Max Verstappen
Max Verstappen was dominant in Day 1 of pre-season testing, showing rivals that he may be on the road for yet another record-breaking season. AFP / Jim WATSON

The 2024 Formula 1 season appears to be picking up where it left off, with Red Bull's Max Verstappen dominating the field by a large margin. The reigning Drivers' World Champion looks to be in a good position to extend his winning streak to four titles in a row, but there is always the caveat that many things can happen from now until the end of the season. On top of that, Red Bull is also dealing with an internal issue concerning team principal Christian Horner.

The flying Dutchman was 1.14 seconds ahead of any other driver throughout the first day of pre-season testing held at the Bahrain International Circuit on Wednesday. He was followed by McLaren driver Lando Norris who came in second place. Scuderia Ferrari's Carlos Sainz sat in third place, a further 0.1secs behind Norris.

Teams typically do not really show the full potential of their cars during testing, as it is a time to experiment with different set-ups to be able to gather data and study them before finally sending the cars out for the first race of the season. However, with that said, it was still very clear that Verstappen's Red Bull is once again a cut above the rest, just like it was in 2023.

It is too early to tell exactly how dominant the RB20 is, especially because Verstappen ran in both the morning and afternoon sessions on Wednesday. His teammate, Sergio Perez, will get his time on the wheel later during the three-day testing period, and the other teams will also be able to get more lap times in for better comparison. However, at the end of the day, nothing will really be certain until the cars go out on March 2, when the season kicks off in the same location.

Red Bull is still looking as strong as ever

Based on the first session alone, it seems as though Red Bull Racing has been able to stay one step ahead of the competition. Last season was record-breaking, with the Austrian team winning 21 out of the 22 races that were contested. Only Ferrari's Carlos Sainz managed to take a victory in a non-Red Bull car last year, and the new season brings fresh hope to the rest of the field.

The new RB20 has been described as an "evolution" of last year's championship-winning car, but it is clear that a number of upgrades and innovations have been introduced in order to keep the competition at bay.

The car also appears to be extremely reliable, with Verstappen running 143 laps on Wednesday without appearing to encounter any issue. The team has done well so far despite having a thick cloud hanging over them due to the internal investigation on Horner. He has been accused of "inappropriate behaviour" by an employee, and following a hearing earlier this month, the team has yet to announce the results of the probe.

What's happening elsewhere in the field?

Some of the other teams who did fairly well last season also showed some positive signs. Norris was obviously fast, while Ferrari's Charles Leclerc was just behind Verstappen after the morning session. The Ferraris were quick last season, but a number of reliability issues as well as bad strategy calls put them on the backfoot against the already very strong Red Bulls. They also failed to beat Mercedes to second place, something that they will surely be aiming to fix this year.

Aston Martin's Fernando Alonso also had a great morning session despite the hotter and slower conditions. It remains to be seen if he will be able to secure that first win for Aston Martin this year after having already been on the podium several times last year.

Meanwhile, Red Bull's second team which has now been renamed to RB from AlphaTauri, is also looking promising. Daniel Ricciardo was only 0.015secs off the pace of Ferrari's Carlos Sainz, giving the Australian some hope that he may be able to impress the team enough this year to warrant a promotion to the main Red Bull seat.

Elsewhere, seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton did not participate in the first day of testing, and was able to avoid the prying eyes of everyone who is curious about the team dynamic after he confirmed his decision to leave Mercedes at the end of the season. His teammate George Russell was a work horse on the first day of testing, coming in only 12th fastest as he spent the day experimenting on different set-ups and doing long runs.

Day 2 of testing has commenced in Bahrain on Thursday, but the session has been interrupted due to a loose manhole cover that needed to be fixed before testing could continue.