Formula 1

F1 2024's most uncomfortable questions

12 min read

Every new Formula 1 season brings with it a host of unanswered questions that remain that way until the first laps of pre-season testing at the very earliest.

But some questions are more uncomfortable than others, ones that will be playing on the minds of F1 personnel as the field gears up for the longest season ever.

Stake

We've picked out eight particularly awkward questions that the 2024 F1 season could present:

What if Mercedes' latest concept fails again?

Gary Anderson

It's been two long seasons since the dominant team from 2014 to 2020 last really showed what it is capable of. While 2021 was a bit of a mixed season and Mercedes did win the constructors' championship, it was the year Red Bull proved it was a serious challenger. The regulation changes to ground effect cars for 2022 then allowed Red Bull to stamp its authority on F1 while Mercedes floundered.

Designing a car to a set of regulations is a simple engineering challenge, but you should never make promises until you are sure you know that you have got your priorities correct. Over these last two seasons, I haven’t really seen that at Mercedes.

You need to give the drivers what they require and what gives them the confidence to drive as they want to.

It's not about the ‘concept’, it’s about how the aero map develops as the car goes through its transient conditions. After that, it’s the visual concept that initiates the airflow structure that achieves that aero stability.

There will be a lot of pressure on James Allison and his design team for the start of the new season. If its new car doesn’t get a thumbs up from Lewis Hamilton when it comes out of the start gates, then we could very easily see a management implosion.

The no-blame culture is all well and good until you need someone to blame.

Will F1's popularity suffer if Red Bull's domination continues?

Valentin Khorounzhiy

Being invested in F1 sometimes means having to begrudgingly accept - or, for some it seems, wear it as a badge of honour that proves F1 is special and meritocratic - that a season is just bad.

Last year's F1 offering had good races, entertaining battles and an all-time great operating at a sky-high level. In terms of storylines, though - to follow and get excited about over a bigger-picture sample of the season - it was utterly bereft, and the storylines that did exist well and truly ran out of even the last drops of fuel by the time the chequered flag flew on round #437 in Abu Dhabi.

The evidence it's meaningfully hurt F1, though, remains inconclusive.

Ratings figures are fickle and varied, and always barraged by outside factors, while claims of reduced appetite on social media were staunchly disputed by F1. And, well, it's not like the F1 audience is a stranger to a really processional year or two.

Is that resilience to boredom still true, though, in a world where F1 has grown as much as it did as of late, and attracted as much new blood as it did both in terms of audience and partners?

There's a very real chance that we will see this exact hypothesis tested in 2024. After all, Max Verstappen and Red Bull have a strong claim to being the most dominant combination in any truly mainstream sport in 2023, and the rules aren't really changing for '24.

The mood in F1 is 'it's probably Max this year and next year, too', and obviously fair play to him - but it's also quite a staggering situation.

Take the in-season (!) betting odds across the board on whatever the current favourite is becoming the champion to some of the most-watched leagues in the world, your Premier Leagues, your NBAs, your NFLs, and compare them to the insane odds Verstappen is getting now, without a single kilometre completed by any of the 2024 cars, and you'll feel it.

It's not really that normal in modern sports to have such a strong expectation of who the champion is probably going to be.

If the competitive picture this suggests does hold true, then over 24 races this year the long-standing F1 hypothesis that people still tune in even when there's no real intrigue will be tested like never before.

Can McLaren be a frontrunner for a whole season?

Scott Mitchell-Malm

The expectation on McLaren going into 2024 is immense. Internally there are extremely high hopes after the progress made in 2023 and externally, McLaren seems to have established itself as the team with the best chance of challenging Red Bull.

A poll on our YouTube channel about which team will be Red Bull’s closest competitor this year received 164,000 votes – and McLaren won it, with a 41% share. Mercedes came close at 34%, with Ferrari at 21% and Aston Martin at 4%.

So, what happens if those expectations are disappointed? And what will Lando Norris do if this is just an even more extreme version of the false dawn from a couple of years ago?

The Andrea Stella era of McLaren made such good work with its existing resources through 2023, more than recovering from the setback of the previous 12 months, that adding a new windtunnel and simulator into the mix and the arrival of big hires from Red Bull (Rob Marshall) and David Sanchez (Ferrari) means bigger and better things are expected.

A title fight isn’t demanded but another step absolutely is. And the only way to improve on a spate of second place finishes in the second half of 2023 is to win in 2024.

Stella’s McLaren seems to have pretty broad shoulders. The weight of expectation will test that in 2024 – and potentially determine whether Norris sticks around, or if a rival team is given a great opportunity to swoop for him instead.

What if Ferrari's progress stalls again?

Josh Suttill

Contrary to Mercedes, Ferrari has shown it's far from reluctant to make changes if the results aren't coming and that's an axe that routinely hangs above the heads of its senior staff.

On paper, Ferrari took a step backwards in 2023 under Fred Vasseur versus 2022 with fewer poles, podiums, wins and points as well as dropping a place in the constructors' championship.

In reality, there were real signs of progress and the team appears to be on the right trajectory with the positive changes Vasseur has made already visible.

Whether that continues into 2024 is another question however as Ferrari has been here so many times before.

A fresh team principal is brought in, it has its star driver exactly where it wants it, and there are some promising signs and plenty of potential but then it all goes so badly wrong and it returns to square one.

However the genuine development progress through 2023 should give it plenty of hope of at least avoiding that fate in 2024. There are some key technical hires that Vasseur has made or is making who won't have an impact on 2024, but there will be a strong hope that his internal reforms and culture change will bear more fruit this year.

If it doesn't expect an all-too-familiar Ferrari cycle to continue.

Does an Aston Martin struggle send Alonso into retirement?

Scott Mitchell-Malm

Fernando Alonso fought for, and scored, regular podiums in F1 last year for the first time in a decade. And he admitted at the end of the season that it was a boost to his enjoyment and motivation.

It was something that (as he suspected) would have eluded him had he stayed with Alpine, the Renault works team. But it slipped away as 2023 progressed as well. If that happens again, what will Alonso do?

There is optimism within the Aston Martin ranks that key lessons learned last year will feed into another step forward in 2024 and prevent the kind of in-season regression that dropped Alonso from Red Bull’s main irritator in the first third of the season to being a lower points scorer for most of the rest of the campaign.

That needs to be avoided to keep Alonso happy and to keep the team on the trajectory Alonso naturally demands. After all, it’s not his own ability that he says will drive him to the exit door, but other factors - namely his enjoyment, and whether F1 feels worth it.

One other factor Alonso has cited is the schedule demands of modern F1. And a brutally long 2024 season, with 24 races and six sprints, will be the biggest test yet of anyone’s resolve.

Alonso may have proven himself immune to the usual deterioration with age, but even he is not immune to the demands of the most bloated F1 calendar yet.

And if Aston Martin slips back, this could be the year he wonders whether it’s really worth it.

Should Stake's form worry Audi?

Josh Suttill

At times what was then Alfa Romeo and is now becoming Stake had the slowest car in 2023. That's not ideal for a team that's going to become Audi's official works entry from 2026.

It's disappointing too considering the team started F1's new era at the head of the midfield, even giving Valtteri Bottas a brief period of beating his former employer Mercedes in early 2022.

Since then it's shown no sign of returning to the top of the midfield and has instead been fighting to stay off the bottom of the constructors' championship with a measly 16 points earned last year.

There was a worrying lack of development progress throughout 2023 - particularly when compared to 'class C' rival AlphaTauri, which did make tangible strides - and if that continues into 2024 then Audi might start to worry.

Behind the scenes investment and its gradual takeover of the team are the most important factors but if Stake continues to struggle on track then Audi's going to have a lot of work to do in 2026.

The problem's not just the pace of the car but the operational issues that littered the team's 2023. Too many times it was an Alfa Romeo losing track time on a Friday or getting locked into the wrong ride height settings and suffering all weekend.

There's a lot of work to be done before the Audi name goes above the garage but increasingly less time to do so.

Audi pulling the plug would be the worst-case scenario - and remains highly unlikely - but another poor season at the back of the grid will trouble Audi's plan to be "very competitive" within three years.

Will some midfield F1 careers be ended?

Josh Suttill

For the first time in F1 history, the exact same driver line-up that finished one season will start the next.

That surely won't continue in 2025 with Haas F1 team boss Guenther Steiner already predicting next year could have "three or four new guys" stepping up.

That's going to put plenty of pressure on a number of drivers in the final year of their contract - not least Steiner's two drivers Kevin Magnussen and Nico Hulkenberg.

Magnussen in particular will be feeling the heat having had a highly-challenging 2023 in which Hulkenberg usurped him as Haas's spearhead driver.

Ferrari junior Ollie Bearman impressed the team during his two FP1 outings last year and Steiner's young driver prediction could be interpreted as a target for Bearman in his second F2 season and a hurry-up for Magnussen.

Hulkenberg may have other options even if he doesn't continue with Haas, having already expressed interest in Audi's works team, and the current Stake F1 team that will transform into Audi in 2026 also has two drivers with an uncertain future beyond 2024.

Bottas's return to F1's midfield started so strongly but headline results have been hard to come by since his and the team's early 2022 flourish.

He remains the team leader but 2024 will prove critical in deciding whether the 34-year-old still wants to continue in what will likely remain an uncompetitive car, and whether he's the right experienced driver to steer Audi's F1 debut.

His team-mate Zhou Guanyu faced some pressure to retain his seat for 2024 and without a significant improvement this year he'll face a tough time justifying earning a fourth season in F1, with a host of junior drivers sniffing around his seat, not least Formula 2 champion Theo Pourchaire.

You could probably include Lance Stroll in this group too even if the decision to end his F1 career after 2024 likely rests with him, barring a surprise Aston Martin intervention.

Alpine drivers Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon are both out of contract at the end of 2024. While you'd suspect both would find a berth elsewhere on the grid, Ocon's own temporary exit at the end of 2018 proved that even a solid midfield driver can face the F1 scrapheap if the silly season cards don't fall their way.

Is Sargeant already doomed to lose his Williams drive?

Jack Benyon

You probably sit firmly on one side of a fence with Logan Sargeant. You might argue he’s not done enough with an F1 seat he didn’t deserve in the first place, or you could argue he’s driving a knife-edge Williams that it took Alex Albon time to adapt to, so Sargeant deserves some slack and has shown improvements.

In a second season in a car with relatively similar characteristics Albon was able to deliver phenomenal results, and you get the feeling a lot of that form came from having a season at Williams behind him already. Sargeant didn't have that luxury.

The big issue for Sargeant is that he hasn’t matched any of Albon’s peaks when it really matters, and chomping at the bit this year are two massive, some might even say prodigious, talents on the Formula 2 grid.

Andrea Kimi Antonelli has created more buzz at Prema than many of its star-studded graduates in the short time he’s been on the single-seater ladder, while Bearman has gone one step further with a pair of very impressive Haas FP1 outings in Mexico and Abu Dhabi respectively.

One will probably win the title and the other will finish second, but whichever way around they finish, they're both tantalising F1 prospects for 2025.

Anyone else who steps up and performs well against them in F2 2024 will increase their own stock massively, too.

Let’s state this how it is. If Sargeant was in the 2024 Formula 2 rookie class, he wouldn’t be graduating to Formula 1 the following year. The relative weakness of his Formula 2 rivals in 2022 and the fact he finished fourth in the championship plus his lack of a seat-buying budget mean he’d be at a huge disadvantage now.

The firepower of Antonelli and Bearman coming through combined with Sargeant’s underwhelming 2023 make it impossible for me to believe he keeps that seat in 2025.

A far better season against Albon, or perhaps even Albon leaving Williams for an opportunity elsewhere, would be the only way a chance opens up for Sargeant to stay in F1 beyond 2024.

There’s just been very little evidence he can pull off what he needs to, so far. - Jack Benyon

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