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BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - MARCH 02: The Oracle Red Bull Racing cars are seen in the garage prior to the F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain at Bahrain International Circuit on March 02, 2024 in Bahrain, Bahrain. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Data Crunch: Bahrain GP F1 Qualifying crazy surprises

BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - MARCH 02: The Oracle Red Bull Racing cars are seen in the garage prior to the F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain at Bahrain International Circuit on March 02, 2024 in Bahrain, Bahrain. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Embarking on the longest championship schedule on record, Teams took to the Bahrain International circuit for Round One of the Formula 1 championship sampling their latest engineering offerings in the long-awaited first push session of the season: Qualifying for the Bahrain Grand Prix

Growing up in Canada with heavy influences from NASCAR and IndyCar, I’ve always been fascinated with racing under the lights. Everything is better at night, especially racing. Just as the lighting gives visual clarity to the drivers on track, F1’s first qualifying session has brought clarity to establishing a proper pecking order of the team’s new challengers.

Every F1 news source anticipated a straight fight between Ferrari and Red Bull Racing and the result is precisely as predicted. With this being the first sampling, it must not be forgotten that Bahrain hasn’t always been friendly to the dominant car.

Max cruised to a pretty straightforward victory last year by nearly 40 seconds, but between 2017 and 2019 Ferrari stole the show from their clearly dominate rivals Mercedes. My gut feeling has always been Bahrain is much like a Singapore, Brazil, and Austria-type circuit which for whatever reason has a tendency to not reward the dominant car.

Bahrain is playing nice with the RB20

BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - MARCH 01: Sergio Perez of Mexico driving the (11) Oracle Red Bull Racing RB20 on track during qualifying ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain at Bahrain International Circuit on March 01, 2024 in Bahrain, Bahrain. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Launching straight out of the 2024 starting gate, it appears Bahrain is playing nice with the RB20 despite what appeared to be a tricky set of practice sessions for both Sergio Perez, and the defending champion Max Verstappen.

The theme of qualifying sessions in 2023 was Red Bull, usually piloted by Verstappen, which would hold a two-tenth advantage on the next non-Red Bull challenger. As seasons progress with this era of cars being evolutionary rather than revolutionary, these patterns become more or less fairly consistent.

Once again Verstappen took pole for the Bahrain GP somewhat following the 2023 pattern, although it wasn’t exactly plain and simple with Charles Leclerc in the Ferrari delivering a lap in Q2 which bettered Verstappen’s subsequent Q3 pole lap. The traditionalist in me says the fastest lap gets the pole, therefore, when it comes to reviewing numbers, Leclerc was King today.

But did we really see what we think we saw? It’s complicated

data crunch bahrain grand prix qualifying F1 2024

Another accurate prediction was Alpine were in for a brutal session, we all witnessed it, it was ugly on all accounts. Adding insult to injury, Alpine’s A524 registered worst of all teams on the year-on-year progression scale bettering their previous best qualifying lap from 2023 by -0.121.

Although, Alpine find themselves in good company, as the second worst performer; remarkably, is Red Bull Racing with a year-on-year lap time improvement of -0.529.

There’s been extreme hysteria surrounding Red Bull and their new RB20 with equally intense disapproval of Alpine’s A524 but the absolute truth is, the RB20 in the hands of Checo has only improved at the near equal rate of the Alpine, which is a crazy statement to make, but that is what the numbers tell us.

Setting aside an entire offseason of discussions regarding how great Red Bull are going to be, the truth is they are still the cars to beat, but they have work to do as they have fallen into their competitors.

Looking at previous year-on-year results from Bahrain GP qualifying, Red Bull made steady average to above-average year-on-year progression from 2014 to their championship-winning 2021 campaign. This current result is the first time in 10 years that Red Bull have registered a legitimate below-average year-on-year improvement.

The F1 development race is officially on!

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In the polar opposite category, McLaren has shown bold lap time improvement but it isn’t anything newsworthy. The Woking squad’s troublesome early 2023 struggles are well documented with their previous generation challenger. That same early season dud saw significant improvement over the year as evidenced by Oscar Piastri winning the Qatar Sprint.

This news bodes well for Ferrari and Mercedes who find themselves in the average mix with the Mercedes W15 coming in with a -0.855 lap time improvement over last year and Ferrari just behind, 6th overall with their SF-24 running -0.835 on their previous 2023 best lap.

It was a fairly quiet session from Williams, but the numbers are promising for the team whom have deemed its’ car to be radically different from last year. Alexander Albon’s best lap was enough to secure the 13th starting position, a significant year-on-year improvement sees the FW46 score third best overall, -1.240s better than last year’s best.

It is too early to make any concrete conclusions, it’s simply a rough outline for things to come, but as usual, there is never a dull moment in F1, the development race is officially on!