Will F1 2024 return to ‘normal’ as Red Bull flexes its muscles in Barcelona?

The 2024 Formula 1 season has become a three- or even four-horse race in recent races, but Red Bull is keen to reassert its dominance on the tracks that suit its car much better.

Both McLaren and Ferrari have been closing the gap on Red Bull since their promotions at Miami and Imola. In Canada, Mercedes has joined the fray to make it a four-way battle as it has reached a sweet spot with its frequent upgrades.

Increased competition has breathed new life into the series following Max Verstappen and Red Bull’s 2023 round.

Over the past four races, the margin of first place to second place wins – a car from a different team each time – has been 0.141 seconds, 0.091 seconds, 0.154 seconds and 0.000 seconds, the latter thanks to the intense heat between George Russell and Verstappen in Montreal. .
Victory margins also fell, down to less than a second in the close Imola encounter that saw Verstappen beat McLaren’s Lando Norris.

But the important thing is that the past four races have all been on technical tracks with plenty of bumps and curbs that continue to graze Red Bull’s Achilles heel, with only a few high-speed swoops where the RB20 can stretch its legs.

It was clear that both drivers were suffering from the car’s rebellious behavior, which had a bad effect on Sergio Perez’s confidence. But Verstappen has won two of the past four races, which could be an ominous sign for the traditional circuits of Barcelona, ​​Austria and Silverstone that make up the first of a trio in 2024.

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Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing, pole position, raises the winner’s trophy

Photography: Mark Sutton / Motorsport pictures

Charles Leclerc has already warned that “Red Bull’s power will be even more evident at a track like Barcelona”, and Russell has echoed the cautionary warnings for Ferrari drivers in similar terms.

Red Bull is confident he will be proven right.

“Yes, this race will give a clear picture,” Red Bull advisor Helmut Marko told Motorsport.com. “Barcelona is a decent race track and so it will give us a good indication of what’s next for Austria, Silverstone etc. We think Barcelona should be fine for us, normally.”

Team principal Christian Horner was equally upbeat after Red Bull made it through the toughest series of circuits unscathed, with two race wins and a pole position as well.

“The last two races were more disruptive for us, but we still managed to win two of the last three races,” Horner said. “We took pole at Imola and were able to equal the pole time [in Montreal] With a car, both drivers feel its shortcomings [of]”.

But there is less consensus on who will be the closest chaser for the Milton Keynes team because the differences are so small that it is too close to call and more track specific.

McLaren can claim to have been the most consistent contender in recent weeks, scoring between 27 and 30 points over five successive weekends. It’s also heading to tracks where the MCL38 should be strong on paper, having been a major force in the latter half of 2023 in high-speed corners.

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A large part of its recent form is down to unleashing more performance in the lower-speed sections, but the team is hoping that won’t impact its high-downforce prowess.

Oscar Piastri, McLaren MCL38

Oscar Piastri, McLaren MCL38

Photography: Zach Mauger / Motorsport pictures

“I think we can still be confident,” Oscar Pastre said. “I can’t say we’re weak at high speed, it’s just that the others might have caught up with us a little bit. I’m pretty confident we’ll be somewhere towards the front. Red Bull will probably be a little stronger than they were before.” But we will be in the fight.”

Ferrari showed in Montreal how seriously they can be punished for setup errors or other errors, with both cars exiting in Q2. The nightmare weekend continued on Sunday, with both Leclerc and Sainz withdrawing from a wet to dry race.

But all signs point to his horror show being a one-off, and team boss Vasseur certainly wasn’t going to let a bad weekend derail the team’s recent upward trajectory.

“We will have good weekends and bad weekends but the important thing is to maintain the same approach, continue developing, continue fixing problems and not reduce motivation,” he said.

“We are not world champions after a good weekend and we are nowhere after a difficult weekend. We will return to Spain and get back on the pace.”

Mercedes faces perhaps the biggest weekend of the three, as it wants to confirm whether or not its new front wing can make similar gains on a very different type of track, having also brought an updated surface to the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

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“I really think our performance step is right and true,” Russell said after competing for the win in Montreal.

George Russell, Mercedes-AMG Formula 1 Team, third place, Lando Norris, McLaren Formula 1 Team, second place, on the podium with Champagne

George Russell, Mercedes-AMG Formula 1 Team, third place, Lando Norris, McLaren Formula 1 Team, second place, on the podium with Champagne

Photography: Zach Mauger / Motorsport pictures

“I think we can be in this fight with McLaren, let’s hope we can keep fighting with Max, and let’s see with Ferrari, obviously they’ve got the weekend off a little bit.

Team principal Toto Wolff added: “Since Imola, we have taken the right steps and put working parts into the car. We seem to be adding performance every weekend. We have new parts coming in Barcelona that will help us, so I very much hope we can continue this positive trajectory.” .

When asked about Mercedes’ rise, Norris said: “If they are faster in the next few races as well, and join the fight between Ferrari, Red Bull and us, it will make our lives more exciting and more stressful.” Norris said.

“Now there will probably be eight cars competing there, so it’s exciting for us and everyone.”

It’s certainly an exciting proposition for Ferrari, McLaren and Mercedes to all survive the summer break.

But the big question is whether or not Red Bull will be ahead of them all. And how much?

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