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F1 2024: Martin Brundle previews new season, unpredictable driver market and Bahrain GP prospects

As the countdown continues to the new season's first grand prix this week, Martin Brundle assesses a big year for the driver market and looks ahead to the Bahrain GP; watch 2024's first race live on Sky Sports F1 with the Bahrain race on SATURDAY at 3pm

Sky Sports F1's Martin Brundle believes the new 2024 season has "story in every seat on the grid" with over half the field out of contract and the Lewis Hamilton to Ferrari switch for next year having already energised the driver market.

Ahead of this week's season-opening Bahrain GP live on Sky Sports F1, when the race will take place a day earlier than normal on Saturday, Brundle said: "Those drivers who don't have a fixed contract for 2025 will realise there is a lot of threat and a lot of opportunity going forward.

"There really is a story in every seat on the grid."

Only seven of the grid's 20 drivers - Max Verstappen, Lewis Hamilton, George Russell, Charles Leclerc, Lando Norris, Oscar Piastri and Alex Abon - have contracts which have publicly been confirmed to run beyond this season.

Discussing some of the drivers and team-mate match-ups likely to provide talking points through the record 24-race campaign, Brundle said: "Let's hope Sergio Perez regains his confidence and form like we saw from him in the early part of last year in Jeddah and Baku when he got ahead of Max Verstappen and kept it there.

"Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri at McLaren, with Oscar now in his second year of F1, is a wonderful combination and I think they'll drive each other on.

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"I'm looking forward to George Russell coming out of Lewis Hamilton's shadow a little bit. I think he has got all the ingredients to step up and lead that team as the season progresses.

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"Carlos Sainz, I think will be a free spirit in his final year at Ferrari.

"Has Daniel Ricciardo got his mojo, that he often refers to, back and how good is that RB car going to be? Has Fernando Alonso in his 40s still got the motivation?

"If Williams don't take a massive step forward, I would say that Alex Albon will be thinking 'I've got to get in a works team' whatever his contractual situation is. Logan Sargeant is probably fighting for a seat.

"There will be a story in all 20 cars."

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In an off-season of unpredictable news, Hamilton's signing for Ferrari next year was as stunning as it was seismic.

"The Lewis Hamilton to Ferrari story is the gift that will keep giving," said Brundle of F1's blockbuster transfer.

"It's great for Formula 1 and it will be great for Lewis. We're going to get benefit from that this year even before he gets to Ferrari."

That unexpected development, which emerged publicly on February 1, immediately served to ensure there would be a different 2024 for Carlos Sainz, the driver who Hamilton will replace, to the one the Spaniard had originally envisaged.

"It's highly unusual the situation Carlos finds himself in," said Brundle.

"He's a world-class driver, who won a race last year, and is being eased out of a world-class car. In the end you have to start thinking about yourself and you race for yourself.

"So it's going to be frustrating for Carlos, he's been a Ferrari driver, but I think this could be his best season yet.

"But that's as long as you don't get desperate and want to show the world what you think is a terrible mistake they've made. That's when you start trying too hard, like in any sport, or things happen and you get a bit tight in the car. But it's the nature of our business. It's a big world championship but it's a small number of key players in 300-400 metres of paddock. People know how to handle it to an extent."

On what it is like for a driver knowing they are on the way out of a team they are still driving for, Brundle explained: "In a way you're a free spirit because you can drive for yourself if you know you're leaving.

"You know that if other teams are looking at you for a drive that if you have a series of shunts or you get heavily outqualified by your team-mate - or indeed visa-versa - people start over analysing that sometimes. It's almost like whatever you've done in your career up until that point gets erased and you are almost micro-analysed lap by lap, race by race, qualifying by qualifying.

"It's very clear to note when you stop getting invited to meetings. There is never a clear-cut point when anyone rings you up and goes 'ok, this is the turning point, you are persona non grata from here on in', you just start to notice things like you're not party to details of new parts or invited to certain meetings, and also these days that you're not in the simulator.

"It is uncomfortable and I think you start seeing 'ghosts' and imagining all the focus is on the other side of the garage, or people see you and they look down because they are embarrassed.

"I had this at Benetton in 1992 when it was clear that Riccardo Patrese had got my drive for 1993. Maybe you start seeing things that don't exist, but you kind of sense that you're out of the loop and no longer part of the team, whether it was your choice or somebody else's choice.

"In the end racing drivers are human beings with the same emotions that everybody else has. If you got fired at work but had to hang around for a year and do the best job you could, I think anybody can actually place themselves in that situation. But then multiply that by having tens or hundreds of millions of people watching you do that job that you've been fired from."

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As for the situation at Mercedes, where Hamilton starts what will be his 12th and final season of a record-breaking partnership, Brundle expects that the seven-time champion's exit will be handled well.

He also believes that the split opens up fresh opportunities for the 26-year-old Russell and the team as a whole.

"The team will want to show their sponsors and fans that George is very capable of leading that team into the future. So that's where their priorities will be," said Brundle.

"I see Lewis and Mercedes having a bit of a farewell tour. It will get tetchy from time to time but I think they are all adults; I don't see a lot of acrimony there.

"But George will come out of Lewis' shadow and I think it will do him the world of good, to be honest. I think the whole situation will energise Mercedes as well because they can get a young gun in and build for the future. That's what I presume they'll do for 2025, but who knows."

Can Red Bull be challenged and what's the early pecking order look like for Bahrain?

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As for the racing action itself, Brundle said of his hopes for 2024: "I'm hoping that teams have closed the gap to Red Bull and we won't have a single-team dominance.

"Unfortunately, the test suggested otherwise but it's one test in warm conditions on one track, so we'll see.

"But even if you look cold hard facts of the championship positions at the end of the season, it didn't tell the true story because we had some incredible races last year.

"At the moment it looks like it's Red Bull with Ferrari chasing them hard, pretty much as we finished last year really. Then, from what I understand having spoken to various people since the test, it's Mercedes, Aston Martin and McLaren very close together, with all three hard on the heels of the Ferrari hopefully.

"Alpine and Haas seem to be struggling. Williams are doing ok but haven't yet made the step they want and have got to understand their new car. Then you've got the RB and the Sauber teams looking pretty handy and possibly they might get in the mix.

"So that looks to be the pecking order as we go into the start of the season."

The third year of the current era of ground-effect regulations has seen a number of teams, such as Mercedes, Ferrari and Alpine, make significant changes to their cars in a bid to establish a new more fruitful direction of development.

"I think a lot of teams have made their bigger changes for 2024 knowing it will be an updated car for 2025 because all of the energy, money of the cost cap, and resource will go into the dramatically all-new 2026 car," added Brundle.

"So that makes this a key year. What they take into this year and develop will very much paint the picture for 2025 too."

Watch every round of the new season, starting with the Bahrain Grand Prix from Thursday February 29 to Saturday March 2. Stream every F1 race and more with a NOW Sports Month Membership


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