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Formula 1

Should Red Bull be worried yet? Our verdict on 2024 rivals

10 min read

Formula 1's defending champion will bring the 2024 'launch season' to a close when it reveals its RB20 on Thursday night.

Every team that's aiming to stop Red Bull this year has taken the covers off its 2024 challenger and set out its targets for 2024 - some more bold than others.

But should any of Red Bull's main rivals give it cause for concern based on the cars they've revealed and the indications they've given?

Here's our team-by-team verdict:

Ferrari's lack of ambition won't worry Red Bull

Mark Hughes

Ferrari, I would say, I am less than fully confident about in terms of it catching Red Bull.

It has scratched the previous concept and started again aerodynamically, as if it just wants a good platform on which to build for the next two seasons, something that the drivers can be confident in and get the best out of.

That was the summary of what technical director Enrique Cardile was saying at the launch and it kind of looks that way in the design of the car in that there is nothing very cutting-edge about it.

It ticks the boxes of a contemporary F1 car but doesn’t appear to be stretching the envelope anywhere.

Furthermore, I’m still kind of concerned that Cardile is saying something different from other technical directors in terms of the importance of suspension in this generation of cars.

Ferrari might be missing a trick

Scott Mitchell-Malm

Looking at the SF-24 from a glass-half-full perspective, let's assume Ferrari's mechanical platform - fundamentally different as the outlying rear pullrod suspension user - is not the wrong choice.

Ferrari has had good low-speed performance on certain tracks - street tracks in particular - with strong traction and good compliance over the kerbs. Clearly, the Ferrari platform makes for a good ride in certain conditions.

If that has been added to with better, more stable aerodynamic performance because Ferrari has put more focus in that area... what's stopping this team adding proper race pace to obvious qualifying prowess? That will be the hope.

But Ferrari needs to have actually delivered on that aero work for starters. And of course, it depends on its rear suspension choice not being a factor in the weak rear-end aero performance of last year. Pushrod suspension is favoured by Ferrari's rivals specifically because of the aerodynamic benefits.

Maybe Red Bull will be looking at that car and thinking 'Ferrari's missed a key trick'.

Mercedes' aggressive changes have potential

Mark Hughes

Mercedes gives me reason for optimism. Not blind optimism, but cautious optimism.

Like Ferrari, it has pretty much thrown away the concept of its cars of the previous two years - but unlike Ferrari, it appears to have innovated quite aggressively.

The car has a much more harmonious look to it and in its front wing and sidepod design there is clearly a lot of sophistication.

If that is reflected in its overall understanding of their previous problems, then yes, I can imagine moments during the season when Lewis Hamilton may be wondering if he’s done the right thing in leaving at the end of the year.

... but Mercedes isn't getting ahead of itself

Matt Beer

It's not like Toto Wolff has ever started an F1 season with bombastic proclamations - even when Mercedes was obviously going to crush everyone all year yet again he'd talk of avoiding complacency at car launches.

But he was strikingly careful about his expectations for 2024 - which didn't sound like they amounted to much better than 2023, just a hope of being slightly closer to Red Bull.

Of course he was outwardly cautious after the last two years. Maybe he needn't be, though. Given all it's achieved before, the chance of Mercedes failing to correctly identify and rectify its problems on two designs in a row feels highly unlikely, especially given how chastening last winter's experience was.

It looks like there's enough change and innovation on the 2024 car to suggest real progress.

If Mercedes isn't closer to Red Bull and respectability this year, it's either because Red Bull has had so much time to raise the bar while Mercedes was still untangling its own problems, or because Mercedes just fundamentally has not fathomed how to make this generation of F1 car work yet.

McLaren gives rivals reasons to fear it

Scott Mitchell-Malm

The MCL38 has a clear connection to its predecessor. So if you’re thinking ‘that looks a lot like what ran in Abu Dhabi’ - yes, it does.

But being an evolution of the car that outscored all except Red Bull’s dominant RB19 from the Austrian Grand Prix onwards in 2023 can’t be a bad place to start from.

This was one of the best cars of 2023 aerodynamically, if not the best at high speed, which makes it more likely that it didn't need the same aerodynamic overhaul we’ve seen on, say, the Ferrari and Mercedes.

And with only so much work possible in one season, McLaren needed the winter to start making the bigger underlying changes required to eliminate the remaining deficits to Red Bull.

McLaren had proof of concept in 2023 and reckons it is still developing strongly, so can be more confident in its direction. It also has a higher ceiling than last year with better facilities and new senior technical figures at its disposal.

The 2023 formbook is no guarantee that McLaren will fight for wins in 2024, let alone prove it is ready to actually beat Red Bull, but there are obvious reasons for other teams to be worried by McLaren’s position.

McLaren has all the right ingredients

Matt Beer

The circumstances in and types of circuit at which McLaren hassled Max Verstappen last year gave it a stronger claim to the title of Red Bull's most likely 2024 threat than anyone else in that best-of-the-rest pack.

But aside from Oscar Piastri's Qatar sprint win, McLaren didn't actually complete the job anywhere else. And its mid-2023 resurgence was a resurgence from a slump that had happened just after the last time it looked like it was on the cusp of something special.

So it's still got to prove it can actually sustain this trajectory and not be yet another team that seemed to be closing on an era-dominator only to stumble and fade away.

It's stuck to the design path it was on after its game-changing upgrade last summer and refined it, which is sensible. It has a driver line-up of huge promise. All the ingredients feel right. McLaren just has to see it through now. And hope Red Bull hasn't moved the goalposts.

No free pass will hurt Aston Martin

Ben Anderson

I doubt very much that Red Bull will be worried about what Aston Martin is up to.

To my mind, Aston got a bit of a free pass in the first half of 2023, while McLaren and Mercedes were re-setting their aero concepts and Ferrari was busy trying to tame its incredibly peaky car.

Once those three teams got their cars better sorted, Aston regressed to the level you’d expect: upper midfielder and opportunistic podium finisher.

If Aston has figured out how to develop its car more effectively through the season then I think it can again be a proper nuisance in the ‘best of the rest’ fight, but I don’t expect it will do better than fifth in the championship, and with fewer podiums too unless Mercedes and Ferrari screw up (again).

I know Aston says Red Bull is ‘beatable’, and of course theoretically that’s true to say, but even 2023’s under-developed Red Bull was nearly always well out of Aston’s reach.

I imagine RB20, with that pent-up development potential unleashed and no cost-cap penalty to worry about, will be even tougher to chase down than RB19 was.

This time it might keep up

Josh Suttill

I'm probably more optimistic regarding Aston's chances this year, and I'd argue its 2023 turnaround deserves more credit than it simply being a product of the likes of Mercedes/Ferrari dropping the ball.

The way Alpine essentially caught it showed Aston misstepped badly in the development race but where it started the season was highly impressive - and it could be repeated.

With former Adrian Newey apprentice Dan Fallows now firmly bedded in as the lead of its technical team and its new factory operational, Aston theoretically will have a better chance at keeping up in the development race this time around, too.

From what Fallows said - and as ever you have to take pre-season comments with a pinch of salt - it appears Aston's understanding is far better than it was this time last year.

It took a lot of pain in the back half of last year but those brutal experiments - which sometimes left it as one of F1's slowest cars - might just pay off in 2024. Not with any kind of challenge to Red Bull, but a more consistent year with better progress. That would be a victory.

RB won't worry Red Bull - but might nip at rivals

Scott Mitchell-Malm

I suspect Red Bull 2 is not going to be nipping at the heels of Red Bull 1. I half-suspect it would never be allowed to. So in direct competitive on-track terms, RB is not going to worry Red Bull Racing.

But it could leap to the front of the midfield group consistently, if the end-of-2023 pecking order is anything to go by, and maybe start sniping at some bigger results.

If it has made progress from late-2023 with more of an RB19 platform, it should have a competitive car.

I expect RB to be a lot closer to Red Bull Racing than it was a year ago. And while that won't matter to Red Bull Racing it could vault RB above a few teams.

The only way this team worries Red Bull is if it's so competitive it irritates rivals even more and kicks off an even bigger argument over shared ownership and team relationships, which McLaren in particular is determined to keep flagging as a problem.

Horner cloud could be biggest threat

Ben Anderson

The obvious thing that could undo Red Bull is a potential domino effect if Christian Horner ends up leaving the team abruptly - should the ongoing investigation result in that.

It’s a well-established, tightly-knit, clinical racing operation, and there’s definite scope for that to unravel quite quickly.

That said, Red Bull’s position under the current rules is so advantageous it’s quite possible it could get through the next two seasons and still be very successful even without key leaders like Horner driving things along.

Whatever the teams produce for 2024 is pretty much carrying over to 2025 as well - James Allison has already admitted as much - so if RB20 is what we suspect it might be, that should be enough to carry Red Bull through the storm even if that team is undergoing a massive management upheaval.

The toppling of an empire is never straightforward, and there’s every chance things then run aground for 2026 - at which point Max Verstappen might mic-drop his way out of F1 in any case.

I don’t see Red Bull messing up its 2024 car, or next year’s either, so the only way this goes sideways quickly is if the Horner situation blows up into a bigger personnel crisis behind the scenes, which then somehow undoes its capacity for in-season development and/or heavily disrupts the race team.

Red Bull isn't standing still...

Gary Anderson

The teams we expect to be frontrunners, Ferrari, Aston Martin, McLaren and Mercedes, have all made progress, but it is all dependent on how much progress Red Bull has made. From what I have seen from the limited spy shots from the RB20's running at Silverstone, I don’t think Red Bull has been standing still.

Being competitive is only relative to your competitor's performance. There is no absolute for this.

The laptimes could be one second faster or slower but if it’s the same for everyone then you are just as competitive as before. It's about finding that magic bullet that the others haven’t found that will allow any team to take a positional step.

With these regulations going into their third year the cars are all getting fairly similar, actually more similar than with the previous set of regulations. Back then, right to the end, we had major differences in high and low-rake cars.

So rather than one team closing to go to what has been the leader of the pack for two seasons I expect all the teams to close up on each other. I wouldn't be surprised to see a one-second or, as I always work in, a one-percent grid split on more than one occasion this season.

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