What can we expect from Aston Martin’s real F1 return?
The iconic Aston Martin wings have had a growing presence in Formula 1 over the last few seasons, but they will be front and centre for the first time in 60 years this season with their very own works outfit. But what can we expect from the green machines?
1. A company that wants to fight the big brands
Aston Martin were exploring a return to Formula 1 around seven years ago, the British carmaker keen to use their presence in the sport to take the fight to sportscar rivals McLaren and Ferrari on the racing track, as well as off it.
They came close to a technical partnership with Force India in 2015, before ultimately entering as a title sponsor and technical partner with Red Bull Racing. It was a relationship that proved a success, yielding the Valkyrie hypercar as well as increased exposure for the brand.
But the dream of returning as a works outfit, for the first time since 1960, remained. When Lawrence Stroll led a consortium to buy Aston Martin, having already done the same to rescue the Force India F1 team, the perfect storm was created.
The goals, as you might expect, remain the same. To beat their rivals – who are also competitors in the road car world – and to strengthen the Aston Martin brand around the globe. With Stroll having made a habit of investing in companies and turning them around – particularly in the fashion industry – they are in promising shape to make good on those aims.
2. A well-oiled machine ready to go to the next level
Force India (latterly Racing Point) made a name for themselves as a ruthlessly efficient little racing team which could maximise resources and regularly punch above their weight – their two fourth places in 2016 and 2017 after a fifth and two sixths are testament to that.
Technical chief Andrew Green is highly rated in the paddock and has been responsible for the succession of cars that saw Force India make progress year on year. His ability to make a solid race car with very little cash will be a large part of his legacy, but it was clear there was frustration when he and his technical team had developments that would add lap time – but not the funds with which to produce them.
So the theory is that now the shackles have been released, with resources available not only to improve their technical capabilities – which includes building a new factory – and recruit more people, they will also have the funds to aggressively develop over the winter and through the season to allow them to compete.
What was most impressive about Stroll, when we spoke soon after his F1 acquisition, was his pragmatism. When he bought the team, he didn’t come in and rip everything up and do it his way. As he said: “Nothing is broke here so you don’t need to fix it.”
He supported the leadership team, listened to their expertise and then applied his business values. And he hasn’t set outlandish targets either, instead accepting that it was a long-term aim to become “one of the greatest teams in the paddock” knowing that the 2022 sweeping regulation changes offer opportunity.
3. The trajectory to fight for podiums regularly
Stroll still demands results. It’s why he’s been so successful in his many businesses. So constant progress is required.
To grow quickly and scale up is no easy feat. But Aston Martin, whose operation has its roots in the 30-year-old Jordan team, do have the advantage of having room to grow and refine their outfit, whereas the teams they are chasing are having to slash their budgets dramatically because of the cost cap, and thus will have to learn to operate at the same level with less.
They can also take confidence from a strong 2020 campaign which, despite not yielding the third place in the constructors’ championship their package deserved, did see them finish a solid fourth as well as securing their first victory as Racing Point – as well as three further podiums – was a fine performance.
With the regulations reasonably stable from last year to this one, Aston Martin’s target will be to reach the podium more consistently. Their car will continue to bear a striking resemblance to the all-conquering Mercedes, as they continue to take multiple parts from the world champions, including the engine, gearbox and brake ducts, so such a target should be achievable.
But it is 2022 where Aston Martin can really make a step forward. The second year of a budget cap plus all new technical regulations offers opportunities for all, which is why Lawrence Stroll’s ambitions of the world title aren’t so outlandish.
4. Two drivers with something to prove
Aston Martin will field one of the most intriguing line-ups in 2021, with a youngster fighting to prove he belongs and a veteran four-time world champion wanting to show he’s not done yet.
Lance Stroll has struggled to earn respect for his achievements, courtesy of being the son of a billionaire and the team’s owner, but on track, he made gains last year, taking his first pole position and leading a Grand Prix comfortably for 32 laps before a broken front wing undid his charge, while also scoring two further podiums.
Aston Martin will hope he will continue to grow and harness his speed to improve his consistency, with Sebastian Vettel’s presence an opportunity for him to learn from of F1’s most successful racers.
In Vettel they get a driver who is hungry to show that Ferrari made a mistake letting him go. When he left Red Bull for Ferrari, we saw an immediate bounce after a lull. It would be wise to think the same will happen with his move to Aston Martin.
The German will have a team eager to make the most of his champion qualities, as they look to move from establishing themselves as one of F1’s most “efficient teams” to “a top team” as Team Principal Otmar Szafnauer puts it.