Red Bull remain ahead, but who will come next?

By Joe Bamber

So Red Bull are still good. Will Mercedes strike up competition for second place in the constructors though?

Red bull racing had a phenomenal year in 2023 and with a revolutionary new design, same old blinding speed and iron clad reliability, they look to be all set to emulate or even surpass the phenomenal highs they achieved last season. Even with the season only just begun, we appear forced to theorise about who will be taking second place instead. It may not have the anticipation and sheer excitement of a championship fight. But it will be close.  Mercedes took the runners up prize last year, but will they be able to iron out their problems from 2023 and fight off the reinvigorated outfits of Ferrari and Aston Martin as well as McLaren, who will be looking to start 2024 with the pace they finished last season.

Mercedes finished with less than half the points of Red Bull last season. Leaving an, objectively impressive, second place finish feeling mostly hollow. Aston Martin failed to continue the unexpected speed they demonstrated in the first half of the season and Ferrari continued with their exemplary ability to claw defeat from the jaws of victory. McLaren had one of the more unique seasons in 2023. Starting in horrific fashion this time last year with a double DNF in Bahrain. The team pushed on however, producing an unprecedented level of development ending the second half of the season with a car vying for the podium places.  They lagged behind Mercedes and Ferrari in the final standings after a strong finish could not compensate for their earlier woes. 

Mercedes finished with less than half the points of Red Bull last season

All this left Mercedes in second place with what was, all things considered, a poor car. The W14 was a long way from the rocket ships that have become synonymous with the Brackley team over the past decade. The car lacked balance, was unpredictable and fell embarrassingly short of its rivals in straight line speed. Adopting the ‘zeropod’ design that was so controversial about the previous cars design in the early part of the season before eventually giving up on the philosophy before the Monaco Grand Prix. The car was summarised most simply by Lewis Hamilton, speaking after last year’s US Grand Prix in Austin, Hamilton gave a moderately positive review of the car before conceding, “it still fundamentally is not a winning car”.

After testing last week, it appears a lot of the team’s wrinkles had been ironed out. A new, audacious front wing design, deemed legal by the FIA, seemed right on the regulations cutting edge. The radical new development, along with a refined sidepod approach, it appears the team have created a much more well-rounded car to be grappled with this season and may provide the foundation the former giants need to bounce back to the pinnacle of Formula 1. The drivers certainly agreed. Whilst George Russell remained reserved in his estimations of the team’s chances for the upcoming season, he couldn’t stop himself from admitting the new mixed liveried car was a step forward. “It definitely is an improvement there’s no doubt about that” he stated after Thursdays test. For the first time since that tense finale in 2021, things finally look to be heading in the right direction for the team who created somewhat of a dynasty in the 2010’s. 

A new, audacious front wing design seemed right on the regulations cutting edge

An improvement in form for Mercedes does not negate them form looking in their mirrors, in fact, in the case of Ferrari they may just have edged past. The team appeared to show the biggest improvement of any this February. A refined design focussing on ensuring the car, like the Mercedes, will be less of a handful on a Sunday this season. Leclerc admitted the team had “focussed the most” on the car’s driveability this season, happily reporting “this year the driveability seems to be better”. For a team that has been lying in wait for over 10 years to return to glory, no one will be more motivated to push on than Ferrari. It seems McLaren and Aston Martin won’t be in the fight at Race one, but with the papaya team proving their development magic last season and the ever-stellar Fernando Alonso still as sharp as ever, you would be naïve to count either team out just yet.

Truth is, it seems disappointingly certain that Max Verstappen and his Bull will charge into the distance as they have done the last two years. Regardless, some of the titans of motorsports are about to go wheel to wheel from Bahrain to Abu Dhabi for the second spot to prove they are still a worth name in this sport. There’s an awful lot to prove beyond top spot this season. It may not be for first, but it will be worth watching.

Image: Alberto-g-rovi via Wikimedia Commons

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