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Which F1 team has improved the most in 2024?

While it's still too early for definitive conclusions on Formula 1's 2024 pecking order, some trends have become apparent over which teams have done their homework better than others.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB20, Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF-24, George Russell, Mercedes F1 W15, Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB20, Carlos Sainz, Ferrari SF-24, the rest of the field at the start

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

Under stable regulations, the new season is bearing an awful lot of similarities to how 2023 finished. Behind the sovereign Red Bull, Ferrari appears second-quickest, retaining its qualifying pace but adding a huge step in race performance to leap clear of the chasing pack.

After two rounds on vastly different circuits, the race between Mercedes and McLaren remains too close to call, with the strengths and weaknesses of both cars on full display in Saudi Arabia.

Then there is Aston Martin, the revelation of the first half of 2023 that has kept improving but not quite as much as its aforementioned rivals, and therefore slipping to fifth, while a chasm appears to have opened up behind it.

Qualifying performance 2023 vs 2024

Team Bahrain Saudi Arabia
Red Bull -0.6s -0.8s
Ferrari -0.85s -0.7s
Mercedes -0.8s -0.5s
McLaren -1.5s -1.2s
Aston Martin -0.8s -0.8s
Alpine -0.1s +0.3s
Williams -1.2s -1.0s
RB -1.3s -1.4s
Haas -1.0s -0.4s
Sauber -0.7s -0.3s

Compared to last year, Alpine is clearly the odd one out, the only team that managed to be slower in Jeddah than it was in 2023 due to its late concept change that presented a sideways step.

On the other spectrum is McLaren, which can vie with RB for the title of most improved team over the past 12 months.

McLaren is one of the teams to have made the biggest improvement in the past 12 months

McLaren is one of the teams to have made the biggest improvement in the past 12 months

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

In McLaren's case, a good chunk of the roughly 1.2 to 1.3 seconds it found came across 2023, with several major upgrades around Austria and Singapore allowing it to close the year as the second-fastest team.

RB also made big gains in 2023 thanks to continuous floor development and a suspension change that made it one of the best teams in low-speed corners.

But, listening to comments from Yuki Tsunoda and Daniel Ricciardo, the Anglo-Italian squad still has more time to find on high-fuel loads, lacking some grip in race trim.

On one-lap pace, Williams is the third-most improved team, strengthening the belief that results will follow once it manages to complete cleaner race weekends than Bahrain and Jeddah.

Out of last year's bottom four outfits, Sauber has had the most disappointing start, finding a reasonable chunk of lap time but not as much as its direct rivals, showing just how brutal the relative game of F1's relentless development race can be.

Race trim the real gain for Ferrari, but has Mercedes really fixed its issues?

Ferrari has taken a step forward in long-run pace

Ferrari has taken a step forward in long-run pace

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

On paper, Red Bull, Ferrari, Mercedes and Aston have all improved by a similar margin on one-lap pace, but it was Ferrari's and Mercedes' race performance that was particularly problematic last year and therefore how they fared over a race distance is much more telling.

Ferrari has clearly managed to iron out most of its long-run weaknesses, with the SF-24 much easier to handle and more robust in various conditions as Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc both took uncontested podium spots in Bahrain and Jeddah respectively.

Mercedes has also produced a more benign car, but Saudi Arabia's smooth surface brought some alarming high-speed corner struggles and bouncing to the surface that have hampered its fight with the Scuderia both in qualifying and race trim.

F1 is now a two-tier series

Alpine has fallen dramatically away from the top five squads

Alpine has fallen dramatically away from the top five squads

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

Alpine often languished in no-man's land as it finished 2023 in sixth in the constructors' standings, and its resulting faux-pas among an otherwise stable pecking order has further opened up the divide between the top and bottom five outfits.

That means that, as a cynic would say, whoever beats Aston's Lance Stroll will effectively earn a point if there are no major incidents.

Stroll dutifully finished 10th in Bahrain, but his early shunt in Jeddah opened the door for a mammoth battle over that final point, won by Haas' Nico Hulkenberg thanks to unorthodox defending by team-mate Kevin Magnussen.

It seems unlikely for that prospect to change any time soon. Long-run data from Bahrain suggested Haas could give Aston Martin a run for its money, but the latter showed much stronger race pace in Jeddah to nip that theory in the bud for now.

Because of Magnussen's Jeddah roadblock antics, which even brought Alpine's Esteban Ocon briefly into play, we haven't seen enough evidence of the true pace of Williams, RB and Sauber to judge whether or not one of them can bridge the gap this year on circuits that suit them.

While Melbourne's Albert Park brings a third unique track layout that will yield further answers, many teams are already looking towards the fourth round in Japan to have a clearer idea of where they truly stand.

Not only is Suzuka an ideal test track with its challenging spread of high, medium and low speed corners, split by a long straight to boot, the Japanese Grand Prix also falls much earlier than its September date last year. That means we will get a better picture of how teams have developed over the winter rather than comparing to 12 months ago.

"The way the calendar is this year, I think four races in we will have a pretty good idea," said Ferrari veteran Jock Clear.

"You've got Japan in there, which is a hell of a circuit to measure a car. At that kind of circuit, you're going to find out a lot..."

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