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Red Bull Racing's Dutch driver Max Verstappen drives during the third day of the Formula One pre-season testing at the Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir on February 23, 2024. (Photo by Andrej ISAKOVIC / AFP) Image Credit: AFP

The engines revv up and the tyres burn at the Bahrain International circuit announcing the arrival of the new Formula One season. The 2024 campaign is going to be an exciting one, and a long one too. There’s going to be a whopping 24 race weekends. Red Bull Racing star Max Verstappen will be eyeing his fourth straight World Driver’s Championship while seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton will be racing for the last time with Mercedes as he is all set to join Ferarri in 2025.

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Ferrari's Monegasque driver Charles Leclerc leaves the garage during the first practice session of the Bahrain Grand Prix. Image Credit: AFP

24-race calendar

The championship will begin with the Bahrain Grand Prix this weekend and conclude in Abu Dhabi on December 8. The first two races of the season — the Bahrain Grand Prix and Saudi Arabian Grand Prix — will be held on Saturday, with qualifying on Friday. That’s because Ramadan starts on March 10, the Sunday of the race week in Saudi Arabia, and that race was moved forward a day. F1 rules stipulate there has to be a week between races, so the Bahrain Grand Prix had to move up, too. Last year’s race in Las Vegas set a precedent when it was held on a Saturday to maximise the audience in the US and around the world. That was the first F1 race held on a day other than Sunday since 1985.

The 24 races scheduled for 2024 will set a new record for the highest number of races in a single Formula One season. Last year, 23 races were planned, but only 22 were held. China will make a return to the calendar this year after being cancelled last year due to pandemic-related issues, bringing the total number of races back to 24.

The 2024 sprint format has been revamped to enhance the races. The sprint qualifying will now take place after Friday’s practice sessions, with sprint races and main qualifying held on Saturday. The Grand Prix will be held on Sunday.

There will be six sprint races, taking place at the China, Miami, Austria, USA, Brazil and Qatar Grands Prix. This marks an increase from the three sprint races held in the previous season. For the first time in F1 history, there have been no changes in any team’s driver line-up between the end of the previous season and the start of the upcoming campaign.

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Red Bull's Max Verstappen with his father Jos Verstappen ahead of the Bahrain Grand Prix. Image Credit: Reuters

Verstappen eyes fourth straight title

Despite an investigation into Red Bull boss Christian Horner that overshadowed the start of the season, Verstappen remains the firm favourite for another title challenge. “It doesn’t affect me,” Red Bull’s triple world champion said before this weekend’s season-opening Formula One Grand Prix in Bahrain. “I’m very focused on the car and on myself and, hopefully, it is resolved very soon,” he added.

The-26-year-old has led the Formula 1 standings since May 2022 and enjoyed the most dominant campaign ever last year, the team winning 19 of the 22 races. He surpassed Michael Schumacher’s 2000-02 record of 37 successive races in the championship lead.

Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton signs his autograph for fans ahead of the Bahrain Grand Prix. Image Credit: Reuters

New chapter for Hamilton

Seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton is going into his last season with Mercedes ahead of joining Ferrari next year.

For the 39-year-old, there’s the hope that Ferrari will allow him to fight for an eighth title after Mercedes was uncompetitive in the last two years. It’s also making a childhood dream come true. At testing in Bahrain, Hamilton reminisced about driving Michael Schumacher’s Ferrari in a video game as a child.

“We’ve had an absolutely incredible journey together, we’ve created history within the sport, and I’m very proud of what we’ve achieved,” Hamilton said of his time with Mercedes. “I’m writing my story and I felt like it was time to start a new chapter.”

The sudden announcement shook up F1 and leaves some leading drivers unsure of their places for next year. Carlos Sainz was expecting a contract extension at Ferrari but is making way for Hamilton to partner Charles Leclerc.

The open seat at Mercedes has fuelled speculation about drivers ranging from 41-year-old two-time champion Fernando Alonso, still at Aston Martin, to the 17-year-old Mercedes junior driver Kimi Antonelli, who is making his Formula 2 debut this week.

Andretti’s fight

Michael Andretti and General Motors are still developing a car for F1 but they don’t have a spot on the grid yet.

The governing body, the FIA, has approved Andretti’s application to become the 11th team but F1 rejected the proposed US team for 2025 and 2026, arguing it would not be competitive — something Andretti and GM dispute.

In GM and its Cadillac brand, Andretti has the backing of one of the world’s leading auto manufacturers, and GM has applied to be an F1 engine supplier from 2028. “Our joint teams are continuing to develop our car at pace,” GM Racing director Jim Campbell said this month.

The series’ existing American team, Haas, looks to be headed for a difficult season, its first since Guenther Steiner — a star of the “Drive To Survive” series on Netflix — was dropped as team principal last month. Haas drivers Kevin Magnussen and Nico Hulkenberg were consistently among the slowest over the three days of testing.

— With inputs from agencies

2024 season calendar

March 2: Bahrain Grand Prix, Sakhir

March 9: Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, Jeddah

March 24: Australian Grand Prix, Melbourne

 April 7: Japanese Grand Prix, Suzuka

April 21: Chinese Grand Prix, Shanghai

May 5: Miami Grand Prix

May 19: Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, Imola

May 26: Monaco Grand Prix

June 9: Canadian Grand Prix, Montreal

June 23: Spanish Grand Prix, Barcelona

June 30: Austrian Grand Prix, Spielberg

July 7: British Grand Prix, Silverstone

July 21: Hungarian Grand Prix, Budapest

July 28: Belgian Grand Prix, Spa-Francorchamps

August 25: Dutch Grand Prix, Zandvoort

September 1: Italian Grand Prix, Monza

September 15: Azerbaijan Grand Prix, Baku

September 22: Singapore Grand Prix

October 20: United States Grand Prix, Austin

October 27: Mexico Grand Prix, Mexico City

November 3: Brazilian Grand Prix, Sao Paulo

November 23: Las Vegas Grand Prix

December 1: Qatar Grand Prix, Lusail

December 8: Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Yas Marina