP according to several sources. Rivals will be keen to seize on any weakness but are likely to be engaged in a battle to be best of the rest.

In Bahrain F1 Testing Ferrari appeared best of the rest but were they showboating?

Bahrain Testing Day 3: Ferrari pre-season testing champions

With their new car the SF-24, Ferrari showec encouraging speed and put in impressive mileage, with Carlos Sainz going fastest on the second day of testing and teammate Charles Leclerc topping the final day’s timesheets.

Testing timesheets are notoriously misleading, however, with teams running different programmes and fuel levels nevertheless Ferrari team boss Fred Vasseur, embarking on his second season in charge at Maranello is upbeat: “We can be pleased with what we’ve achieved during this test.”

Mercedes are also quietly confident, having redesigned their car to make it less ‘spiteful’. Team boss Toto Wolff hoping the W15 can deliver more consistency and better pace for his drivers,

The team endured their first winless season since 2011 last year and George Russell and Lewis Hamilton, who last won in 2021 and is heading to Ferrari next year, will be looking for signs the car is a potential winner.

No rookies on the 2024 Formula 1 grid

Russell: W15 does feel nicer to drive than last year's car

After testing Wolff reported: “The drivers are much happier with the overall balance. It’s a good foundation that we can build on.”

McLaren, who made huge strides last season, will be keen to keep the momentum going while double-champion Fernando Alonso is hoping to add to his podium tally for Aston Martin.

The rebranded Visa Cash App RB team will also be eager to make its mark as a sister team to Red Bull, as will Sauber who will run under the Stake and Kick names in different races this season.

The grid for the 20th Bahrain Grand Prix will feature an unchanged driver line up.

The race and the following round at Jeddah in Saudi Arabia a week later are being held on a Saturday to allow the Middle Eastern kingdoms to host races before the start of Ramadan. (Report by Abhishek Takle)

Bahrain Grand Prix Facts & Stats by Reuters

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  • 2024 FIA Formula 1 World Championship
  • Round 1: Bahrain Grand Prix at the Sakhir circuit:
  • Lap distance: 5.412km. Total distance: 308.238km (57 laps)
  • 2023 winner: Max Verstappen (Netherlands) Red Bull
  • 2023 pole: Verstappen, one minute 29.708 seconds
  • 2023 fastest race lap: Guanyu Zhou (China) Alfa Romeo 1:33.996.
  • Lap record: 1:31.447 seconds, Pedro de la Rosa (Spain), McLaren 2005.
  • Start time: 1500 GMT (1800 local)
  • The race, on the site of a former camel farm in the desert south of the capital Manama, is marking its 20th anniversary after starting in 2004 as the first grand prix in the Middle East.
  • It was not held in 2011 due to social unrest and there were two races at the track in 2020 when Formula One was racing during the COVID pandemic.
  • The track offers one of the most abrasive surfaces of the season and tyre degradation is high.
  • Lewis Hamilton is the most successful driver at the race with five wins at Sakhir, all with Mercedes. Fernando Alonso has won three times.
  • Ferrari have won the Bahrain GP seven times.
  • Red Bull’s Sergio Perez took his first F1 win, in his 190th start, at the circuit in 2020 (Sakhir Grand Prix) while with Racing Point (now Aston Martin).
  • George Russell made his Mercedes debut at the track in 2020, standing in for Hamilton.

WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP 

GRAND PRIX WINS, POLE POSITION & PODIUMS

  • Seven-time F1 world champion Lewis Hamilton has a record 103 career victories from 332 starts but is chasing his first since 2021 — a run of 45 races without a win.
  • Red Bull won 21 of 22 races last year, with Verstappen victorious in a record 19, and have won 31 of the last 33.
  • Hamilton has a record 104 career poles, his most recent in Hungary last year.
  • Verstappen set a record of 21 podiums in a season last year but Michael Schumacher remains the only driver to have stood on the podium in every race of a season (2002).

F1 SEASON OPENER

  • Last year’s race was the first time Verstappen had won a season-opener.
  • It will be the first time the Bahrain race has been held on a Saturday.

MILESTONE

  • One more race win will lift Red Bull level with Williams at equal fourth in the all-time list of winners on 114.
  • Fernando Alonso is contesting his 379th Grand Prix, a record which only Lewis Hamilton can beat. It will be the 333rd GP weekend for the Briton. (Reporting by Alan Baldwin)

Pirelli Information for the Bahrain Grand Prix

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A week on from pre-season testing concluded, Formula 1 returns to Bahrain for the first round of the 2024 season, from Thursday, 29 February to Saturday, 2 March.

The usual grand prix weekend schedule has been brought forward by one day – as will be the case the following weekend in Saudi Arabia too – with two free practice sessions on Thursday, FP3 and qualifying on Friday, and then the grand prix itself on Saturday.

This move has been made by Formula 1 to accommodate the start of Ramadan on the second Sunday of March.

The teams come to Sakhir with plenty of information about how the car and tyre package works on this particularly abrasive track, where traction and braking stability are key to performance: both on a flying lap as well as on longer runs.

Last year, a two-stopper using the C1 and the C3 was the favoured strategy

TrackCharacteristics-AE23-EN

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Track evolution is somewhat limited, with temperature being the biggest influence: two of the three FP sessions take place in the heat of the day, making it harder to get a representative read on race data.

Another factor affecting cars is wind, as it can blow sand onto the track and also make the balance unpredictable. Thermal degradation will be significant and can have a decisive impact on race performance, while wear is generally limited.

The Bahrain Grand Prix cane be oneof the most spectacular races of the year as it offers a number of different overtaking opportunities, particularly in Turns 1, 4, and 11. Tyre-degradation, with all the resulting different race strategies, also creates interesting performance differentials.

In last year’s #BahrainGP, a two-stopper using the C1 and the C3 was the favoured strategy, with the C2 used by only McLaren. (Source: Pirelli)