ANALYSIS: Building for the future and chasing Red Bull – What does 2024 hold for Aston Martin?
Aston Martin’s shiny new factory is gargantuan. Strolling along the monstrous 160m ‘street’ that keeps the main building (one of three this size) connected, you can peak through giant windows that frame the incredible work going on to build a Formula 1 car, using state-of-the-art machinery and the very best tools money can buy.
If you were going to build a Formula 1 team facility from scratch with a near bottomless pit of money, this is how you would do it. But such extravagant spending comes with extravagant targets. Billionaire owner Lawrence Stroll wants a return on investment in the shape of a car capable of winning races and fighting for world championships.
Last year was evidence that the Silverstone-based outfit is moving in the right direction. They were the second-fastest team behind Red Bull in the first third of the season, taking six podiums in the first eight races and eight in total across the campaign, all courtesy of Fernando Alonso.
However, a mid-season slump thanks to upgrades that dialled issues into the car saw them drop back to fifth in the standings come the final chequered flag.
Still, there was plenty to be optimistic about. That finish was two places better than the previous year, they had shown they are capable of fighting at the sharp end and most importantly, they found fixes for their problems by the end of the year, leaving them with a solid foundation heading into the winter break as they finalised the 2024 car.
“We've made changes all over the car,” says Technical Chief Dan Fallows. “It's very different in many ways. The majority of the parts have changed on it but it is really still essentially a strong evolution of last year's car.
“Certainly straight-line speed and making sure the car is as efficient as possible has been a big focus over the winter. And I think that is something that we've managed to achieve on this year’s car and made a step on that.”
'We take the approach that Red Bull are absolutely beatable'
When I ask boss Mike Krack about his targets for the team this year, he was typically very pragmatic. “2024 will be a good season if we can close the gap to the fastest car further,” he says.
“In 2023, we managed a substantial decrease in that gap. If we manage to reduce this gap further, I think we can continue to fight for points, to fight for podiums and maybe we can fight for our first win in green. It’s about how much can we improve.”
Fallows gave a little more away, as he set his sights on taking the fight to world champions Red Bull. “We were very pleased with the step that we've made over the winter, we think we have made a step on last year's car, which is what we wanted,” he adds.
“The main aim for us is really to make sure that this car is a good platform to put those developments on during the season. We've seen – particularly last season, but also the season before – the in-season development race is absolutely fierce and we want to be as competitive in that as we have been going into the new season.
“We're really into finding lap time now from things that are smaller details, the more kind of detailed elements of the floor and other parts of the car. But there's still a lot of lap time to come. And we take the approach that Red Bull are absolutely beatable, that's what we're chasing after, we're focusing on them, and that's what we're aiming for.”
That is the kind of punchy talk Lawrence Stroll will want to hear. Red Bull have dominated the last two Formula 1 campaigns, but at different points during the last year, Aston Martin, Ferrari and McLaren all demonstrated they can take the fight to the energy drinks firm’s works team.
'It's going to be very tight'
You get the sense Alonso has the bit between his teeth and senses a real opportunity to grab his 33rd Grand Prix victory, 11 years after his previous triumph (the 2013 Spanish GP). The 42-year-old says he’s come back fitter than ever and is absolutely raring to go.
“Well, that's a good thing that he says that,” says Alonso after hearing Fallows’ comments about Red Bull being beatable. “It put a smile on my face.
“I didn't speak with Dan for a few weeks now. But I think we have to be optimistic at this part of the season and I think we saw last year as well, Ferrari finished really strong, and achieved a few pole positions in the last part of the year.
“McLaren also did a huge step during the season and got close to the Red Bull in a few races. So, yeah, let's see what happens. I think we have to be a regular in the points first, fighting for podiums, be a contender for podiums as we did last year. And then if we are in that position, yeah, it will be lovely to achieve the first victory in green for Aston Martin and hopefully, I can be behind the wheel at that moment.
“But I think we have to go step by step. It's going to be very tight. There are four or five teams within two or three tenths of the second this year, I bet. So, that will put you, yeah, within two-tenths of the second fighting for podiums or fighting out of the top 10. So we need to be really focused on that.”
The AMR24 got its first run at Silverstone on Monday, as part of a shakedown during a filming day. We’ll have to wait until Bahrain testing, which kicks off next week, and the first couple of races in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, to get a real feel of where the green machine stacks up.
Hopes are high, though, that the Lawrence Stroll-owned team can leave their rivals green with envy when the car is really unleashed.