2024 F1 pre-season testing: Winners or workers?

Before we close the book on pre-season testing and shift our focus to the start of the 2024 Formula 1 season, it is time to take one final look at what we saw over three days at Bahrain International Circuit.

Again, the usual warnings about reading too much into pre-season testing apply. Teams are running different programs, using different fuel loads, and operating at different engine levels, so it is hard to gauge too much from the times over three days of work.

But ahead of the 2024 season, it does seem like some teams are starting out on the front foot, and other have a lot of work to do.

Here are the “winners and workers” from 2024 F1 pre-season testing.

Haas: Workers

Haas certainly had a plan coming into testing this season.

After tire degradation issued impeded them all year long, most notably on Sundays after they demonstrated solid one-lap pace during qualifying, the team used the first two days of testing to focus on longer runs, race pace, and to try and solve their tire wear woes from a year ago.

The team believes they are moving in the right direction on that front.

“I think it’s been another solid day for us, focusing on race runs and high-fuel performance, addressing the same issues as yesterday. Our tire issues from last year are our main focus and it’s been very interesting. I think we’ve made some progress, and for sure there’s a lot of work to do, but they’re going in the right direction,” said Kevin Magnussen after the second day of testing. “I’m not sure how fast we are, I’d be surprised if we’re in a very different position to last year, but I think we’re in slightly better condition on tires. It’s very hard to conclude from running in one set of conditions, on one track. But for now, there are positive signs on the issues from last year.”

On Friday, the team did change things up, completing their first qualifying run of the week. When the dust settled, Magnussen was in P16 and Nico Hülkenberg in P11.

Solving their tire wear woes was atop the to-do list, and while they may have made some strides in that area, we will not know for sure if Haas has solved that riddle until the racing begins for real. Until then, they probably still have some work to do.

Sauber: Workers

Formula 1 Testing in Bahrain - Day Three

Photo by Qian Jun/MB Media/Getty Images

For Sauber, perhaps the most positive sign came late in the week, when the team bolted a set of C4 softs on the C44 for Zhou Guanyu, and he put in a tremendous lap that saw him in P3 when the checkered flag flew.

A promising sign for both the driver, and a team hoping to improve on their P9 finish a season ago. Albeit a promising sign thanks in part to a tire compound that will be unavailable next week.

So, there is work to be done, as the team readily admits.

“We had another good day where we focused a lot on our long runs and managed to complete a second full race distance. We got through our programme and experimented with various setups and configurations to draw our conclusions. It’s challenging to evaluate the full potential, especially with a completely new car, and we’ll continue working and making strides over the next few days to be ready for the upcoming weekend,” said Zhou in the team’s post-testing report. “However, the true performance and how we rank compared to the other teams is yet to be seen until the first qualifying and race. We feel good and will use the remaining days to learn and find margins for improvement.”

VCARB: Winners

A year ago, Aston Martin delivered the biggest surprise during pre-season testing. The AMR23, their challenger for the 2024 campaign, caught everyone’s eye during testing and helped the test begin the year on the front foot.

Could the RB01 be this year’s surprise package?

There are certainly some positive signs at VCARB this weekend. Daniel Ricciardo finished in the top five on both Wednesday and Thursday, and Yuki Tsunoda made his own appearance in the top ten on Friday, with a quality lap on a set of softs.

Both drivers expressed some optimism about fighting in the midfield following the three days.

“We’re aiming to fight in the midfield group and we’ll try to make the most of what we got. Overall, it was a smooth test, so I don’t think we leave here with any concerns,” said Ricciardo in the team’s post-testing report. “We made some gains and know where we are, but if we want to make sure to fight for Q3 and points consistently, there’s certainly a bit more we need to find.”

“I felt the car has made a good step forward compared to last year, so I’m happy with it so far. The balance has improved, and especially the front felt strong. We still have to find more with the rear, but it’s moving in the right direction,” added Tsunoda. “I completed many laps over the last couple of days and it was a good experience that allowed us to collect good data and help find the limit of the car. Looking at the timesheet, we’re not last, but it’s difficult to know where we are compared to the rest of the field, so I’m excited to start racing again next week.”

Certainly some work remains, but it is hard not to feel positive about where VCARB is heading into the start of the season.

Williams: Workers

Williams brought an aggressive new design to the track with the FW46, the first concept designed under the watchful eyes of Team Principal James Vowles.

While there were some promising moments — such as a run from Alexander Albon on the softs that saw him finish P6 on Friday — there remains work to be done. That process actually began over the first two days of testing, as noted by Albon in the team’s post-testing report.

“I do think we struggled a little bit with the car across day one and two with just how different it is, struggling to rebalance it, but we made some big headway in making the car more driveable. With the changing car characteristics, we shifted some of our historical problems to different areas.” described Albon. “Still, we’ve been able to fix some of these, but, unfortunately, in the process, we’ve picked up a few things we didn’t like. Despite this, we did a bit of a radical set-up today and this worked out for the better.”

And while the team may have taken a step forward this season, Albon notes they are not alone.

“Looking at the rest of the grid, the midfield has closed up a lot with everyone making a big jump from last year, so it’s all quite equal throughout the field,” added Albon. “This year is going to be all about the fine details and potential tracks that better suit others, so there are going to be lots of interesting battles.”

A season ago everyone knew what tracks would favor the FW45, and where they would struggle. It was an aspect to their season that Albon discussed at length during the launch of the FW46. The FW45 was strong on the straights, but struggled in the corners. To that end, take this comparison of Albon’s best lap from testing last year, and his best lap on Friday, from F1-Tempo:

Last year’s lap in the FW45 is in blue, with this year’s lap with the FW46 is in white. As you might expect, the FW45 was stronger on straights, but take note of how the FW46 was stronger in slower corners, like through Turns 1, 2, and 3, as well as through the more technical second sector.

If the FW46 truly has taken a step forward in this department, it could be a good year for Williams. But we will need to see that when it counts to know for sure.

Alpine: Workers

A year ago, Alpine endured a power deficiency to the rest of the field. It got to the point that the team appealed to the FIA for a reprieve from the power unit freeze, stating they were around 15 bhp down to the best teams on the grid.

That was denied and the team languished in sixth, well enough ahead of Williams to not be threatened from behind, but too far behind Aston Martin and McLaren to move up the table.

While there is reason to believe the team has taken a step forward with the A524 — both Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly posted improved times over last season’s testing sessions, with the standard cautionary caveats in place — the team still believes a “challenging” start to the year awaits.

Aston Martin: Workers

A year ago Aston Martin was one of the easiest teams to classify coming out of pre-season testing.

That fact might make them one of the toughest to classify this year.

Part of it might be their focus for the 2024 season. As we saw last year with the AMR23, they started on the front foot, but then struggled with mid-season development. The result? A strong start to the season gave way to a mid-year swoon, that saw McLaren eventually catch them for P4 in the Constructors’ Championship.

Given that, the team is focused on “development” in the year ahead.

Still, the team believes they have taken a step forward with this year’s challenger, “The AMR24 is a step forward from last year and we just have to see how big of a step forward against everybody else. We will know more next week after qualifying,” said veteran driver Fernando Alonso following the three days of testing. “It was good to get a number of laps on the board over the three days and I feel fit and ready to go for the start of the new season.”

However, for Aston Martin it is not so much how they start that we want to see, but how they finish.

McLaren: Winners

Formula 1 Testing in Bahrain - Day Three

Photo by Qian Jun/MB Media/Getty Images

This designation might be a matter of perspective as well.

A year ago, there were worrying signs all around McLaren. The team wrapped up testing talking about how quickly they can bring upgrades to the MCL60, and McLaren truly began the year on the back foot. They experienced reliability issues with the MCL60 in the season-opening race — which required Lando Norris to pit rather frequently to make it to the checkered flag — and the had just 17 points in their account after the first eight races.

Now they are wildly ahead of where they were a calendar year ago.

Of course, there is a gap between them and the top of the field, and some work remains.

We’re definitely quite a chunk behind Ferrari and quite a chunk behind Red Bull – I think they’re clearly a long way ahead,” . “Apart from that, I think we’re still not in a bad position, we’re probably just around that next pack, but those two teams definitely seem to have a decent advantage over everyone else.”

But given what they endured in pre-season testing a year ago, this season’s performance feels like a win.

Ferrari: Winners

In the eyes of many, Ferrari was “Team Two” coming out of pre-season testing.

Perhaps with good reason.

The team’s one-lap pace was strong, which is something we have grown to expect with Ferrari over the years. But there were also very positive signs with their race pace, perhaps a sign that their “tire eating” ways of the past few years could be behind them. As found by the fine folks at The Race, both Carlos Sainz Jr. and Sergio Pérez put together some race simulation runs on Thursday.

And over those runs, the Ferrari came out ahead.

Again, the standard caveats about testing times, fuel loads, and the like apply. But it does seem that the Scuderia have something cooking with the SF-24.

Mercedes: Winners

Similar to McLaren, the mood around Mercedes is miles ahead of where they were a year ago.

The team began the year with a similar configuration to the W14 as they did with their 2022 challenger, the W13. That meant the “zeropod” design — that the team ultimately scrapped mid-season a year ago — was featured during pre-season testing in 2023.

To hear the team describe where they are now, they are miles ahead of where they were a year ago.

“We’ve had a solid three days here in Bahrain. We managed to get through all of our planned programme, despite the stoppages,” said George Russell in the team’s media report. “The car has been handling well and correlates to the feeling we had on the simulator ahead of coming here. We’ve got a very good base to build from.

“We’re aware that there’s a lot more lap time to find. We knew that would be the case ahead of the test, and Red Bull are looking very strong once again. Nevertheless, I’m confident that we’re in a much better place than we were 12 months ago. The team at Brackley and Brixworth have done a great job to get us into this position and with a car that is a step in the right direction. We now need to focus on firstly getting the most out of the package we have and secondly, adding more downforce and trying to close that gap.”

“We’ve had three useful days here in Bahrain and managed to make good progress understanding the W15. Compared to last year’s car, the feedback from the drivers is very different and more positive, which is encouraging,” added Andrew Shovlin, the team’s Trackside Engineering Director. “The team has worked hard to iron out the handling flaws that were integral to the W14, and it’s great that we seem to have put a number of those problems behind us.”

Whether that translates into wins remains to be seen, but they seem stronger than a year ago.

“It’s never easy to make predictions on pace from testing, as all teams are quite effective at hiding their pace when they want to. It’s clear that we are in a much better position than 12 months ago though,” added Shovlin. “We’ve got a busy few days ahead now making our final preparations for the season-opener, and we’re already looking forward to the race weekend and the season ahead.”

Red Bull: Winners

Here we go again.

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