Formula One frenzy: an overview of events, past, present, and future

Published - June 23, 2024 12:33 am IST

What’s in store? Ricciardo, Sainz, Alonso, Magnussen, and Bottas.

What’s in store? Ricciardo, Sainz, Alonso, Magnussen, and Bottas. | Photo Credit: GETTY IMAGES

This weekend, the Formula One bandwagon prepares for the first triple-header of the season, starting in Spain, followed by races in Austria and Great Britain over the subsequent two weeks. From Sunday’s Spanish GP at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya to the Italian GP at Monza in early September, F1 will be racing across some of the most iconic circuits in the sport’s spiritual heartland across Europe.

With one-third of the season done, F1 2024 has already delivered some exciting action on and off the track. The Hindu gives a lowdown on what has transpired so far and what to look forward to in the remainder of the season.

Raging Bulls and chasing pack

This is the third year of the new rule cycle that began in 2022, and Red Bull stole a march over its rivals two years ago. The team had a handy lead over Ferrari and Mercedes and cruised to back-to-back championship doubles, winning the driver’s (Max Verstappen) and constructors’ titles.

So when Verstappen won four out of the first five races in 2024, all with a healthy margin over the opponents, it portended another year of Red Bull domination. However, over the last few races, it has become clear that Ferrari and McLaren have caught up to Red Bull, fighting for wins and podiums. Even though Red Bull has won six out of the nine races, its advantage is reducing, and a Red Bull win is not a foregone conclusion before the weekend, as was the case last year.

For now, Red Bull and Verstappen might not have to worry about a protracted title fight for a couple of reasons. One, the reigning champions still have the fastest car on the grid, and Verstappen has a healthy lead of 56 points over Charles Leclerc in second. More importantly, although Ferrari and McLaren have won races this year, it is still unclear whether they can be consistently quick over a range of tracks to threaten the leaders.

Max throttle

Even though Verstappen doesn’t have the same car advantage he had last year, the three-time champion is sitting pretty in the driver’s championship with a handy lead. He has shown time and again this season why he is paid the big bucks and considered one of the best drivers the sport has seen. In the last few races, Verstappen illustrated the value he brings to Red Bull, and it can be safely said that he has proven to be the difference between winning and finishing in the lower end of the top-10. In Canada, Verstappen barely put a foot wrong. Despite McLaren having a slightly faster car overall, the 26-year-old showed how to execute a race flawlessly, even in challenging conditions because of rain. Similarly, in Imola, it was Verstappen’s pace and race management skills that helped him starve off a late challenge from McLaren’s Lando Norris.

In contrast, teammate Sergio Perez has struggled in the last two events in the same car, crashing out in Monaco and Canada. The Mexican driver’s qualifying performances have been underwhelming, failing to qualify for the top-ten shootout in the last three races. Perez’s underperformance in 2023 did not hurt Red Bull, as its dominant car in the hands of Verstappen won 19 out of the 22 races, and the Milton Keynes-based outfit cruised to the constructors’ title on the Dutchman’s coattails.

But right now, only 49 points separate Red Bull from Ferrari, and the Italian team has two drivers - Leclerc and Carlos Sainz - who maximise the car’s capabilities. Red Bull will hope Perez doesn’t have another prolonged mid-season slump like he has had in the last two years because it could prove costly this year when Ferrari and McLaren are snapping at the heels.

This year, the F1 driver market has been bustling early, even before the start of the season. Usually, the driver signings are announced around the summer break when options to take up a contract kick in or expire. Once Lewis Hamilton announced early in February that he would move to Ferrari next year, the silly season got going immediately afterwards.

Since then, Nico Hulkenberg has announced he will join Sauber, which will become Audi in 2026, and Esteban Ocon’s frosty relationship with Alpine will end at the end of the year. However, the two big questions remain unanswered: where will Carlos Sainz go, and who will occupy the second seat at Mercedes?

Sainz, who was hoping to extend his stay at Ferrari, was the big loser in the Hamilton-Ferrari marriage. Mercedes has closed the door on the Spaniard, and the three-time race winner’s hopes of eyeing the second Red Bull seat ended when Perez got a contract extension despite his floundering results. Sainz’s options currently are Sauber/Audi, Williams or a return to Alpine, though the last option looks unlikely.

Earlier this season, Mercedes was readying an audacious move to poach Verstappen. There have been internal fissures inside Red Bull after a female employee alleged harassment by team boss Christian Horner, though he was eventually cleared of wrongdoing. It is also understood that Horner and team advisor Dr Helmut Marko do not see eye-to-eye, and Verstappen has made it clear that his future in the team depends on Dr Marko being around.

Red Bull also lost the services of its star designer, Adrian Newey, prompting further speculation about Verstappen’s future. Mercedes boss Toto Wolff spoke about wanting to hire Verstappen if possible. But the talks, though, seemed to have died down, and it looks like the German marquee will promote the soon-to-be 18-year-old F2 driver Andrea Kimi Antonelli, who many consider to be the next big thing in F1.

The next run of seven races - five before the month-long summer break and two after that - is crucial for the championship battle. More importantly, the upcoming races will also give a clear picture of the pecking order. As the distance from the factories (mainly in the U.K.) to the tracks is not an issue anymore - unlike during the flyaway races outside of Europe - teams will be working hard to bring the latest parts at the eleventh-hour chasing performance, and we will have an understanding of the developmental race between the various outfits.

This week’s Spanish GP would give the first good reading of where each team stands. The teams and drivers know the Barcelona circuit intimately well, having spent hours driving around during pre-season testing over the last two decades. The circuit has a mix of high-speed, medium and low-speed corners, including a long straight and tests the car across various speed ranges, making it the perfect venue for testing. Though the racing is generally dull, as overtaking is difficult at this venue, it can expose the cars’ strengths and weaknesses. A thumb rule of F1 has been that a car that goes well around Barcelona will be strong in most other venues.

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