One reason to root for every F1 driver on the 2024 grid


Preseason testing? It’s over. The all-too-brief offseason? A distant memory. The 2023 season? Ancient history.

The 2024 Formula One campaign is upon us, with the opening round of the season beginning with Practice 1 on Thursday (6:30 a.m. ET, watch live on ESPNU). Before the cars roll out of pit lane, though, why not familiarise yourself with the field?

While three-time defending champion Max Verstappen may look like an overwhelming favourite, there is plenty of intrigue up and down the paddock. Nate Saunders goes from garage to garage, giving you one reason to root for every driver on the grid this season.

Age: 26
Nationality: Netherlands
Grand prix starts: 185
Grand prix wins: 54
2023 championship position: 1st
Best championship position: 1st (2021, 2022, 2023)

Reason to root for them: Verstappen is redefining F1 greatness every time he steps into a race car. The Dutchman comes into 2024 on the back of a threepeat — along with the most dominant individual season in F1 history, to boot — and there’s no reason to think he’s going to stop winning any time soon.

His relentless pace and his aggressive style on track have won him a legion of fans worldwide, and he makes no excuses — to anyone — for how he races. All the more remarkable is how unfazed he seems by his achievements and the adulation that comes with them.

Age: 23
Nationality: United States
Grand prix starts: 22
Grand prix wins: 0
2023 championship position: 21st
Best championship position: 21st (2023)

Reason to root for them: Maybe we are biased, but we want Sargeant’s career to be a success. Before him, there had not been an American on the grid since Alexander Rossi in 2015.

The jury might still be out on the Floridian, but he has been given a second chance to prove he truly belongs. Americans have had limited success in F1 since Mario Andretti won the 1978 world championship; if Sargeant can establish himself this year, it might help break some lingering preconceptions within the F1 paddock that racing drivers from the U.S. are better off staying in series like IndyCar.

Age: 34
Nationality: Australia
Grand prix starts: 239
Grand prix wins: 8
2023 championship position: 17th
Best championship position: 3rd (2014, 2016)

Reason to root for them: With a boisterous laugh and beaming smile as big as his personality, Ricciardo has ridden the “Drive to Survive” boom to global fame. A legion of new F1 fans will have never seen his best days at Red Bull (2014-2018), though, when he felt like a world champion in waiting.

It has been a tough road since, but the Ricciardo who returned last year looked like a different person to the one who flamed out at McLaren. A strong 2024 will make a return to Red Bull feel tantalisingly close. Who wouldn’t want to see it?

Age: 24
Nationality: Great Britain
Grand prix starts: 104
Grand prix wins: 0
2023 championship position: 6th
Best championship position: 6th (2021, 2023)

Reason to root for them: Drivers want to win, and you can’t help but feel that Norris needs to win one this year. The Brit has established himself as a superstar, and for a large chunk of 2023 he was comfortably second best behind Verstappen, but that breakthrough first F1 win has eluded him.

The longer that situation goes on, the bigger the pressure will get, especially with McLaren eyeing a championship challenge soon. Fortunately, Norris has talent in abundance, he just needs to seize the moment when it presents itself.

Age: 27
Nationality: France
Grand prix starts: 130
Grand prix wins: 1
2023 championship position: 11th
Best championship position: 7th (2019)

Reason to root for them: When Ricciardo’s hiatus from F1 looked more permanent than six months, Netflix earmarked Gasly as the next poster boy of “Drive to Survive.” It’s obvious why: The immensely likeable Frenchman has an incredible story, peaking with a fairytale win at Monza in 2020 almost exactly one year after the death of his friend Anthoine Hubert in an F2 race.

Overlooked by Red Bull, Gasly has found a new lease on life with Alpine and should be able to forge a long and successful career in F1 with the right opportunities.

Age: 34
Nationality: Mexico
Grand prix starts: 258
Grand prix wins: 6
2023 championship position: 2nd
Best championship position: 2nd (2023)

Reason to root for them: Pérez spent most of 2023 answering questions about whether he was going to lose his Red Bull seat. Most have written him off as a title contender, but can you imagine if he turns around his form this year?

A hero back home in Mexico, Pérez has the unenviable job of being measured in equal machinery to Verstappen every week. On his day, though, Pérez is still a talent worthy of a front-running car, capable of delivering a superb redemption story this year if he gets his form — and his head — in the right place.

Age: 42
Nationality: Spain
Grand prix starts: 380
Grand prix wins: 32
2023 championship position: 4th
Best championship position: 1st (2005, 2006)

Reason to root for them: It’s me! Hi! I’m the problem! It’s me!

Alonso has likened himself to Taylor Swift’s “Anti-Hero,” and the comparison is perfect. At times a Bond villain, at times comically bad like Dr. Evil, at others just a straight-up heel like “Hollywood” Hulk Hogan, Alonso plays the bad guy so well he has made it cool.

His back catalogue includes two world titles and burned bridges at a handful of teams, which is partly why he has not won a race since 2013. Nevertheless, he remains in a club of three with Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton as F1’s very best.

Age: 26
Nationality: Monaco
Grand prix starts: 125
Grand prix wins: 5
2023 championship position: 5th
Best championship position: 2nd (2022)

Reason to root for them: We at ESPN love grading trades, but the one Leclerc must have made with a higher power is hard to judge. He got movie star good looks, incredible racing talent and a long-term contract with motorsport’s most famous team. The cost? Remarkably bad luck — sometimes of his own making.

Leclerc has shouldered the worst of Ferrari’s frustrating and heartbreaking seasons, but there’s no question he can win a world title in the right car. Supporting Leclerc (and Ferrari) can be a rollercoaster, but he has supreme talent and surely one day the stars will all align for him.

Age: 25
Nationality: Canada
Grand prix starts: 143
Grand prix wins: 0
2023 championship position: 10th
Best championship position: 10th (2023)

Reason to root for them: As the son of the billionaire who owns his team, Stroll has always come in for criticism and mockery. Last year, his frustration at the narrative was evident in numerous interviews.

Is the hate he gets down to jealousy, though? Stroll didn’t choose the circumstances he was born into, and he has had flashes of promise throughout his F1 career. Like Pérez with Verstappen, he carries the burden of sharing equal machinery with an all-time great.

For anyone doubting his motivation, he showed great resilience in coming back for the 2023 season opener after breaking his wrist in a preseason training accident. It would’ve been far easier for him to sit it out.

Age: 31
Nationality: Denmark
Grand prix starts: 164
Grand prix wins: 0
2023 championship position: 19th
Best championship position: 9th (2018)

Reason to root for them: After being the comeback story of 2022, we didn’t really see or hear much from Magnussen in 2023 given Haas’ disappointing year. The chance of a move to a big team seems to have passed for the Dane, who scored a podium on his debut with McLaren in 2014, but he remains an F1-worthy talent capable of great results.

When blessed with competitive machinery, Magnussen fights for every point like it’ll be his last, with an aggressive and thoroughly entertaining racing style. Whether he gets the chance to do that with Haas’ 2024 car remains to be seen.

Age: 23
Nationality: Japan
Grand prix starts: 66
Grand prix wins: 0
2023 championship position: 14th
Best championship position: 14th (2021, 2023)

Reason to root for them: Tsunoda might be one of the most quirky and endearing F1 characters ever. It’s not his first language, but his grasp of English profanity is spectacular, making his radio messages and soundbites downright hilarious.

He’s also refreshingly honest about almost everything, even once admitting his love of takeaway food was hampering his training regime — a habit he has since kicked. As a bonus, he’s coming into 2024 off the strongest season of his career.

Put simply, it’s hard to find a reason not to root for him.

Age: 27
Nationality: Thailand
Grand prix starts: 81
Grand prix wins: 0
2023 championship position: 13th
Best championship position: 7th (2020)

Reason to root for them: It’s hard to find a better story — or a nicer guy — in Formula One. At the end of 2020, jettisoned from Red Bull, Albon’s F1 career looked dead and buried. With Williams, though, there has been a resurrection.

A prodigy at the karting level, Albon has rekindled the excitement in his talent since returning in 2022. All this Hollywood-esque story needs is the fairytale return to a top team. Williams isn’t that right now, but it is a team constantly improving, meaning Albon should be able to continue showcasing his obvious promise for another season.

Age: 24
Nationality: China
Grand prix starts: 44
Grand prix wins: 0
2023 championship position: 18th
Best championship position: 18th (2022, 2023)

Reason to root for them: Hamilton might have a rival for the grid’s most fashion-conscious driver in Zhou. The son of a designer, he has admitted he may well go into that industry whenever he finishes racing.

If fashion isn’t your thing, then this feels like a make-or-break year for Zhou’s career, having been outscored by teammate Valtteri Bottas in each of his two seasons in F1.

Age: 36
Nationality: Germany
Grand prix starts: 206
Grand prix wins: 0
2023 championship position: 16th
Best championship position: 7th (2018)

Reason to root for them: Another good example of a driver who never quit on his F1 career, Hülkenberg played super-sub for Racing Point and Aston Martin during the COVID-19 pandemic and then made a full return to racing with Haas last season. He didn’t look out of place, either, outperforming Magnussen across the year.

The biggest question for Hülkenberg is whether he will ever score that elusive podium. For now at least, he just seems happy to be back in the game — a feeling anyone can relate to.

Age: 27
Nationality: France
Grand prix starts: 133
Grand prix wins: 1
2023 championship position: 12th
Best championship position: 8th (2017, 2022)

Reason to root for them: One of the best origin stories on the grid, Ocon did not have either of the advantages most drivers need to reach F1 today — a racing father and/or a bucketload of money. His talent and the fighting spirit he had to adopt to outdrive better-equipped rivals are still visible when he races in F1 today.

Having missed a career-altering shot with Mercedes, he has established himself with Alpine, claiming a win in 2021. He now heads into a contract year, and a potentially defining one for his career. Ocon has always felt like a driver who deserves at least one shot with a championship-calibre car. Will he finally get it?

Age: 39
Nationality: Great Britain
Grand prix starts: 332
Grand prix wins: 103
2023 championship position: 3rd
Best championship position: 1st (2008, 2014, 2015, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020)

Reason to root for them: There’s a reason Ferrari went all-in on getting the seven-time world champion for 2025: Hamilton is the GOAT, a man who transcends the sport like no other, and is F1’s winningest driver. Despite a two-year winless streak, he still has plenty of victories left in the tank.

Ferrari will hope to see plenty of those once he’s racing in red, but for the here and now, seeing at least one more in his final season with Mercedes would be a fitting way to end the greatest driver-team partnership Formula One has ever seen.

Age: 29
Nationality: Spain
Grand prix starts: 185
Grand prix wins: 2
2023 championship position: 7th
Best championship position: 5th (2021, 2022)

Reason to root for them: It’s hard not to feel sorry for Sainz right now. He had a standout 2023, claiming the only non-Red Bull win of the year, but he’ll make way for Hamilton in 2025.

The situation is on-brand for a man who has always carried a chip on his shoulder, having been overlooked by Red Bull and never getting long contracts with Renault or McLaren. We don’t yet know where he will drive in 2025, but we do know Sainz is at his best when driving like he has a point to prove, and we have a whole season of that to look forward to.

Age: 26
Nationality: Great Britain
Grand prix starts: 104
Grand prix wins: 1
2023 championship position: 8th
Best championship position: 4th (2022)

Reason to root for them: The well-spoken, meme-friendly Russell is one of F1’s next big things. He already has a career win to his name and has matched up well in two seasons as Hamilton’s teammate, justifying the lofty expectations around him.

Russell has been earmarked as the future of Mercedes’ F1 programme, and Hamilton’s impending departure has fast-tracked that scenario. Russell will not want to be the second-best Mercedes driver come the end of 2024. Whoever his future teammate is, this is his last chance to comprehensively outperform an all-time great in equal machinery.

Age: 34
Nationality: Finland
Grand prix starts: 222
Grand prix wins: 10
2023 championship position: 15th
Best championship position: 2nd (2019, 2020)

Reason to root for them: You might have seen Bottas baring his backside in a calendar for charity and already decided he’s the driver for you. And you know what? That’s more than enough. If there was a “Driver you’d most like to go for a beer with” award, the laid-back Finn would win it every year — and he’d probably make you stay for more than one.

The biggest feel-good factor about Bottas is that he’s back to his normal self after a disappointing and, by his own admission, mentally challenging time at Mercedes from 2017 to 2021.

Age: 22
Nationality: Australia
Grand prix starts: 22
Grand prix wins: 0
2023 championship position: 9th
Best championship position: 9th (2023)

Reason to root for them: Sports teams are always looking for a can’t-miss kid, and McLaren might have just found one in Piastri. The Aussie was a rookie in name only last year, delivering a Sprint win in Qatar, two podiums and a handful of standout drives.

He’s not quite as polished as teammate Norris yet, but Piastri’s ceiling seems to be as high as you can imagine. Best of all, if you don’t have a favourite driver yet, you can get in on the ground floor. Buckle up and enjoy the ride.



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