Feature F1 Unlocked
BARRETTO: After their lightning start to 2023, can Aston Martin take the next step in 2024?
When Fernando Alonso put pen to paper to sign a deal with Aston Martin, the double world champion – even with his remarkable self-confidence – didn’t believe he could kick off his latest era in F1 with a run of six podiums in eight races.
But the Spaniard pleasantly surprised himself with the kind of performances that suggested age is only a number – the 42-year-old driving just as well as at any point during his two-decade-long career in Formula 1 and delivering on the lofty expectation the team’s billionaire owner Lawrence Stroll bestowed upon him when he tempted him away from Alpine.
Aston Martin sat second in the constructors’ championship after six races in 2023, having finished the previous season seventh. They had grabbed the attention of their rival teams with such a big step in relative performance and at that point were Red Bull’s most potent threat for supremacy.
But then came a mid-season slump, one that left the Silverstone-based team perplexed as to why they couldn’t get more out of the AMR23. Updates came – but they did not deliver as intended. The slide was dramatic. Once regular podium contenders, Aston Martin found themselves scrapping to get into Q3 and fight for points.
It says a lot of about the team that they fought back to finish the season strongly, Alonso snatching two more podiums and the team coming within a sniff of nabbing P4 from McLaren – who out-developed them – at the death before taking fifth.
So as Stroll, Team Principal Mike Krack and the rest of senior management mulled over their season during Christmas dinner this year, they were left with mixed feelings.
On the one hand, they had amassed a points-haul five times greater than the previous campaign – scoring 280 points compared to 55. They had accrued eight podiums and four front row starts, up from zero and zero on 2023.
They had made a net gain of two places in the constructors’ championship and proved to the world that the huge resource they were piling into the team were generating results.
On the other hand, they were left ruing what might have been. Having been sitting pretty in P2 during the first six races – and with a history of delivering mighty in-season development and great bang for their buck with new parts – it was anticipated they would kick on.
But juggernauts Mercedes and Ferrari – who have regularly fought at the sharp end through the last decade – overhauled them, while McLaren delivered two sensational update packages that lifted them from backmarkers to regular podium contenders to leap ahead too.
Krack, though, is taking a glass half-full approach to reviewing last season. “What everyone – and I really do mean everyone – has achieved [in 2023] has been exceptional, and they should be proud of their contribution,” he says.
“There have been a lot of high points [in 2023] – a couple of lows too, but mostly highs – and we should not forget what we have achieved; where we are now, compared to where we were. It has been a significant step in our journey but there is still a lot to be done.
“We are not yet an established front-runner but that is the direction in which we are headed. We are fully focused on achieving our long-term ambitions – on fighting for regular points, podiums and our first win in green.”
You get the sense that that first win in green is not far away. Had they made a different strategy call in Monaco, Alonso would have had track position in the lead of the race and maybe, just maybe, held on to win on a track where it is notoriously difficult to overtake.
Aston, to be fair to them, don’t have the experience of the rivals they are trying to get on par with of regularly making those kinds of big calls for big results under pressure. But the kind of form they delivered in 2023 put them in that position on several occasions and that will stand them in good stead this year if they deliver a car over the winter that puts them in the mix again.
Sources say the 2024 car looks very different to its predecessor on the outside, with a plethora of changes under the skin and away from prying eyes, too.
“We are not heading into 2024 with a hangover from 2023. Quite the opposite, in fact,” says Krack. “[Last] season – and especially the races at the end of the season – have been very positive for us, with some really valuable learning that will carry over into the '24 car. We're not wrestling with any doubts.”
Aston have proved it’s possible to make a big step over the winter, while McLaren showed you can do it in-season, too. Get it right again and Alonso’s wait for a 33rd win might finally be over.
It’s important to remember that Aston are still in their early growth phase. This will be only their fourth season in green and fourth season since Stroll’s huge cash injection to overhaul the operation from the bottom up.
The first of three buildings that will form their state-of-the-art, class-leading factory, opened last year. Building two, which will house a new gym, staff restaurant, more office space and crucially – in terms of on-track performance – a new driver simulator, is set to be completed around August/September.
The final building, which like the other two will be linked by bridges, is set to be competed shortly after and will house their new wind tunnel. That gives them plenty of time to calibrate it ahead of the new rules cycle that begins in 2026.
That will be a huge season for the team, with new aero rules as well as engine regulations – the latter including the introduction of 100% sustainable fuels and a great premium on electrical power – coming into force at a time when they will welcome their works engine partner Honda.
For now, then, Aston will be aiming to using the next two season to make further steps in terms of growth as they look to morph themselves into a team capable of challenging for race wins regularly. And Krack reckons he has the driver line-up to help that journey.
Of Lance Stroll, Krack says he “overcame many challenges [in 2023] and is now on the up”, and on Alonso: “[what he has] brought us is just outstanding”, adding “he drives us on and makes us better”.
Having bed himself into the team in 2023, it is pretty exciting to think what he can do with both feet firmly under the table this time around.
It is for these reasons that Aston Martin are quietly confident they can continue on the upward trajectory they’ve put themselves on with a strong 2023. Their challenge this year is to start strongly – and then be able to maintain that through the year. It won’t be easy – but they’ll take plenty of confidence from the way they delivered in 2023.