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Analysis
Formula 1 Monaco GP

Is F1 2024's split between the top and bottom five teams over?

The split between the top and bottom five teams that trademarked the start of the 2024 Formula 1 season seems to be a thing of the past, owing as much to RB's resurgence as to Aston Martin's form dip.

Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin AMR24, Daniel Ricciardo, RB F1 Team VCARB 01

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

The early running in 2024 seemed to indicate a relatively clear pecking order. Red Bull is on top, followed by Ferrari, Mercedes and McLaren. Aston Martin was the clear fifth-best team, not quite able to hang with the rest of the top five on race pace, but still easily clear of RB and Haas.

Fernando Alonso's heroics in qualifying saw him start on the front three rows four times over the first five grands prix, before falling back to his natural position during the race, while RB and Haas were scrapping over the final few points.

There was a running joke that the last point for 10th position would go to whoever beats the last of the Astons, which even led to discussions over expanding the points positions to the top 12 or even beyond.

That always seemed a permanent solution to a temporary problem ahead of a drastic 2026 regulations shift that will likely blow the grid wide open.

But nothing ever stays the same in F1's relentless development race, which has already consigned this perceived 50/50 split of the grid as a thing of the past.

And while Ferrari and McLaren made strides to close the gap to Red Bull and relegate Mercedes to fourth, Aston Martin has slowly but surely fallen behind, into the clutches of Red Bull's second team.

RB's first round of upgrades, which it managed to introduce in Miami, one race earlier than planned, has triggered a change of picture.

Since round six, the team's quicker driver so far - Yuki Tsunoda - has consistently outqualified the best Aston, which through various circumstances has been Lance Stroll since then.

Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin AMR24

Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin AMR24

Photo by: Erik Junius

We haven't included sprint results in the below table, but it is also worth highlighting Daniel Ricciardo's fourth place in the Miami sprint, from the same grid position.

Aston Martin responded with its own upgrade package in Imola but had to concede they weren't sufficient to keep up with the improvements made by some of its rivals, and they didn't necessarily help make the AMR24 easier to drive and keep balanced either.

Tsunoda has reduced his gap to pole from an average of 1.1 seconds until China to seven tenths over the past three races, while Aston's gap to Max Verstappen - and Charles Leclerc in Monaco - has largely doubled.

Race Aston best grid position Gap to pole RB best grid postion Gap to pole

Aston points

scored

RB points

scored

Bahrain 6 0.363 11 0.950 3 0
Saudi 4 0.374 9 1.075 10 0
Australia 10* 1.627* 8 0.873 12 6
Japan 5 0.489 10 1.216 8 11
China 3 0.488 12 1.274 7 0
Miami 11 0.981 11 0.951 2 12
Imola 13 1.248 7 0.719 2 1
Monaco 13 1.293 8 0.588 0 4

* Alonso's Australia Q2 time was faster than Tsunoda's Q3 lap

Part of the change is explained by Red Bull encountering three circuits that didn't suit its car as well, which puts RB's improvements in perspective but is at the same time quite damning for Aston. And while it is too simplistic to just take these individual results at face value, the overarching trend is clear.

Yuki Tsunoda, RB F1 Team VCARB 01

Yuki Tsunoda, RB F1 Team VCARB 01

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

"Looking at the results, we are not anymore in the top five group," Alonso conceded in Monaco, saying its form dip has been a "wake-up call' for the Silverstone-based team.

Stroll also acknowledged that the RB cars "seem to be a bit quicker than us right now, the last few races for sure. So, we definitely have some work to do."

Debriefing the Monaco weekend with Motorsport.com, RB team principal Laurent Mekies said he was surprised with how quickly RB had been able to get on par with Aston, but cautioned that the Lawrence Stroll-owned team has more resources to strike back.

"On pure pace, Aston has been closer to us or with us in the last three races, so it's been a bit of a surprise, certainly," he said.

"But we're under no illusion that they are a very large team and we sort of feel that they can pick up the pace.

"Nonetheless, yes, we are looking at them. The last couple of races are something we're able to build on. We will see if we can add a bit of strength and we'll see what that does on a track like Canada."

"If you look at what's happened this year, it's probably fair to say that we've been doing a bit better on a low-speed corner track than a high-speed corner track."

But much like the advances made by Ferrari and McLaren mean that their fight with Red Bull will now be decided by race weekend execution as much as outright pace, Mekies feels that scenario also rings true in the midfield.

Sauber is still openly struggling, but Alpine and Williams have both made modest improvements that have allowed them to get a taste of points, giving RB and especially Haas a bigger run for their money.

"Ultimately, we are talking about a tenth or half a tenth," Mekies cautioned. "If you look at Monaco, [Pierre] Gasly was with us, [Alex] Albon was with us in qualifying.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W15, Yuki Tsunoda, RB F1 Team VCARB 01

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W15, Yuki Tsunoda, RB F1 Team VCARB 01

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

"It's more about the preparation level and the execution level than about intrinsic car performance, I think.

"If you lose one tenth in the execution of the weekend, that makes you slide from happily into Q3 to unhappily out of Q1."

Those small differences between teams add to the pressure of getting every element of the weekend right, whether it's driver performance, setup or strategy. But it also means every tiny nugget of performance coming from upgrades will have to be fast-tracked to the circuit whenever possible.

"It's these two races that we are in all year and they require very different characteristics in your company," he added.

"One is effectively the factory base, infrastructure, the tools, the software, and the other one is more centred around the race team, the quality of the support and so on.

"We have to just maximise these two streams and what is true is that as soon as you don't nail it, you fall very, very hard through the midfield."

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