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PADDOCK INSIDER: Why Aston Martin are riding a high into Saudi Arabia – and how they can keep that momentum going
Aston Martin are doing their best to keep their feet planted to the ground after an impressive podium in the season-opener, but there’s a growing belief outside the team that the green cars will cause quite a stir consistently this year.
When billionaire Lawrence Stroll entered Formula 1 and rebranded Racing Point as Aston Martin, he had one goal – to make the operation consistent world championship contenders.
It’s been something of a bumpy ride since then, a big jump up the pecking order failing to materialise last year when the sweeping new technical regulations were introduced.
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But after the first race, Aston Martin look like they mean business. Fernando Alonso’s podium was only the second in their short history. With Lance Stroll conquering a pair of broken wrists and a broken toe to finish sixth, giving them their best-ever team result and put them second in the standings.
Admittedly, we only have a sample of one. And it’s true that Bahrain’s power sensitive layout, with cheese-grater-like surface, suited their car. The team also managed to find a sweet-spot after the test, making the AMR23 kind on its tyres and giving it better tyre degradation than almost all its rivals.
However, they did a better job than eight of their nine rival teams and were rewarded with a tally that was already nearly half of what they managed all last season.
In many ways, we shouldn’t be surprised.
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Lawrence Stroll has been pumping in significant resources that has culminated in a £200m state-of-the-art factory that will open this summer. That redevelopment includes a class-leading wind tunnel, which means they no longer borrow the Mercedes one, and a simulator – two tools that are vital to be competitive at the sharp end.
There’s also been a huge recruitment drive, with the workforce swelling to a number that will rival other big teams Red Bull, Mercedes and Ferrari.
Headlining the plethora of new personnel across every level is new Technical Director Dan Fallows, who joins from Red Bull and has overall control of the development direction with long-time technical chief Andrew Green moving to non-F1 projects.
“He [Lawrence Stroll] has this vision of having a winning team in the near future – whatever it takes, whatever it costs, whatever is needed,” said Alonso on Thursday in Jeddah. “When he has an idea, normally he succeeds. That’s why it’s interesting to have a leader like Lawrence because you know you have everything you need behind you and the team is in safe hands.”
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Aston Martin’s other significant strength is that they have Alonso, one of the best drivers Formula 1 has ever seen. At 41, he’s showing no signs of slowing down – and if anything, the Spanish double world champion is operating at his highest ever level.
When he left Alpine for Aston Martin, in what he will have accepted will likely be his last F1 team in what has been a lengthy career, he hoped he could help drive the team towards Lawrence Stroll’s lofty goal and perhaps, after some time, cash in on that effort with some strong results. It's unlikely he will have expected to be competitive straight off the bat.
But that’s the situation he finds himself in. In Bahrain, he had the second fastest car – it’s been nearly a decade since he’s had F1 machinery of that quality. That position in the pecking order may fluctuate depending on the circuit – and as the season goes on will depend on how Aston Martin and their rivals develop their respective cars.
But the reality is that they are now, at worst, a top-four team – three positions better than they managed last year. And at best, they are regular contenders for top-five finishes, with a genuine shot at more podiums – and maybe even a win if the circumstances are right.
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You can see that this reality has got Alonso going. He didn’t need any extra motivation – but having the machinery to fight for silverware has upped his level, which in turn is delivering the kind of performances and lap time that is further motivating his engineers and mechanics.
An Alonso in this form is fearsome prospect. He consistently got more out of last year’s Alpine than the machinery deserved – and he was able to do that in his new home at Aston Martin at the first time of asking.
And based on what we saw in Bahrain, it looks like he’s going to be very ably supported by a team mate in Lance Stroll. Before this year, Stroll showed flashes of speed but lacked consistency. But in Bahrain, he showed impressive character and bravery by racing with substantial injuries.
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As you’d expect, Stroll is in better shape in Saudi Arabia, having had 10 days or so to let his injuries heal. He moved far less gingerly, though it is likely he’s still on painkillers given the extent of the injuries. And while he looks better and will be stronger in Saudi Arabia, he will almost certainly still be uncomfortable in the car.
But if he can finish sixth in Bahrain in that state, the feeling inside the team is that he’ll be capable of scoring heavily on a consistent basis – providing he has the car – when he’s back to 100%.
This is why Aston Martin are in such good spirits right now. Sure, they are keeping their expectations in check, but they also know they have a good baseline car, which they already have a good understanding of and which they feel can add performance to with a bold in-season development strategy.
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