Lewis Hamilton’s awkward Mercedes goodbye, more races than EVER before – and can Christian Horner and Red Bull move past the ‘inappropriate behaviour’ allegations? Why F1’s dramatic winter has fans brimming with excitement for the 2024 season

Formula One fans could be forgiven for low expectations of the upcoming season considering the ease with which Max Verstappen claimed his third straight Driver’s Championship last season.

The Dutchman, on board his Red Bull rocket ship, failed to win just three races all year and only once found himself without a place on the podium.

Pre-season testing did little to raise hopes of a 2021-esque title fight, though that should not detract with the host of intriguing storylines the upcoming season has to offer.

All 20 drivers who finished the last campaign return for the season opener in Bahrain this weekend but it would be a brave person to predict that will remain the case by the year’s end.

Then there’s the changes to the calendar, the expanded schedule and, of course, the analysis of Lewis Hamilton-Mercedes relations in his last season with the team following his bombshell transfer.

Reigning world champion Max Verstappen is going for his fourth consecutive title this season

Red Bull are still clearly the team to beat after showing off yet another design philosophy in testing that looks to be head and shoulders above the rest of the field

Lewis Hamilton will make the shock move to Ferrari from Mercedes for the 2025 season

Bombshell, shock, stunning, whichever adjective is used to describe the seven-time world champion’s switch feels an inadequate descriptor. Some have called the 39-year-old’s move to Ferrari at the end of the upcoming season, the biggest driver switch in F1 of all time.

Hamilton and Mercedes are wedded in the sport’s history as Michael Schumacher is to the Scuderia, Sebastian Vettel to Red Bull and now Max Verstappen is to the Austrian manufacturer.

READ MORE: From a life-long obsession to £40m reality… Lewis Hamilton always dreamed of Ferrari, now he’s used his Mercedes ‘out’ clause for an F1 script Netflix will love

During a 13-year association, Hamilton won six of his seven world titles, dominating the turbo-hybrid era of F1 and establishing himself as one of the all-time greats of the sport.

But with Mercedes failing to get to grips with the new, aero-focused generation of cars, the Brit has seen fit to depart in search of a race win, let alone a record-eighth title.

Seeing Hamilton in the blood red overalls of the prancing horse at the Bahrain International Circuit this weekend would have been a delight, yet all involved must wait an entire year for this reality. In the meantime, though, plenty of attention will be on the dynamics within the team ahead of the high-profile divorce.

Since the arrival of George Russell in 2022, Mercedes have been less overt in decisions that would anoint a No 1 driver in the team, with each man able to point to situations over the past two seasons when it appeared the other’s aims were prioritised.

However, in his final campaign, it would be unrealistic, unwise even, for Toto Wolff and his team to back Hamilton to the same degree as Russell, who, despite a disappointing 2023 campaign, is seen as a future world champion.

The Mercedes team principle and part owner claimed that he ‘holds no grudge’ following the startling news earlier this month, going as far to say that in Hamilton he has found a friend in the sport.

But when tough decisions will need to be made on the allocation of resources or the very real fear some within the team will have in sharing information with the man who will join a title rival next term, it will be interesting to see if niceties remain.

Hamilton won six of his seven world titles at Mercedes and had expressed his desire to finish his career with the team

Mercedes are set to have a new look from next season but they must first navigate a potentially awkward final campaign with Hamilton

Ferrari looked to be the best of the rest after pre-season testing in Bahrain this week

Hamilton is set to be paired with established Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc from next year

F1 GRID 2024

Max Verstappen Red Bull

Sergio Perez Red Bull

Lewis Hamilton Mercedes

George Russell Mercedes

Charles Leclerc Ferrari

Carlos Sainz Ferrari

Lando Norris McLaren

Oscar Piastri McLaren

Fernando Alonso Aston Martin

Lance Stroll Aston Martin

Esteban Ocon Alpine

Pierre Gasly Alpine

Alex Albon Williams

Logan Sargeant Williams

Daniel Ricciardo Visa Cash App RB

Yuki Tsunoda Visa Cash App RB

Valtteri Bottas Sauber

Zhou Guanyu Sauber

Kevin Magnussen Haas

Nico Hulkenberg Haas

At present, considering last season’s performance and pre-season testing, Hamilton’s decision to move to Ferrari looks astute. The iconic Italian team appear to have a car capable of being best of the rest.

It’s not a position the record Constructors Championship winners are a fan of being in but it marks an improvement from years of gross underachievement. Ultimately, it’s hard to look past Red Bull and their man main Max Verstappen, who could yet lay claim to several of the historic records Hamilton hoovered up in the last decade.

On the track, with the Dutchman, and off it, with the genius designer Adrian Newey, their elite pit crew (I guess that’s technically still on the track) and legion of expert engineers, Red Bull look in decent shape to improve on their extraordinary 21-win season last term.

Formula E CEO Jeff Dodds is so confident Verstappen will win a fourth straight title that he pledged to donate $250,000 if he doesn’t.

However, the investigation into team principle Christian Horner has made for an incredibly uncomfortable build up for the team. Horner, who earns £8million a year, has won 13 world championships since heading the team as a 31-year-old in 2005. He was then the youngest team principal on the grid. He is now its longest-serving.

He has been cleared of ‘coercive behaviour’ by an independent investigation, but it still remains unclear whether he has a future with the team.

Ford, who are entering an engine partnership with Red Bull from 2026, led calls for a swift conclusion to the saga. In a letter written last week, chief executive Jim Farley expressed his displeasure at the ‘unresolved allegations of inappropriate behaviour by Red Bull Racing leadership’.

Those sentiments, demanding clarity at the earliest opportunity, were echoed by F1’s American owners, Liberty Media.

It is impossible to predict the impact his departure would have on the team, though you’d imagine the absence of someone who has been in post for nearly two decades would be keenly felt.

Christian Horner has been cleared of ‘coercive behaviour’ by an independent investigation

Adrian Newey, the greatest designer in the history of Formula One is key to Red Bull’s success

Haas, no longer led by the charismatic foul-mouthed Guenther Steiner, are one of two teams with a new team principle. Ayao Komatsu has already predicted a tough year for the team


Bahrain GP March 2

Saudi Arabian GP March 9

Australian GP March 24

Japanese GP April 7

Chinese GP April 21

Miami GP May 5

Emilia Romagna GP May 19

Monaco GP May 26

Canadian GP June 9

Spanish GP June 23

Austrian GP June 30

British GP July 7

Hungarian GP July 21

Belgian GP July 28

Dutch GP August 25

Italian GP September 1

Azerbaijan GP September 15

Singapore GP September 22

United States GP October 20

Mexican GP October 27

Brazilian GP November 3

Las Vegas GP November 24

Lusail GP December 1

Abu Dhabi GP December 8

Should Horner be unable to continue in his role, Red Bull would be the third team on the grid with a new team principle, joining sister team Visa Cash App RB – formerly known as AlphaTauri – as well as Haas in making changes for this term.

No matter the expectations, the requirements of a principle or even that of a member of the pit crew or reporter have increased with the expansion of the upcoming season.

The number of races in a season has steadily increased overtime, beginning with just seven in the inaugural 1950 campaign and peaking at 22 for the first time in 2021. There were supposed to be 23 last season but killer floods led to the cancellation of the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix in May.

The bloated schedule has led to fears from drivers of burnout, with none other than Verstappen hinting at an early retirement. Russell also sent a warning to the sport’s bosses when the calendar was confirmed last year, that they are reaching a breaking point.

‘It is challenging, we can’t just keep adding more commitments, more races, there’s got to be a point where if you are adding something somewhere, something has got to be taken off,’ he said.

‘Maybe at the moment we’re just adding more races and not having less commitments, so you are just working overtime.’

This year’s increase is on account of the return of the Chinese Grand Prix for the first time since the start of the COVID pandemic in 2020. The campaign begins with two races on a Saturday, due to Ramadan, while the LA Vegas GP will also be held on a Saturday this year.

Notable changes include the Japan GP being moved forward from its usual October date that typically has less favorable weather due to the hurricane season. The marathon concludes in Abu Dhabi on December 8.

While more races gives F1 fans, well, more races, the revamp to the sprint format offers a bit more variety, and cynically, a slightly different audience to mine.

This season the sprint races are undergoing yet another alteration aimed at improving its integration with the traditional race weekend, unfortunately the language used is no less confusing.

There will again be six sprint weekends in China, Miami, Austria, Texas, Sao Paulo and Qatar. Only this time, Sprint Qualifying (also known as the Spring Shootout) will take place on a Friday following free practice.

Last year saw qualifying for Sunday’s full-length race take place in this slot. As a result of this change, the Sprint will be first thing on Saturday before the drivers return to the track for qualifying ahead of race day on Sunday.

It will come as a surprise to no one that Verstappen won four of the six Sprint races last term, with his teammate Sergio Perez winning another. The degree to which the format change can alter that stranglehold remains to be seen, though, you’d guess the outcome is likely to bolster the argument of its opponents.

The Chinese GP returns to the F1 calendar for the first time since the COVID pandemic of 2020

Lando Norris and McLaren are expecting to make a better start to this campaign than last year

Carlos Sainz and Oscar Piastri were the only none Red Bull drivers to taste a race win in 2023

All 20 drivers who finished the last campaign have returned for 2024, though just seven have contracts for 2025

The format did at least lead to one unexpected winner of the 2023 season. Across 22 full-length races and six Sprint ones, only four drivers tasted a race win; Verstappen, Perez, Carlos Sainz and Oscar Piastri.

The Australian rookie was at the centre of a feisty tug of war in 2022, leading to Daniel Riccardo’s ousting from McLaren. But Piastri showed he was worth the fuss and at times last season looked a match for Lando Norris.

As previously mentioned, the grid is unchanged this term but there are certainly a few drivers feeling the heat of the gifted batch of young drivers in junior formulas. The likes of Sainz, Esteban Ocon, Sergio Perez, Valtteri Bottas and Logan Sargeant could all be wary of finding a seat next season.

In total, only seven drivers have contracts until the 2025 season, leaving 13 up for grabs and meaning they’ll be an almighty scramble to ensure personal objectives are met.

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