What we learned from Day 2 of F1 2024 pre-season testing in Bahrain

The second day of 2024 F1 testing in Bahrain is over with Carlos Sainz setting the fastest lap

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Just as quickly as Formula 1 pre-season testing returns and the drivers get their first feel behind the wheel of their 2024 cars, it’s nearly over.

With two sessions down in Bahrain, murmurs from around the paddock that Red Bull are going to be in a league of their own once again are well-founded, but the battle to be the ‘best of the rest’ is shaping up nicely if the data is anything to go by.

Day 1 of testing saw Max Verstappen go a second clear of his closest challenger at the Bahrain International Circuit, although the Dutchman did not appear for his allotted afternoon session. Sergio Perez was handed a longer time in the car due to a shortened morning session, giving him the world champion a rare opportunity to put his feet back and relax.

It’s often said that Day 2 gives a more realistic outlook as to which teams are on track to start the season on a positive note. Lewis Hamilton won’t mind that after having the Mercedes W15 all to himself as he clocked 123 laps across both sessions.

Lewis Hamilton during Day 2 of F1 testing 2024 | Mercedes / Jiri Krenek

But Ferrari were quickest in both sessions, with Charles Leclerc at the top of the timing sheets ahead of Oscar Piastri in the morning before an issue with a drain cover spelled the end of the session. Race control opted to abort restarting the session and extend the afternoon session, which meant drivers swapping would get just two and a half hours of running compared to the afternoon runners with a five-hour slot.

Leclerc’s team-mate Carlos Sainz then posted the fastest time since testing began on the C4 soft compound tyre, becoming the first driver to go below the 90-second bar around the Sakhir International Circuit with a 1:29.921. Norris showed his pace in the McLaren again to slot in behind Sainz on the C3 tyre, before Hamilton and then Perez went quicker towards the close of the day.

Here’s what we took away from Day 2 in Bahrain…

Ferrari pose a genuine threat

Staying true to Leclerc’s career narrative, the Monegasque had a day to celebrate in the SF-24, but not without an asterix.

The 26-year-old posted a time of 1:31.750 in the morning session, some eight tenths up on Verstappen’s time from the day before.

In any case, it was still four tenths short of Verstappen’s fastest overall lap – a 1:31.344 – to give Leclerc a target to hit, before the drain cover reared its ugly head.

Charles Leclerc during Day 2 of F1 testing 2024 | @F1 / X.com

The only issue for the Scuderia is that Verstappen was not in the car at the same time, and it would have been helpful to get a lap-by-lap comparison of their pace in the same conditions. The other obvious point to make is we have no clue what fuel load Ferrari were running in comparison to Red Bull, with Perez 1.1 seconds slower than Leclerc.

But there is finally some cause for optimism. Maybe, just maybe, the Scuderia have something up their sleeve in taking the fight to the Austrian manufacturer. There is always some caution applied to lap times at this stage of the season, but if Sainz going a second faster than everyone else isn’t evidence that Ferrari are quick, then what is?

Perez bounces back

Spare a thought for Perez, who would have been excited watching Max Verstappen punch in 143 laps in the car on Day 1 without any indication of any underlying issues. And why would there be? The Red Bull looked phenomenal on track.

Only seven laps after Perez stepped into the RB20, however, a brake fire caused by cooling issues sent him back to garage. Now we’re not crying conspiracy – technical issues can happen to any driver – but this puts the 34-year-old on the back foot already, as he tries to make something of what could be his last season with the constructors’ champions.

Red Bull pair Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez walk through the Bahrain paddock at the start of 2024 F1 pre-season testing | Clive Mason/Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

It’s fair to say Perez’s issues in 2023 were self-inflicted as he watched his early season hopes of challenging for the title melt away, and at times, it looked like Verstappen and Perez were driving two entirely different machines. Verstappen’s setup works perfectly for him, while the Mexican never seems to be able to extract the maximum pace from the car.

But this incident was none of his own doing, and it certainly wouldn’t have helped him adjust to Adrian Newey’s bold new design. Perez managed only 20 laps for the morning session – the lowest of any of the 10 drivers on track – before posting triple digits in the afternoon with a session-high 125 laps completed. Even then, he only just managed to squeeze ahead of Hamilton, Norris and Sainz on similar tyres, painting a bleak outlook for prospects.

Drain pain

F1 has a drain problem. Now, that’s not something you would expect a multi-billion pound corporation to struggle with, given their huge profits and insistence on being overly cautious with safety regulations. Yet it is a growing problem in the sport, putting the drivers at risk, and that can’t be allowed to happen.

Cast your minds back to the Las Vegas Grand Prix when a rogue manhole cover came unhinged and wrecked the floor of Sainz’s car. It also ruined his entire race weekend after he was forced to take a 10-place grid penalty to fix the damage.

Drain cover has come loose on Turn 11 | @F1 / X.com

The season hasn’t even started in Bahrain and yet once again, the action on track had to be brought to a halt because of a pesky drain wreaking havoc. A big chunk of the drain on the entry kerb at Turn 11 lifted off and Leclerc ran over it on the track, obliterating the cover and leaving a dangerous gap.

Fortunately, the eagle-eyed Sainz has been here before. The Spaniard noticed the debris whilst he was trackside and after 40 minutes of circuit officials inspecting it, the red flag came out to bring a close to the morning session. What would have happened if Sainz didn’t alert his team? A puncture, perhaps, in addition to the floor damage to Leclerc’s car – and in testing, that’s a massive issue for any team trying to put laps in.

Given that it wouldn’t cost F1 chiefs much more than a handful of race weekend tickets to fix the issue, it begs the question why they don’t. If it’s an isolated incident, that can be accepted once, but this is not the first time it’s happened and it’s unlikely to be the last either.

Joe Krishnan
Joe Krishnan
Joe Krishnan is an NCTJ-qualified journalist who has worked for a number of media organisations, including the Daily Express, The Mirror, Evening Standard, The Independent and Bleacher Report. Joe has been following F1 since when he watched Mika Hakkinen clinch the 1999 drivers' championship, and his first taste of real-life racing action was watching David Coulthard spin off into the gravel at the British Grand Prix at Silverstone in 2001.
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