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TESTING DEBRIEF: The surprising – and less surprising – teams who came out fighting on Day 1 of 2024 testing

F1 Correspondent & Presenter

Lawrence Barretto
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BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - FEBRUARY 21: Daniel Ricciardo of Australia driving the (3) Visa Cash App RB

Three days of pre-season testing got under way in the Bahraini desert on Wednesday, with F1 teams getting a first chance to unleash their 2024 machines in anger.

Yes, it’s pointless to read anything into the classification, as teams run a variety of programmes with differing fuel loads, and on a range of tyre compounds. But it is possible to get a read on an emerging pecking order. So, who is looking good? And who has work to do?

Red Bull begin defence with ominous pace

Red Bull broke with tradition this season and revealed a new-spec car, rather than just a livery, at their car launch – and the aggressive RB20 that broke cover had a series of design innovations that will have left their rivals intrigued.

READ MORE: Red Bull ‘got the answers we needed to’ after first day of 2024 testing for Verstappen

That intrigue may have turned to worry when they saw Max Verstappen’s first laps in the car on day one, the reigning world champion leading the way after the morning session and stepping up his game in the afternoon, pumping in a 1m 31.344s that was 1.140s quicker than anyone else.

He logged an impressive 143 laps – which is over two Grands Prix distances – and looked super comfortable out on track all day. The car looked on rails through the fast stuff as the Dutchman ticked off Red Bull’s testing checklist.

Verstappen said he got back into “the swing of things pretty quickly” and overall, “the car was responding well”.

It’s still too early to know just how good this Red Bull is, but their opening day couldn’t have gone much better – and they head into the final days with an extra spring in their step.

F1 pre-season testing 2024: Day 1 Highlights

Aston Martin, RB and Ferrari look intriguing

There have been high hopes inside Aston Martin that the team have delivered a good follow-up to their 2023 car that secured eight podiums – and based on Fernando Alonso’s superb run in the morning and an encouraging performance from Lance Stroll later in the afternoon, they may well be onto something.

It's believed the numbers correlated to those running off the wind tunnel and CFD (computation fluid dynamics simulations). Yes, it’s fair to say that the team haven’t pushed the car yet – but to have the AMR24 do everything they expected it to on a very smooth opening day… well, it’s no wonder they’re pretty happy.

READ MORE: New Mercedes ‘feels nicer to drive’ than previous car as Russell assesses first day of testing

The same can be said of Ferrari, who are understood to be cautiously optimistic about their new package, having clocked 133 laps between Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc across the two sessions.

But perhaps the surprise package of the day was RB – who entered the year expecting some growing pains having made so many changes during the off-season, including recruiting Laurent Mekies as their Team Principal and installing a new senior management structure.

But Yuki Tsunoda and Daniel Ricciardo looked very comfortable behind the wheel of the VCARB 01 straight out of the box – and while the team moved to play down the strong and consistent lap times, given they had undergone so much change this winter, this was about as good a first day as they could have hoped for.

BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - FEBRUARY 21: Lance Stroll of Canada driving the (18) Aston Martin AMR24 Mercedes

Aston Martin had a promising first day in Bahrain

McLaren a different team to 12 months ago

This time last year, McLaren were in a world of pain as the car they had was a compromise after a late change in development direction. That left the papaya cars way off the pace and facing a fight to get out of Q1 in the early stages of the season.

Fast forward to now and the team couldn’t be in a more different position. The MCL38 looks like a solid step forward on its predecessor, with Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri able to clock up 130 laps between them on a very satisfying day.

HIGHLIGHTS: Watch the action from the first day of pre-season testing as Verstappen tops the times

The McLaren was one of the more impressive cars around the Bahrain International Circuit on Wednesday, with Norris and Piastri able to get up to speed very quickly.

The MCL38 looked compliant, with the drivers able to find a good balance to build on – and they are very much in the mix with Aston Martin, Ferrari and RB in the pack of teams who will be encouraged by their opening salvos.

BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - FEBRUARY 21: Alexander Albon of Thailand driving the (23) Williams FW46 Mercedes

It wasn't the opening to 2024 that Williams would have wanted

Williams endure frustrating opening day

Williams have taken a new direction with their 2024-spec car, the British team looking to make their machine an all-rounder that is strong across most tracks, rather than a slippery beast that excels on the straights – and the early signs are they’ve made good headway in achieving that goal.

Logan Sargeant said it felt “very different” to last year’s machine, in a positive way. However, the team – who pushed development so hard, they left it until the day before pre-season testing to complete their first shakedown – encountered a series of niggles that lost them hours of track time.

WATCH: 'Not the nicest' testing session for Albon after fuel-pump issue

A fuel system issue curtailed Alex Albon’s morning running, limiting the Thai driver to just 40 laps, while Sargeant had a spin when he hit a bump, ruining a set of tyres, and then had his session end early because of a suspected driveshaft issue.

They’ve got a lot of work to do now over the last couple of days to try and make up ground and complete their testing programme ahead of the season opener at the same venue next weekend.

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