The winter break is over, pre-season testing is less than a month away meaning Formula 1 is nearly back on our screens with the first race of the season taking place in Bahrain (February 29 – March 2). If you’re new to the sport or just want a recap of everything that took place between the final race in Abu Dhabi at the end of November until now, then here is all the news you may have missed! From investigations to new team names, driver contract extensions and the surprise announcement of Hamilton leaving Mercedes, the winter break was far from boring.
The 2023 season ended with Max Verstappen officially winning his third Driver’s Championship and Red Bull winning the Constructor’s Championship. It was then a close battle between Mercedes and Ferrari for second place, but Mercedes took the silver only three points ahead of the Scuderia. McLaren jumped up the rankings from fifth to fourth and Haas fell all the way to the bottom of the table. And that wrapped up another year of Formula 1.
Susie Wolff investigation
Fans expected the winter break to be full of drivers’ wholesome photo dumps, but less than two weeks later the FIA opened an investigation into Toto and Susie Wolff (Team Principal of Mercedes and Managing Director of F1 Academy, respectively) for a potential conflict of interest. Susie Wolff rejected the allegations saying that she was ‘deeply insulted but sadly unsurprised’ as they were seemingly ‘rooted in intimidatory and misogynistic behaviour… focused on my marital status rather than my abilities’.
All of the F1 teams (except Mercedes who shared their own response) were very quick to release near-identical statements clarifying that they had ‘not made any complaint to the FIA’ and they are ‘pleased and proud to support F1 Academy and its managing director’. Three days later, the investigation was suspended but not without Susie Wolff acknowledging that ‘[a]s a sport, we must demand, and we deserve, better.’ There has been no news of action taken by Susie Wolff against the FIA or any other information on the investigation, but this was an extremely disheartening moment for many female F1 fans. I, for one, sincerely hope that F1 Academy, its drivers, and crew will be fairly supported in the 2024 season and progress with inclusivity will be made.
New team names
The winter break remained quiet until the former Alfa Romeo team officially announced their rebrand to Stake F1 Team Kick Sauber in mid-December with an Instagram rebrand in January. There had been rumours of Alfa Romeo changing name since their partnership with Sauber will be ending in 2026, but the confirmation of the new name was yet to be released. Whilst the new livery colours on the grid will certainly be exciting, there were eyebrows raised about the practicality of having Stake as their title sponsor.
Stake are an online betting platform offering traditional casino games and since there are numerous Grand Prix hosted in countries where gambling is illegal or almost entirely prohibited (Bahrain, Brazil, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, UAE, Qatar) this will likely cause some issues for the F1 team. As mentioned on The Fast and The Curious podcast, there have been cases where teams have had to remove sponsorship names from their liveries and drivers’ uniforms such as Ferrari with Marlboro or Jordan with Benson and Hedges, but as these were not their title sponsors, we will have to wait and see how the team handles this.
Two weeks later, on January 24, it was announced by the team that AlphaTauri’s new name would be Visa Cash App RB F1 Team. When they were first bought by Red Bull in 2016, they raced as Toro Rosso before changing to the name of Red Bull’s fashion brand AlphaTauri in 2020. The team is known for housing two future Red Bull World Champions, Sebastian Vettel and Max Verstappen, but they also housed current F1 drivers Carlos Sainz and Pierre Gasly.
Despite being considered a team for junior drivers, AlphaTauri dropped rookie Nyck de Vries less than halfway through the 2023 season replacing him with Daniel Ricciardo. This raised questions surrounding AlphaTauri as a kind of junior/sister team to Red Bull as Ricciardo is a former Red Bull driver with multiple race wins under his belt. Since he is driving for the team again this year the rebrand does make sense, but that hasn’t stopped the plethora of memes and comments about their new name.
Guenther Steiner leaving Haas
The winter break continued to stretch on and on as fans patiently awaited pre-season testing and the release of Drive to Survive Season 6 on February 23. Teams had already started to announce the launch dates for their new cars over the winter break with Williams and Stake set to release on February 5, Aston Martin on February 12, Ferrari on February 13, and McLaren and Mercedes on Valentine’s Day (February 14). Things would supposedly be quiet until then as the drivers enjoyed the last of their winter breaks. However, it didn’t take long for the drama to kickstart as F1 announced the leave of Haas Team Principal Guenther Steiner on January 10.
Hours before the announcement it was reported that Technical Director Simone Resta would also be leaving, but it was still very shocking news to F1 fans. Known for leading Haas F1 team for ten years as well as his personality and humour on the Netflix series Drive to Survive, his departure from the team sparked a lot of emotion with the F1 Instagram post of the news apparently having more comments than any driver of the post of the year. Steiner didn’t comment until a few days later at the Autosport International Show. Haas will now be led by Ayao Komatsu, the team’s former Trackside Engineering Director so fans will be full of anticipation to see how the team performs this year.
Driver contract extensions
Before teams had launched their cars, McLaren “hardlaunched” their livery following a complete social media rebrand over the winter break with the slogan ‘Whatever it takes’. Their new livery appears to feature much more carbon fibre than paint compared to last season likely in efforts to make the car lighter since a full painted livery can add up to 6kgs of weight. We will, of course, have to wait to see how the car performs this season, but we do know that Lando Norris will be a McLaren driver until at least the end of 2026 after signing a multi-year contract with the team.
This comes off the back of a spectacular 2023 season for the young driver who scored his highest number of podiums so far (7) alongside the impressive efforts of his teammate rookie Oscar Piastri. McLaren’s announcement was revealed only a day after Charles Leclerc also committed to a multi-year contract extension with Ferrari. There were rumours from months ago of this contract lasting until 2029 but this was never confirmed. Both of these contract extensions have posed further speculations over the 2025 Red Bull seat and the driver market more generally since numerous drivers have contracts expiring at the end of this year. This will certainly make the 2024 silly season even more exciting.
Lewis Hamilton leaving Mercedes in 2025
The biggest news of the winter break, undoubtedly, was Lewis Hamilton’s move from Mercedes to Ferrari in 2025 confirmed on February 1. Hamilton has been at Mercedes since 2013 where he won 6 World Drivers’ Championships between 2014 and 2021 and achieved 82 victories with the team. There are few drivers as notorious and accomplished as Lewis Hamilton with his seven world titles equalling only those of Michael Schumacher (Ferrari’s most successful driver), his move to Ferrari was seismic. F1 journalist and Drive to Survive presenter Will Buxton tweeted in the last hours of January, “Hearing a big announcement is on the way before the end of the week. If it is what I think it is, it’s absolutely massive.” But it’s fair to say that almost no one could have predicted this. It is, in Buxton’s words, “the single biggest driver transfer in the history of the sport”.
This move has posed so many more questions for the future of F1 such as who will replace Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes? Where will Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz go? Could he replace Sergio Perez at Red Bull? Why didn’t Hamilton wait for new engine regulations to come into place in 2026? Does Hamilton see Ferrari as a last Hail Mary to win his eighth World Championship or will his career with them continue long into the future?
How will Ferrari’s and Mercedes’ strategies play out in 2024? Will Hamilton’s Race Director Bono follow him to Ferrari? What will Team Principal Toto Wolff do after agreeing to a new Mercedes deal until 2026? Will Leclerc still be Ferrari’s number one driver from 2025? It certainly suggests that both Hamilton and Leclerc feel very positive about Ferrari’s future making the team’s car launch on February 13 and pre-season testing that much more significant.
Many feared that the 2024 season and possibly beyond would be a repeat of Max Verstappen and Red Bull dominance making for a monotonous few years of the sport. However, the events that have taken place over the winter break show that the future of F1 is far from dull. Lewis Hamilton is not ready to retire yet, the 2025 Red Bull seat is all to play for, and the 2024 season will be huge. If you’ve ever wanted to become a Formula One fan, now is your time.