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Formula 1

Mark Hughes: Who was actually fastest as F1 2024 began for real

by Mark Hughes
3 min read

An untypically cool Sakhir track for second practice coupled with gusty crosswinds probably played its part in mixing up the one-lap pace on day one of the 2024 Formula 1 season.

Max Verstappen was not happy with the balance of his Red Bull and no-one seriously believes he will be only sixth fastest when it counts. Furthermore, he had much the best long run, faster and consistent with tyre degradation low by Bahrain standards.

The pattern of the Red Bull’s performance - whereby it lost around 0.3s on the straights to the Mercedes, Ferraris and Astons - suggests it was being run with a conservative power unit setting. In addition, Verstappen made a small error at the last corner on his best lap.

Nonetheless, Mercedes was highly encouraged, with Lewis Hamilton - the FP2 pacesetter - saying: “The car felt good but we can’t get ahead of ourselves. We know there is more to extract and our long run pace isn’t in the fight with the Red Bulls.”

In the long-run race stint simulations, all set on the soft compound, the Red Bulls were first and second fastest, with Sergio Perez taking an aggressive start to the stint and suffering higher deg and Verstappen making a gentler initial approach which averaged slightly faster over his 13 laps.

Long-run averages

All times set on C3 soft compound

Driver Time
Verstappen 1m36.71s
Perez 1m36.82s
Piastri 1m36.89s
Russell 1m37.05s
Hamilton 1m37.10s
Norris 1m37.12s
Leclerc 1m37.13s
Sainz 1m37.29s
Alonso 1m37.29s
Ricciardo 1m37.68s
Stroll 1m37.72s
Bottas 1m37.72s
Hulkenberg 1m37.79s
Albon 1m37.95s
Gasly 1m38.02s

There is always a serious compromise to be made here in one-lap pace, as the circuit is so hard on rear tyres. Typically cars will be set up with understeer which is less than ideal for single-lap pace but which will pay handsome rewards in the race.

It’s possible that Red Bull has just chosen a more conservative compromise rather than the car having any underlying balance problem. Mercedes and Ferrari, meanwhile, appear to be running with a set-up more favourable to single-lap performance.

The best non-Red Bull long run was that completed by Oscar Piastri, but his McLaren was around 0.5s adrift of Hamilton’s Mercedes over a single lap. Given that there was a significant difference in the long-run pace between Piastri and Lando Norris, it is feasible they were running different fuel loads representing different race stints.

The long run averages of the two Mercedes, Norris and Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari were separated by hundredths, but over a single lap the hierarchy was definitely Mercedes, Ferrari, McLaren, with Fernando Alonso’s Aston Martin hanging on very closely behind.

Just as in testing, there was a significant gap behind the top five teams - and the next group was again headed by RB. But only narrowly from Sauber, Haas and Williams, with Alpine rather hanging off the back of the pack.

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