Feature F1 Unlocked
IndyCar star James Hinchcliffe picks out five F1 drivers who need to impress in 2024
Last season, IndyCar star James Hinchcliffe picked out his 'heroes' after each Grand Prix. Ahead of the new seaso,n we asked him to select five drivers on the grid who need to impress when racing resumes...
This one is a surprise to no one, Perez included. It’s crazy to think that the 2023 season was considered a rough one for the Mexican veteran when he bagged two wins, was second in the driver’s title and helped the team secure their sixth constructors' crown.
But when you consider that Max Verstappen in the same equipment had 21 podiums from 22 races – 19 of them wins – it paints a bleaker picture.
There were whispers of Perez not even seeing out 2023, never mind retaining the seat for ’24, but a pre-Austin reset helped him regain much of his early season form and solidified his position alongside Verstappen next year.
But his contract is up at the end of this year and he knows he needs to be an all round stronger driver this season if he’s to earn another one with the reigning champs. There is no area of his game that couldn’t use at least some improvement, and the team can’t rely on Verstappen winning 20 races to stay ahead in the constructors’ battle.
No one expects him – or frankly needs him – to match Verstappen, but closing the gap and not letting other drivers between them as often as was the case in 2023 is critical if his career at Red Bull is to continue for a fifth season.
The American rookie held onto his Williams drive for 2024 by the skin of his teeth. He showed pace at times last season that was comparable to team mate Alex Albon, but his inconsistency and several costly accidents held him back from breakout results.
It is tough to overstate the challenge of being a rookie in F1 given the limited testing, and even more so if you haven’t had a year or two of an extensive training programme to help you adapt to the speed and complexity of modern F1 machinery.
With a year of experience and the rookie stripe gone, this season will make or break Sargeant’s future F1 prospects.
Finding speed in a driver is the hardest job, and he seems to have that, so putting together complete weekends on a consistent basis is the name of the game for ’24 if Sargeant is to repay Team Principal James Vowles’ faith in him.
For a majority of the season, Stroll failed to match Fernando Alonso on Saturdays or Sundays. Granted, two-time champ Alonso is one of the toughest yard sticks against which to be measured, but with Lawrence Stroll pouring millions into facilities and personnel to transform Aston Martin into genuine title contenders, the team needs two performers on the track to back up the efforts off it.
Alonso had the highest non-Red Bull podium tally of the year, and Stroll didn’t make the top three once.
The car seemed to be tricky to drive at times during the season, but as the car changes, sometimes the driver needs to change with it to get the best performance – and Stroll struggled compared to Alonso in that department.
That said, some of his strongest drives were right at the season’s end, so hopefully that shows that things are headed in the right direction for the Canadian, or he could see his status at the team under threat for 2025.
This might seem an odd one given the banner rookie campaign from Piastri – but the problem with early success is that expectation shifts accordingly.
He showed such pace and promise as a rookie that the expectation will be, with a year under his belt, that he will be evenly matched with team mate Lando Norris from round one in Bahrain.
Norris will, of course, up his game after the pressure Piastri put on him in the final 10 races of 2023 – which in turn makes Piastri’s job that much harder. And while I don’t believe Piastri to be the type of driver to read his own press and get too comfortable, in any sport the threat of a sophomore slump is real.
He needs to back up his impressive first year with a strong head-to-head performance against Norris to truly establish himself as one of the best on the grid. And hopefully that happens in a McLaren capable of fighting for wins.
There is a good chance that many people in the F1 world will have a closer eye on Ricciardo than any other driver in the first half of 2024.
There has been no attempt made by Red Bull to dispel rumours that Ricciardo and Perez are essentially in a shootout for the second Red Bull seat (currently occupied by Sergio Perez).
And while his mid-season return to the grid with AlphaTauri was impressive given his time out of the car, the races missed with a broken hand set him back – and it’s not like he was comfortably covering team mate Yuki Tsunoda across all metrics.
With a full off-season of preparation, the pressure is on to prove that he deserves a promotion back to the seat he left at the end of 2018. The first 10 races of 2024 will play a huge role in determining if Ricciardo goes from contemplating never racing in Formula 1 again to strapping into one of the most coveted seats on the grid in just 18 months.