[Why Aston Martin is not in the same league as F1’s top teams yet
Aston Martin sprung a surprise at the start of 2023 by competing for podiums after finishing 2022 in a lowly seventh position.
A reinvigorated Fernando Alonso, who joined from Alpine, claimed six top three finishes, although recently the Silverstone team has found the going got tougher.
Mercedes and Ferrari both took steps to rein Aston in, while McLaren too produced a remarkable car upgrade to put it firmly in the mix.
There are also questions on Aston’s recent upgrades, with suggestions that the team has had to change its front wing amid an FIA flexi-wing clampdown.
The net result is that Aston has had to let Mercedes go in the fight for second and now feels Ferrari breathing down its neck for third, the Scuderia now just five points adrift as the second half of the season gets underway this weekend in the Dutch dunes of Zandvoort.
While some of the early excitement on Aston’s turnaround has petered out, Alonso still felt the team’s first half of 2023 was “incredible”.
Mike Krack, Team Principal, Aston Martin F1 Team
Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images
But team principal Krack acknowledged the Lawrence Stroll-owned team still has a long way to go to be considered in the same league as Mercedes and Ferrari, which both underperformed at the start of year.
“We have a long way to go, we have only made one step,” Krack told Motorsport.com/Autosport in an exclusive interview.
“And the progress will not be linear. You will have moments where you will overachieve, like we did in the beginning of this year.
“But you will also have moments where you underachieve, just purely because you are also affected by how other people are doing, which you have no control of.
“So, it is important that you look at yourself, and you identify progress. And this will not lead you always to a higher ranking.
“It is fair to say we did one step, but we know also that to compete with teams like Ferrari and Mercedes, Red Bull, we have to take a couple more steps.”
One factor that has aided Aston Martin’s 2023 bid is F1’s aerodynamic testing restriction or ATR, which either handicaps or helps teams by awarding wind tunnel time and CFD runs based on the constructors’ championship, giving a boost to the lowest ranked teams in their bid to catch up.
On 1 July 2022, when the table was reset for the second half of the year, Aston was down in eighth, which gave it 105% of the baseline level of development time, compared to 70% for Red Bull, 75% for Ferrari and 80% for Mercedes.
Aston improved just one position towards the end of the championship, with its seventh finishing position still equalling 100% for the first six months of 2023.
Its stellar first half of the season moved it up to third by 1 July, just pipped by Mercedes, a result which has reduced its development time to 80% for the remainder of 2023.
The coming months will therefore present a sterner test for the Silverstone squad, which will have to live up to its efficient reputation built up during the cash-strapped Force India and Racing Point days.
However, Aston has come on leaps and bounds since Stroll’s takeover, having gradually started moving into its to its new state-of-the-art Silverstone headquarters. It has also gained the means and appeal to poach top talent from rival squads, such as technical director Dan Fallows from Red Bull and his deputy Eric Blandin, who joined from Mercedes.
Lance Stroll, Aston Martin AMR23, Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin AMR23, outside the garage
Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images
Further optimising and enhancing its overall structure and methodology remains a priority for Krack to become a true top team in the long run.
“Continuity, developing the team, developing the tools, developing the processes,” Krack summed up the next steps.
“We’re still rearranging some of our organisation consistently to try and identify areas where we can get better, so that you have the firepower that you need if there is a rule change coming, or we need to react quickly.
“You have to set realistic targets. But that is also why you have people like Dan, like Eric. They have so much experience, they know what is achievable and what is not.
He added: “We are not there yet. Yeah, the car was very good at the beginning [of the season] but others have now caught up. This also shows us our limits very quickly.
“You have teams that are always at the front and this we have to show first, before we speak about 100 races or five-year plans.
“We are not a top team. You have to first develop your team to be in that league. We are not at that level.”
Headhunting top talent from the likes of Red Bull and Mercedes will go some way towards closing the gap, but only relying on expensive outside hires is not a sustainable strategy under F1’s cost cap, which the team is well aware of.
“I think you need to have experienced people at the top, but they don’t necessarily have to be the superstars with the large cheque books,” Krack pointed out.
“I think it’s important that if we want to build a sustainable future for our team, the growth has to come from the basis, you know? With the graduates, the best people from the universities. This is where the future is.
“The big cheque books can buy you short-term success, but it’s not a sustainable one.”
Krack acknowledged there is “no miracle” solution to try and catch the dominant Red Bull team, apart from trying to find incremental gains in the way the team operates in every single department.
“There is no miracle, says Krack. “First of all, they have one outstanding driver, which we have as well.
“At the end of the day you see that they have a car that in all areas is just a little bit better and the sum of all these ‘little bit better’ is making that difference.
“I would hate to see that they win all the races, but they are on the path to do so.
“So, let’s try to disrupt as much as we can…”
Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin AMR23
Photo by: Michael Potts / Motorsport Images