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Other SportsBahrain Grand Prix 2024: Formula One race preview, how to watch and...

Bahrain Grand Prix 2024: Formula One race preview, how to watch and predictions

The big story

Formula One fans haven’t exactly been short of major storylines during the offseason.

In early February, Lewis Hamilton shocked the sporting world with his announcement that he will join Ferrari ahead of the 2025 season, having activated a break clause in the two-year contract extension he signed with Mercedes just six months earlier.

On Saturday, Hamilton will begin his final season with Mercedes, the team that has helped him capture six of his seven world championships. How they will handle his impending departure is perhaps the most intriguing question ahead of the 2024 campaign.

Read our other F1 news stories here:
Hamilton hopes Horner verdict portrays sport in good light
Carlos Sainz to take time over next move after losing Ferrari seat to Hamilton
Lewis Hamilton: Red Bull ‘in the distance’ despite Mercedes improvements

While Hamilton has talked up Mercedes’ improvements to the W15, they remain some way off possessing a championship-winning car, and mid-season developments will surely prioritise George Russell’s needs as the team prepare for a future without Hamilton.

The 39-year-old thus looks unlikely to test the dominance of Red Bull and Max Verstappen consistently this term, but a race win after two painful seasons without one will be his primary aim.

Hamilton’s five previous victories in Bahrain are more than any other driver has managed. What he would give for a sixth to kickstart his long Mercedes farewell.

The subplots

While Hamilton’s move will be a major talking point all year, the other big question on the lips of F1 fans is who, if anyone, can challenge the Red Bulls?

Red Bull won 21 of the 22 races on the calendar last year, only falling short in Singapore. Verstappen provided a record-breaking 19 of those victories, and after looking a cut above in pre-season testing, he appears a shoo-in to capture his fourth drivers’ championship in 2024.

With the Christian Horner now concluded and the team principal cleared of displaying inappropriate behaviour towards a female colleague, they can now focus fully on on-track matters.

In the final year before regulation changes come in, who is best placed to take wins off Verstappen? Team-mate Sergio Perez is the obvious answer as he looks to put himself in the shop window ahead of his contract expiring, but McLaren might also fancy their chances.

Indeed, five of Lando Norris’ seven podium finishes last year came within the final eight races, while Oscar Piastri joined him in the top three in Japan and Qatar.

Team principal Andrea Stella recently said McLaren are “optimistic” they can overcome Red Bull in certain conditions.

Following their impressive growth over the second half of 2023, Bahrain will be a huge test of McLaren’s ambitions; Norris slipped from P11 to last among the classified runners at the 2023 curtain-raiser as the team battled reliability issues, while Piastri was forced to retire.

McLaren will hope they got this year’s hiccups out of the way during pre-season testing last week, with Norris near the top of the timesheets during days one and two before he fell away on the final day.

The track

The Bahrain Grand Prix celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. Having first appeared on the calendar in 2004, the race has been run in every subsequent season except for 2011, when it was postponed then abandoned due to the Bahraini uprising. In 2022, the event’s contract was renewed through 2036.

Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso is the sole survivor from the 2004 race, which was also the first grand prix to be held in the Middle East.

The Bahrain International Circuit has used the same 5.4-kilometre layout since 2012 and is known as a medium downforce track. Drivers will have to contend with strong winds – particularly through practice and qualifying – as well as the fluctuations in temperature that come with a desert grand prix.

The track did host three days of pre-season testing last week, though fans should not read too much into lap times from those sessions as teams try out different testing programs.

Ferrari and Mercedes are expected to be considerably faster than last week, with the latter using testing as a way to assess the porpoising issues which have hampered them in recent years.

What they said

Verstappen on whether other teams had closed the gap to Red Bull:

“Time will tell if the others are fast or not, or if we are fast enough. Bahrain is one particular track and there are lots of different tracks on the calendar where we have to perform.

“In general, it’s better not to think about it. We’ll wake up, get to the track, see the result – if it’s good or bad, it’s not going to change anything. That’s how I approach it.”

Hamilton on approaching his final year with Mercedes:

“Nothing really changes. I was back at the factory on Monday. It’s full attack, everyone is all hands on deck.

“I’ve been with this team for such a long time. There’s so much love within the team and I still, and always will, love this team. It will be, or it is, emotional. Every week will be emotional.”

Norris on McLaren’s prospects for 2024:

“We have a rough idea of where we are at but we don’t know where we stand. It’s clear there is a top two [Red Bull and Ferrari] then a bunch behind with Mercedes, Aston Martin and us.

“We’re in a much better position than last year and that’s the most important thing.”

When and how to watch

F1 fans in the UK will be able to watch every race of 2024 on Sky Sports F1 or via the Sky Go app. The full schedule for the race weekend is as below.

Full schedule (all times UK)

Thursday 29th February:

First practice 11:30

Second practice 15:00

Friday 1st March:

Third practice 12:30

Qualifying 16:00

Saturday 2nd March:

Race 15:00

Predictions

There will be one common theme running through everyone’s pre-season predictions: Verstappen is expected to be clear at the top. The reigning world champion had real trouble on this track two years ago, failing to finish as Perez took the win, but for now, the onus is on the rest of the grid to prove they can challenge him.

Behind Verstappen, though, there should be an interesting battle for a podium finish. While much is expected of Norris this year, we’re backing Hamilton to outshine the Ferraris and start the season in the top three.

Further down the field, look out for Daniel Ricciardo, now driving for Red Bull’s sister team RB. He is fancied to emerge as a contender to take Perez’s seat for 2025, and RB’s car looked quick in testing.

Harry Carr
Harry Carr
Harry is a freelance sports journalist with experience of working for the Racing Post, Stats Perform, Opta Analyst and more, covering major events across all sports but holding a particular love for the beautiful game.
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