The longest Formula 1 World Cup in history starts this Sunday in Bahrain (4:00 p.m., DAZN) with Max Verstappen and Red Bull as great favorites to chain their third consecutive crown, a challenge that, if achieved, would raise the status of the Dutch by placing him on the same level as Ayrton Senna and Niki Lauda. Despite the run that the energetic team has taken, this is the first season that highlights Mad Max as the main reference, at least if we look at what happened during winter rehearsals. “In what areas is this car better than the previous one?” Verstappen was asked this Thursday, at the Sakhir circuit. “In all of them,” he replied, with that look that seems to go through reinforced concrete.
Two years ago, the red buffalo team appeared what seemed like a chimera by stopping Mercedes, which was circulating packed with a streak of seven doubles (2014-2020). The most relevant thing is that it achieved it in the last year of a cycle of regulatory stability that erupted in 2022, and that forced the redesign of the single-seaters to adapt them to the new aerodynamic framework. In this scenario, Red Bull once again demonstrated why it deserves to be seen as the most effective gear in the paddock, by staging a comeback forced by a traumatic start, as a result of a lack of confidence in his car. In the hands of Verstappen, the RB18 ran dry in two of the first three stops on the calendar to later enter that sweet zone that allowed the Hasselt boy to leave on his shoulders in Japan, much earlier than expected.
The troop festival in Milton Keynes (Great Britain) made a decisive contribution to those who, on paper, should complicate things for him. True to its modern DNA, Ferrari made life miserable with inexplicable strategic triggers, big enough to render the unquestionable speed of the F1-75, the sharpest red car of the last decade, ineffective.
The Maranello prototype was able to accumulate more privileged positions (12) than any other, even though Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz could only climb four times to the top step of the podium. Mercedes, for its part, got entangled alone in the projection of its W13 until it turned it into a torture rack for Lewis Hamilton and George Russell, victims of the shaker that they had to drive until the technicians found the key to increase the famous porpoisethe ground effect.
The championship is now rolling again without any dramatic change in the regulations, a circumstance that anticipates a course of continuity; that is, with Red Bull as the dominator while the brand of the star and that of The Prancing Horse They will do everything possible to recover lost ground. At this point it will be necessary to see what the effervescence with which Aston Martin has presented itself, the great surprise of the preseason, gives of itself. The Silver Arrows have barely changed their focus and it could be said that the most relevant difference is the recovery of the black color in the decoration of their racing car. Ferrari, in turn, has been entrusted to Frédéric Vasseur, its fifth director in 10 years, after killing Mattia Binotto, his predecessor, who fell in the same way that Stefano Domenicali and Marco Mattiacci (2014) did before, and Mauricio Arrivabene (2018). The arrival of the Frenchman, from Alfa Romeo, arouses some concern among Sainz’s followers, given the links that unite the executive with Leclerc. Vasseur co-founded the ART structure together with Nicolas Todt, son of Jean, former president of the FIA, and representative of Sainz’s partner.
The Frenchman needed little time to give the first swerve since his new position, by taking over from Iñaki Rueda, Ferrari’s head of strategy, to send him back to the factory, in a maneuver that exposes the Madrid engineer and underlines him as one of those responsible for the lack of skill of the Italian formation last season. Mercedes, in turn, is convinced that the W14 has gotten rid of the rebound that martyred Hamilton and Russell, who still did not drive at will due to the lack of poise he felt in the curves.
It is still paradoxical that the FIA promoted the regulation change introduced in 2022 as a shock measure to even things out, and that the previous World Cup, that of 2021, ended up being decided on the last lap of the last race. On the contrary, the past, the first with the new shapes, fell to Verstappen’s side with four tests still to be held. Unless someone does something, the one that starts this weekend may be resolved even sooner.
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