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Formula 1 returns in 2024 after an action-packed offseason set to change the sport

Plus, the biggest revelations from Netflix’s newly released “Drive to Survive” season six.
Image: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing
Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing prepares to drive in the garage during Day 3 of F1 testing at Bahrain International Circuit on Friday.Mark Thompson / Getty Images

It’s that time of year again for Formula 1 fans.

Racing returns this week as the Bahrain Grand Prix on March 2 marks the start of the 2024 season, after an action-packed offseason that’s poised to change the sport.

And the sixth season of Netflix’s popular “Drive to Survive,” released Friday, sheds new light on and adds depth to the biggest stories in F1 after the new cars hit the track last week for preseason testing, providing a glimpse of what’s to come. Will Red Bull’s triple world champion Max Verstappen continue his dominance, or can a rival team like Ferrari or McLaren disrupt his winning ways?

For fans just catching up since the end of the 2023 season, here are the biggest stories of the offseason:

Seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton announces a shock move from Mercedes to Ferrari starting in 2025.

This earthquake for Formula 1 came out of nowhere on Feb. 1, with Hamilton activating an escape clause to defect to a rival team in a striking vote of no confidence in the team he built a dynasty with.

For Hamilton, it’s a tantalizing gamble with potential endings ranging from the fairy tale (finally bringing glory back to Maranello by breaking Ferrari legend Michael Schumacher’s all-time championship record in red) to the tragic (if Mercedes proceeds to build a winning car and he misses out on that long-sought record).

Charles Leclerc of Monaco and Ferrari; Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes.
Charles Leclerc of Monaco and Ferrari; Lewis Hamilton of the U.K. and Mercedes.Mark Thompson / Getty Images

The roots of Hamilton’s discontent can be seen in Episode 6, called “Leap of Faith,” in which he gripes that Mercedes didn’t listen to him about how to design the car to make it a title contender again. And in an ironic twist, the episode ends with a triumphant Toto Wolff celebrating Hamilton’s decision to re-sign with the team through 2025. “The thought of Lewis at Ferrari in a red overall — it wouldn’t suit him,” the Mercedes team principal says with a smile. Hamilton adds: “There just never feels like a time where I’m not going to be a Mercedes driver. It’s my home. It’s my family.” Oops.

Hamilton’s change of heart opens up intriguing new chapters for both teams and shakes up the driver market. Who will replace Hamilton after his last dance at Mercedes? Will George Russell now establish himself as the clear favorite at the team? Will Ferrari’s gambit to hire two alpha drivers pay off or end in tears?

Team boss Christian Horner is being investigated by Red Bull after allegations were made against him.

The details are murky, and there’s no specific timeline for a conclusion, but the Red Bull parent company made clear in a statement that it’s taking the matter “extremely seriously,” fueling heavy speculation about Horner’s future.

Will Horner shake the allegations and keep his job? If he leaves the team he has led to a plethora of titles since its creation in 2005, it would rock the organization to its foundation. There would inevitably be questions about whether Red Bull’s ace car designer Adrian Newey and triple world champion Verstappen remain committed or eye the exits. If Horner leaves Red Bull, it would be the F1 equivalent of NBA coach Phil Jackson leaving the Chicago Bulls in the middle of Michael Jordan’s dynasty.

Image: Formula 1 Testing in Bahrain - Day 2
Oracle Red Bull Racing Team principal Christian Horner and Chief Technical Officer Adrian Newey in the garage during Day 2 of F1 testing at Bahrain International Circuit on Thursday.Mark Thompson / Getty Images

Charles Leclerc and Lando Norris lock in their futures.

Leclerc re-signed with Ferrari through 2029, while Norris re-signed with McLaren on a “multiyear contract.” It is not unusual for Formula 1 contracts to include caveats and escape clauses. But they nevertheless represent a vote of confidence from two of the most coveted drivers on their current teams, even though neither has been regularly winning races.

Leclerc’s renewed commitment comes after two years of heartbreak at Ferrari owing to a gutting mix of team strategy failures, car problems and his own errors.

Norris’ decision was more complex, as the new “Drive to Survive” season reveals Horner saying early in the season, while McLaren was struggling, that he’s “interested in him” for Red Bull. “I admire Lando’s loyalty to McLaren, but at some point that will wear thin,” Horner says. “I think he would fit in our environment longer term.” It’s a sign Norris prefers to build a team around him than step on Verstappen’s home turf — despite saying early in 2023 that he’d be “up for” being the Dutch driver’s teammate. Did McLaren’s resurgence sway him?

Formula 1 rejects Andretti’s bid to join the grid.

F1 wants America’s fan base and money — yet the sport turned down a storied U.S. racing franchise eager to add a promising new team to the mix, with Cadillac in tow as a power unit maker.

It has caused some head-scratching and speculation that the teams simply didn’t want to share the revenue growth. Even more bizarrely, F1 management said Andretti ignored a request for an in-person meeting; The Associated Press reported that it didn’t answer because the email went to spam. F1’s rejection of Andretti for 2025 sparked pushback from the racing team, which said it will redouble its efforts to enter the sport the following year, in 2026.

Image: Formula 1 Testing in Bahrain - Day 1
Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing walks in the Paddock during Day 1 of F1 testing at Bahrain International Circuit on Feb. 21.Mark Thompson / Getty Images

Charismatic team boss Guenther Steiner is dismissed by Haas.

The chatty and charismatic team principal has become a fan favorite and a recognizable name in the U.S. for his starring role in “Drive to Survive.” He’s so synonymous with the show, he even named his 2023 book after it. But last month, American team owner Gene Haas announced that he decided not to renew Steiner’s contract in the offseason as the team continues to struggle.

Steiner’s unhappiness is evident in the show’s new season, in which he laments Haas isn’t giving him the necessary resources to improve the car’s performance and gives his clearest indication that he may leave the sport. “I don’t know if I will do this for another year,” Steiner says in the show. “Maybe I have to bite the bullet. There’s life outside of F1 as well. Maybe it’s time to do something different.”

Still unclear is whether new Haas team boss Ayao Komatsu, the former director of engineering, can take the team forward in a way that Steiner couldn’t — or whether things will get worse.

The ‘sprint’ weekend format is changing yet again.

For the six races that this format applies to in 2024, F1 officials said that Friday will now include one practice session, then sprint qualifying; Saturday will feature the sprint race, followed by qualifying for the Grand Prix; and the main race will remain on Sunday. (For other races, the format is free practice sessions on Friday and early Saturday, qualifying later Saturday, and the Grand Prix on Sunday.)

Teams change their names to pander to sponsors.

Red Bull’s junior team AlphaTauri is now called Visa Cash App RB. Alfa Romeo is now called Stake F1 Team Kick Sauber. The goal is no mystery: to sweeten the deal by putting the names of the sponsors into the mouths of fans and commentators, notwithstanding the criticism and mockery that has arisen.

The future racing calendar takes shape.

The Las Vegas Grand Prix will return in 2024, Nevada’s Clark County announced, despite some controversy over its impact on the city. Chatter about a future race in Chicago has begun. Britain’s famous Silverstone Circuit renewed its contract for 10 years. And the Spanish Grand Prix, now in Barcelona, will move to Madrid in 2026.