Enlarge image

The current season's driver field: Although there were no changes over the winter, it won't stay that way for long


Adam Pretty/Formula 1/Getty Images

The new Formula 1 season begins on Saturday with the Bahrain Grand Prix (4 p.m. CET, live ticker SPIEGEL.de, TV: Sky and RTL).

The fact that it seems as if there was almost no winter break is (for once) less due to the record calendar of 24 races, but primarily to the constant flood of news.

In December, the world governing body FIA investigated Formula 1 team boss Toto Wolff and his wife Susie because of a possible conflict of interest, but discontinued the investigation a short time later.

At the beginning of February, Formula 1 rejected the entry of an eleventh team led by Michael Andretti and the US company General Motors, to the displeasure of American fans in particular.

Just one day later, seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton caused a stir when he moved to Ferrari.

Three days later, the world champion team Red Bull initiated an investigation against their own team boss Christian Horner.

Horner was acquitted on Wednesday evening, but many questions remained unanswered.

It is not yet clear how far the case will develop after documents were leaked on Thursday evening that presumably heavily incriminate Horner.

At the start of the season you will find everything you need to know about favorites, rules and a special problem at Mercedes here:

Why is the season opener taking place on Saturday?

The race in Bahrain was brought forward to Saturday, as was the second race on March 9 in Saudi Arabia, because the Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins the day after the Jeddah race.

According to the regulations, there must be at least one week between two Grand Prix.

The first two race weekends begin on Thursday with free practice, and qualifying takes place on Friday.

The race in the gaming paradise of Las Vegas on November 23rd will also start again late Saturday evening (local time).

The 1985 South African Grand Prix was the last race to be held on a Saturday.

What's new?

There have been no major reforms in the technical regulations.

There will be new engine regulations for two years.

The new racing cars this season are therefore more or less major developments of the 2023 models. An exception was made by Red Bull, of all companies, who presented a special side box concept at the official test days in Bahrain - and thus annoyed their arch-enemy Mercedes.

(Read more here) 

Familiar faces in the cockpit – the driver market is still hot

Not a single driver changed teams over the winter.

This hasn't happened in Formula 1 for a long time. But because some contracts expire after the upcoming season, there is likely to be a lot of movement on the transfer market this year.

The surprising announcement of Hamilton's move to Ferrari has accelerated the process, after all a cockpit is now available in one of the top teams.

A 17-year-old “child prodigy” is also said to have played a role.

That's what team boss Wolff called the young Andrea Kimi Antonelli, who has been in Mercedes' youth program since 2019.

The Italian is starting his first Formula 2 season for Prema this year, but he was so good that he skipped Formula 3, enthused Wolff.

The Austrian recently said that Antonelli was one reason why Hamilton didn't get a long-term contract extension last year.

Because there is “a junior at a very high level,” he wanted to “keep this option open” for Mercedes, said Wolff.

Who are the favorites for the world title?

Clearly, Red Bull and Max Verstappen.

Although the car is still a surprise for the race after the surprising major modification, it impressed in official training a week ago in Bahrain.

The affair surrounding team boss Horner should not have distracted the team to such an extent that its sporting success suffered.

Bets against the Dutchman's fourth title in a row are likely to be few and far between.

The first pursuer this year could be Scuderia Ferrari.

The new car seems fast and reliable, and tire wear - a vexing issue for the team from Maranello - has apparently been reduced compared to the previous year.

Charles Leclerc is also the man behind the wheel who can compete with Verstappen in terms of basic speed.

If the RB20 still causes coordination problems after the modifications at the start of the season, this could be the opportunity for the Monegasque.

Mercedes and Aston Martin lurk close behind.

The new Mercedes seems easier to drive and more predictable.

Aston Martin appears to have taken another step forward over the winter, as indicated on the final day of training in Bahrain.

In 2023, the racing team with veteran star Fernando Alonso was the sensation of the first third of the season.

At McLaren they are a little more cautious.

Overall, the MCL38 is faster than its predecessor, but still too inconsistent, said pilot Lando Norris.

The team from Woking only managed to catch up with the top last season by further developing the car during the season, and that could be the case again this year.

What problem is facing Mercedes?

The fact that its star driver announced his departure to Ferrari next year so shortly before the start of the season will complicate the season for the Mercedes racing team.

Hamilton said he was “still 100 percent committed” to Mercedes.

And: “We want to end with a climax.” However, this will at least be made more difficult in various ways.

Hamilton will be the future Ferrari driver throughout 2024, his opinion on what is happening at the Scuderia will be asked publicly, and the racing team's successes and failures should always be evaluated with a view to Hamilton's future.

In this mixed situation, Hamilton will have to do his work at Mercedes.

The processes at the Silver Arrows could also become more difficult as the year progresses.

Verstappen had already agreed to this: "If you announce something so big so early, then the rest of the year will definitely be a bit unpleasant," said the Dutchman.

Hamilton may soon no longer be privy to all internal affairs because otherwise he would take knowledge with him to the competition, Verstappen speculated.

Hamilton and George Russell could also get in each other's way when it comes to team structure.

Team boss Wolff had already emphasized the increased importance of 25-year-old Russell for the team's plans from the coming season.

The Brit has “the potential to lead the team.”

Tensions had already arisen between the two drivers last year.

Where can you watch Formula 1 on TV?

As usual, Sky is showing all sessions and races live, and the pay-TV broadcaster has also entered into a cooperation with RTL.

The Cologne private broadcaster will broadcast seven races live on free-to-air television.

This affects the opening Grand Prix in Bahrain, the Hungarian Grand Prix in Budapest on July 21st, the races in Spa-Francorchamps (July 28th), Zandvoort (August 25th), Monza (September 1st) and Baku (September 15) and Las Vegas (November 24).

There are also several sprint races and qualifying sessions on RTL or the streaming platform RTL+.

Sky also shows races from the Formula 1 supporting program, which includes Formula 2, Formula 3 and the F1 Academy racing series, in which only women compete against each other.

Pit lane reporter Kai Ebel is also making his comeback for RTL in Bahrain.

The 59-year-old is part of the team at the private broadcaster, which bought sublicenses again from Sky after a year-long break.

Ebel became known, among other things, for his striking wardrobe as a reporter in Formula 1.

RTL also signed former Haas team boss Günther Steiner, who had to leave in January after ten years with the US racing team.

The 58-year-old South Tyrolean, who has gained some notoriety not least through his pithy statements in the Netflix series "Drive to Survive", will analyze what is happening for the first time at the start of the season in Bahrain alongside presenter Florian König.