The storylines likely to dominate F1 in 2024

Can Red Bull do a pit stop in complete darkness? (6:37)

The Red Bull pit crew set themselves a challenge to do an entire pit stop in complete darkness, with Max Verstappen, Christian Horner and Sergio Pérez guessing how fast they can do it. (6:37)

F1's new season begins on March 2 with the Bahrain Grand Prix after three days of testing the week before at the same venue.

Preseason sometimes gives an indication of the competitive order, but the true picture only starts to properly emerge over that first weekend, so predictions are difficult to make at this stage. Whatever the state of play by the time the start lights go out, there are a handful of topics we will be returning to throughout the year.

Here's a look at some of the biggest.

Can anyone challenge Verstappen and Red Bull?

This is the key question not just for Red Bull's rivals but for F1 fans across the globe. Max Verstappen's dominance broke records in 2023 but the major drawback was it produced the most lopsided and predictable F1 season in a long time. That marked a huge turnaround for F1 given that it was only two years removed from Verstappen's titanic and controversial battle with Lewis Hamilton in 2021, arguably the best championship the sport has produced for a generation. While F1 is good at producing classic championships after a few down years, at first glance it is hard to see that happening in 2024.

While Red Bull's RB19 instantly earned itself a place in F1's all-time great cars, Verstappen was consistently special in 2023. His 19 wins -- 10 of which came consecutively between May's Miami Grand Prix and September's Italian Grand Prix -- was unprecedented. Only Carlos Sainz's Singapore win denied Red Bull a perfect season. For much of the year Verstappen was driving on another level and even if Red Bull's new car is less dominant, the Dutchman is as difficult to beat as it gets in racing, a perfect combination of supreme talent and unshakable confidence in a car he knows can win races and titles.

The mind-blowing stats that underline Verstappen's '23 dominance

The chasing pack hope to at least be closer this year. McLaren enjoyed a huge turnaround after introducing a big upgrade midway through the year, while Mercedes and Ferrari showed occasional glimpses of big steps forward. But of course, Red Bull is not a stationary target, and ominously started work on the 2024 car as early as July last year, such was the extent of its superiority.

Can Mercedes or Ferrari get it right?

Since new regulations were introduced in 2022, Ferrari and Mercedes have managed a handful of race victories between them in what is otherwise a sea of Red Bull trips to the top step of the podium. And yet, it was McLaren, not Ferrari or McLaren who emerged in 2023 as the package closest to Red Bull for the longest spell. Both teams have been frustrating to watch for different reasons.

For Ferrari, with all the hope and weight of expectation that comes with being F1's best-known team, it infamously capitulated after a strong start in 2022. While Sainz's win was a high point, Ferrari found itself a long way away from where it needs to be. The glaring weaknesses of 2022, notably strategy and car development, showed glimpses of improvement under Fred Vasseur's new leadership and he will look to continue that trajectory in his second season in charge.

For Mercedes, on the other hand, the last two years have been a painful fall to reality after years dominating the sport. The team is stinging from a winless 2023, which was also the second year without a victory for superstar driver Lewis Hamilton. From the opening race in Bahrain, the team admitted it had made a mistake by sticking with its 2022 car concept. A change in tack at the Monaco Grand Prix included revised front suspension, a new floor and revised sidepods and was followed later in the season by an upheaval in the technical team, which brought James Allison back into a more hands-on position and eventually saw Mike Elliott, who led the decision to evolve the flawed 2022 concept on the 2023 car, leave the team.

Hamilton remains integral to all things Mercedes going forward. Like teammate George Russell, he has committed to 2024 and 2025, and made it clear what his expectations are in September, saying Mercedes needed the best six months of car development ever to catch Red Bull. We won't know if the team has achieved that until the start of the racing season. Hamilton, one of the top performers of last season even without a win, is more fired up than ever to get back to the front. Either way, his mood around the team's prospects will be a major talking point.

Pérez's Red Bull seat

There's two parts to this - will Sergio Pérez see out 2024 at Red Bull? And, even if he does, who will be driving in that seat in 2025?

The Mexican driver's contract runs until the end of this year. At points last year it felt like Pérez was flirting with an early exit from Red Bull, given how dramatically his form fell away after winning two of the opening four races. Red Bull has repeatedly insisted Pérez will see out his contract, but the team is notorious for ruthless driver decisions. Pérez was fortunate Red Bull could have won the constructors' title with just Verstappen's points, but if any rivals provide a stronger challenge this season there will be greater pressure over the performances of the man in the No. 11 car.

Red Bull has put itself in a strong position with Daniel Ricciardo waiting in the wings at AlphaTauri should it want to move on from Pérez and seemingly a ready-made replacement for the Australian at the junior team in the form of Liam Lawson. You can expect the names Pérez, Ricciardo and Lawson to feature heavily in headlines of speculative articles as the year unfolds.

And then there's the question about Pérez's seat beyond this year. Although the track record of whoever has been Verstappen's teammate since Ricciardo's departure has been abysmal, the prospect of driving at what should be a title contending car in 2025 would be too good to turn down for a lot of drivers. Red Bull has been linked with McLaren's Lando Norris on numerous occasions, but the Englishman is tied down until the end of 2025. Ricciardo would be a logical candidate given that he has made clear he wants to return to the Red Bull team he left in 2018. From the outside this move makes the most sense and Ricciardo's first full season with AlphaTauri will likely be heavily scrutinised internally with that in mind. Bizarrely, Ricciardo's teammate Yuki Tsunoda appears to have almost no chance of stepping up to the Red Bull team, although another strong season from the Japanese driver might well force Christian Horner and Helmut Marko to change their stance on him.

Red Bull won't be without other options. Verstappen's former teammate Alex Albon, who has revived his career at Williams since being ousted from Red Bull at the end of 2020, is likely to feature heavily in any driver market speculation this year.

What will happen with Andretti's F1 bid?

You might have wondered what happened to Andretti's bid to join the grid since it was accepted by the governing FIA in October last year. "Not much" is the simplest answer, but it will be a big part of the news cycle. By accepting Andretti's bid with Cadillac in October, FIA has effectively put F1 under pressure to negotiate a commercial deal with the American racing team. F1 remains reluctant to expand the grid from 10 to 11. Andretti has said it can be ready to join as early as 2025.

F1 management (FOM) are influenced, although not led, by the opposition of the 10 teams. F1 boss Stefano Domenicali has repeatedly said the sport does not need new entrants. The existing teams have outlined their objections to the idea of the current prize fund being split among 11 rather than 10 teams and feel they are now reaping the benefits of treading water through the 2010s, when F1 was a far riskier investment than it is now when popularity is booming like never before. Although Andretti would pay an anti-dilution fee to enter, some feel it would be unfair for partners to join a new team rather than their own. Ahead of the Las Vegas Grand Prix, James Vowles rather provocatively suggested Cadillac would be welcomed with open arms as a partner of his Williams team, which gives a good idea of where the heads of the existing teams are currently.

There will be plenty more back and forth on this issue. It is notable that Michael Andretti has been much quieter in public recently than he was at the start of 2023, when he clumsily called F1's teams "greedy" for showing any opposition to the prospect of his team joining the grid, but it feels like both sides have plenty of volleys left to fire across the bow of the other before this gets resolved.

Will the F1-FIA relationship improve or deteriorate?

It's no secret that Formula One's relationship with the governing FIA, which sets and then officiates the rules of the championship, has been strained in recent years. A major flashpoint was Abu Dhabi 2021, when FIA race director Michael Masi's mistake tarnished the end of that year's championship. Despite major changes -- including Masi's removal -- in the aftermath the governing body has struggled to get its hands around in-race decision making in the years since.

Off track tensions have been simmering, too. The way the FIA handled the bid for an 11th team, for example, and then eventually put Andretti forward frustrated F1 behind the scenes. Further controversy erupted after the end of last season when the FIA, seemingly on the back of one article in F1 Business Magazine alleging an abuse of power, launched a very short-lived investigation into Toto and Susie Wolff. It was quickly dropped after teams distanced themselves from the suggestion any of them had lodged a complaint about the Mercedes boss and F1 Academy boss sharing information. The FIA investigation could be seen as a direct shot at either Susie or Toto Wolff, or both, but either way it was a messy blunder from the FIA and one which unified teams in a way which is rarely seen in Formula One. Ferrari boss Vasseur labelled the whole saga "embarrassing" and that accurately summed up how most in F1 felt about it.

Several weeks later Steve Nielsen, who joined the FIA from F1 12 months ago to improve the governing body's refereeing of races, stepped down as the governing body's sporting director. Nielsen's appointment had been popular with drivers and teams alike and there is now a significant void there going into the new year. The FIA is expected to rejig things ahead of the new season but with race decisions still a huge point of contention in 2023, even with Nielsen in his post, there is a feeling this will be a key point of conflict and unrest again this season.

Can Norris finally get win number one?

McLaren was the feel-good story of 2023, going from what seemed to be a full-blown crisis in preseason testing to emerging as Red Bull's closest challenger by the time it introduced a major car upgrade at the Austrian Grand Prix. While Oscar Piastri showed flashes of brilliance and won the sprint race in Qatar, Lando Norris was consistently fighting for podiums positions as soon as the car was there for him. He was on the podium seven times -- six of which were as the runner-up - but is still yet to claim that first F1 victory, which is remarkable for such a talented driver.

It puts Norris in a strange category, as he is now level with a famous F1 nearly-man in Nick Heidfeld for the most podiums (13 overall) without claiming that maiden win. While Heidfeld was never close to being a superstar, Norris is already one in terms of popularity and is clearly one of the most talented drivers on the grid right now. We saw some of Norris' more self-critical side in late 2023, as he bemoaned poor qualifying performances in both Qatar and Abu Dhabi as potentially robbing him of a shot at a race win. Previously Norris did not have cars to win races but if McLaren continues its trajectory from last year, it should be in a strong place to at least be competitive in 2024. And, no matter how talented a driver is, the narrative can quickly shift if a driver seems unable to convert their talent and the pace of the car into wins. The win will surely come -- but sooner rather than later would be better for Norris and McLaren to stop it becoming a bigger talking point or source of frustration, especially with the Englishman set to enter a contract year in 2025.

Can Alonso and Aston Martin repeat its 2023 start?

Fernando Alonso was the star of the first few months of last year, which saw his Aston Martin team surprisingly emerge as Red Bull's nearest contender, as he scored a string of podiums. The story which followed is well known now, as Aston Martin slowly fell behind the progress being made by McLaren, Mercedes and Ferrari through the middle of the year. Alonso still grabbed podiums later in the season with brilliant drives at Zandvoort and Interlagos, the latter in arguably the moment of the season after a titanic tussle with Sergio Pérez over the closing laps.

There's no reason to think Aston can't replicate similar this year. Aston Martin boss Lawrence Stroll has invested big in this team, poaching big talent like aerodynamicist Eric Blandin from Mercedes and technical director Dan Fallows from Red Bull. Midway through 2023 the team moved into a state-of-the-art new factory opposite the Silverstone circuit, which seemed to coincide with the team's worst spell of form. The strength of the team Stroll has put together behind the scenes will be seen in 2024 with its new facilities up and running from the beginning. Questions remain about the team he has put together on track, however.

Can Aston seriously contend with Lance Stroll?

With Alonso at the helm, big results always seem possible if the Aston Martin can produce a half-decent car, although the same cannot be said about his teammate Lance, son of Lawrence, who continues to look like the Achilles' heel of the whole operation. All eight of Aston's podiums last year came via Alonso, who Stroll struggled to match through the season.

In fairness to Stroll, Alonso is one of the best drivers of his generation, but he left too many points on the table last year. If Aston has made a step forward and is in any kind of fight for constructors' championship position with any of its rivals, Stroll's performances will be under the microscope more than ever. Some feel the younger Stroll has a seat for life as long as his father is in charge, but at some point you have to wonder if business ambition will overtake family loyalty, especially coming into a year where there should be plenty of potential replacements.

The driver market

2023 was remarkable in that there was no driver movement for 2024 -- every driver retained their seat. That should not be the case again, with this year shaping up to be a great year for the driver market, F1's version of the transfer window or free agency. Pérez's 2025 seat will be a big talking point, as will Stroll's future, but Ferrari is also yet to extend Charles Leclerc or Carlos Sainz beyond 2024.

It is believed Leclerc and Ferrari have agreed a bumper new deal to extend him towards the end of the decade. Sainz's future seems less clear, although it seems likely he will get a shorter extension of his own. His next logical move appears to be re-joining former McLaren boss Andreas Seidl when Audi takes over the Sauber team (called Stake in 2024 and 2025) for 2026. However, while those two Ferrari drivers remain un-signed, the door is open for speculation of the team (and either driver) going in a different direction.

This brings us back to Albon, who was one of the stars of 2023 and is a big part of this whole puzzle. It is believed Albon is keen to get himself free of his current Williams deal, which has him at the team until 2025. Sources have told ESPN two teams attempted to get Albon out of that deal to drive for them last year, unsuccessfully, and several are monitoring his situation as they assess plans going forward.

Beyond that a few other names will bounce around. Logan Sargeant is in a make-or-break year with Williams after an underwhelming rookie season. Similar can be said of Zhou Guanyu at Sauber (previously Alfa Romeo and now renamed Stake) as he enters his third F1 season. Former F2 champion Felipe Drugovich is still waiting in the wings and should be seen as a good option for any of the teams at the back end of the grid looking for a young, quick driver in future, although he is currently tied down as Aston Martin reserve driver.

Another name to put on the radar: Mercedes junior Andrea Kimi Antonelli, who will turn 18 in August. The Italian wonderkid, seen as the nation's most exciting prospect for decades, has bypassed Formula 3 entirely for Formula 2, where he will race with Prema. Rookie champions are rare in the feeder series but if Antonelli matches the hype in year one he could very quickly be a part of the conversation about who will be on the Formula One grid. Remember the name and watch this space.