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Bahrain is in the spotlight as F1 comes to town, bringing with it a surplus of storylines that rival those of a dramatic television series. Giles Richards has the inside scoop.
F1 Sport

Bahrain is in the spotlight as F1 comes to town, bringing with it a surplus of storylines that rival those of a dramatic television series. Giles Richards has the inside scoop.


As Formula One approaches the first weekend of the new season, there is likely a sense of relief as the focus shifts to the simple and exciting aspect of cars racing. This comes after one of the most chaotic and eventful off-seasons in decades for F1. It’s finally time for action instead of speculation.

Once the lights dim in Bahrain this Saturday, the true shape of the 2024 season will be revealed as the simulated battle comes to an end. However, the impacts of the previous month will still reverberate throughout the longest F1 season to date, with 24 races and a final race on December 8th.

The controversy started in January when F1 rejected the Andretti team’s request to join the grid. This decision was supported by F1 and the other teams, but many fans and observers saw it as an unjustified act of protectionism.

Angry murmurs over Andretti’s rejection were quickly followed by a succession of loud crashes that will have lasting effects until 2024.

Lewis Hamilton surprised the world and his Mercedes team by revealing his plans to join Ferrari in 2025. He explained that he is seeking a new challenge and fulfilling his childhood dream of being part of the Scuderia. This is considered the biggest driver change in recent times.

The excitement for Hamilton’s first appearance in red is through the roof, but he must complete one final year with Mercedes beforehand and this is unfamiliar territory.

The group that has helped him achieve six out of his seven drivers’ championship titles is aware of his departure and Hamilton is already focused on what lies ahead.

Each party claims they will put forth their best effort and stay in the present, but their relationship has undergone a significant shift and it will be intriguing to see how it unfolds.

At some point, Hamilton will need to be kept out of the loop regarding information about next year’s car, as team principal Toto Wolff has acknowledged. Additionally, they are also attempting to elevate George Russell as the unofficial leader of the team, which could potentially lead to conflicts.

Mercedes now has an available seat for the 2025 season due to Hamilton’s decision, but there are no obvious or simple choices to fill it. It is likely that there will be speculation and rumors surrounding who will take his place. Wolff has hinted that it may be necessary to take a daring approach, with Russell being a potential leader for the team.

It is possible that the Mercedes junior driver, Andrea Kimi Antonelli, who is only 17 years old, may be a contender. The Italian is an extremely talented driver and will be competing in F2 this year, starting with the race in Bahrain this weekend. However, it would be quite a risky move.

Andrea Kimi Antonelli

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Other contenders will doubtless keep the pot boiling. Fernando Alonso, out of contract with Aston Martin at the end of this season, has pointedly said he believes he is in “a good position to negotiate”, the Spaniard making eyes in the opening gambit of an elaborate dance with Mercedes. Expect interest to also range across Alex Albon, Carlos Sainz and Esteban Ocon.

During the evaluation of Hamilton’s decision, it was overshadowed by the news that Red Bull team principal, Christian Horner, is being investigated by the team’s parent company following a complaint from a female employee regarding alleged misconduct.

Although he has refuted the accusations, the inquiry is still ongoing and Horner’s role hangs in the balance as his team gears up to protect their championship.

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The recent chaos among the leaders is the worst possible situation for a team getting ready for a competition. However, there are reports that a decision might be made public on either Tuesday or Wednesday of this week.

Currently, the private external investigation conducted by an English barrister, whose name remains undisclosed, has not disclosed any information. Red Bull has also not released any information, although Horner has already participated in a thorough interview with the investigation.

Despite being cleared of any wrongdoing, many believe that the way the situation was handled has revealed underlying issues between Horner and Red Bull GmbH, or certain aspects of the company. There have also been reports of a strained relationship between Horner and his world champion driver, Max Verstappen, as well as his father, Jos. However, Horner has denied these claims.

While it remains ongoing it is a pall hanging over Red Bull that is a galling reality for many in the team because once again they are formidably strong going into the new season.

Reworded: Despite not having the best poker face, Verstappen was ecstatic after last week’s testing. The significant upgrades to Red Bull’s car from last year, which dominated 21 out of 22 races, were once again impressive right from the start. Looking beyond the misleading fastest lap times, their car could have had a lead of three-tenths of a second over the competition during the race.

The team principal of McLaren, Andrea Stella, expressed it briefly and ominously. “It appears that one car has made a significant improvement,” she stated. “Unfortunately, it is the same car that was already the fastest last year.”

Ferrari has made significant improvements and is now considered to be the main competitor to Red Bull. Drivers Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz have expressed their satisfaction with the car’s handling and stability compared to last year. However, Ferrari will likely need to continue developing at a rapid pace in order to catch up to Red Bull.

Mercedes has also received praise for their new car design, which is a significant improvement. However, it only offers a strong foundation, reliability, and impressive performance, particularly in handling, that they can build upon.

More accurate assessments must wait until Saturday evening but for the moment, for all the sound and fury of a striking close season and its continuing impact, the sporting form feels all too familiar.

Source: theguardian.com