F1 pre-season testing: Red Bull main focus as teams prepare for new season

Few seem under any illusion that the world champions will start the season with an advantage over the field. The questions are: how big will it be and how long will it last?

This belief is based not only on the fact that Red Bull won all but one race last year. But also, as expressed by McLaren team principal Andrea Stella last week, that their car was so dominant that the team were able to stop developing it early on and still keep winning – which will have freed up more development resources for the 2024 design.

The hope is that Red Bull will be closer to the top of the development curve with the regulations and that others, with more to find, will therefore close up as the races tick by.

McLaren were the team to make the most progress in 2023, starting the season close to the back before leaping to join the pack behind Red Bull with a mid-season upgrade – one of the most impressive in-season development steps ever seen in F1. Stella feels that something similar – while starting from a much higher baseline – might again be possible.

“If we keep the development rate we had in 2023, that we will add hopefully on to the 2024 car, I think we can be in a strong position,” he said. “Whether that is enough to challenge Red Bull and the other top teams, we will find out.”

Can Mercedes recover winning form?

The Red Bull is not the only new car drawing attention. Newey said at his car’s launch that there was an innovation on the Mercedes that he found “interesting” although he would not reveal what it was. The suspicion is that he was referring to the front wing design.

Wolff has described this year’s Mercedes as “complete relaunch”. And it needs to be, because as he admitted himself they “got it wrong with the new regulations” introduced in 2022.

The new Mercedes certainly looks different from their last two unsuccessful designs. And the former champions hope the three days in Bahrain this week will confirm that they have changed the fundamental characteristics of their car.

For the past two years, Hamilton and George Russell complained that the Mercedes was unpredictable and sapped confidence – they never quite knew what it was going to do when they turned it into a corner.

As Wolff put it: “The target is to do a good job, look inwards, try to have the car on track that is predictable and has lots of downforce, to give a car to Lewis and George that they enjoy driving and [is] not as difficult as the previous years. Hopefully in Bahrain we will have more good feedback than bad.”

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