Bahrain Speed Trap: Who is the fastest of them all?

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As Formula 1 teams head into the third year of the sport’s ground-effect regulations, this season’s array of designs are a balanced blend of evolution and radical changes.

Everyone has therefore been given an opportunity to fine-tune their strengths year-over-year, correct their weaknesses or start from a clean slate, although not every team has been successful in doing so. N’est ce pas, Alpine?

Aero efficiency and straight-line speed are certainly two areas that received the full attention of each outfit's engineering department.

So, what does a superficial glance at Saturday's speed trap readings from qualifying tell us about this year's class of 2024?

For starters, it seems clear that Red Bull has conserved its edge thanks to an RB20 design that still boasts an impressive top speed capability - a big asset last season, not to mention its aero proficiency.

However, it’s worth noting that poleman Max Verstappen benefitted from a healthy tow on his first flyer in Q3 that likely added a few kph to his velocity down Bahrain’s main straight.

Charles Leclerc, the fastest man in qualifying based on his hot lap in Q2, was approximately 10 kph down on Max. But Ferrari’s overall progress in terms of the efficiency of its new SF-24 is undeniable.

Elsewhere among the front-runners, Mercedes and McLaren both appear to be weighed down by significant drag, while Aston Martin’s top speed is barely decent at best.

Overall, every team improved their best laptime compared to 2023, with McLaren making the greatest stride, while Red Bull was the second least improved outfit behind… Alpine.

This is a clear indication that it’s a tight field out there, at least in qualifying trim.

In terms of strategy, the two-stop is quickest on paper, with the Hard and Soft tyres the compounds of choice.

However, while all teams gave a set of used Softs at their disposal, Red Bull is the only outfit that has saved a set of new Softs for its drivers. So that's another factor that should benefit the bulls.

Our money is therefore on Red Bull and Verstappen, but it may not be a crushing triumph for the reigning world champions, especially if Ferrari has its tyre management under control.

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