Aston Martin’s F1 Season Went Zoom, Then Sputtered

A year ago, Lawrence Stroll, team owner of Aston Martin, was far from achieving his aspirations.

Twelve months later, Fernando Alonso outlined the difference in performance between last year’s team and this year’s.

“It has been a historical season for Aston Martin, and for myself, eight finishes on the podium, more than 200 points, nearly 300 for the team,” Alonso, a two-time Formula 1 drivers’ championship winner, said. “Twelve months ago, this was unthinkable. An incredible year to remember.”

“For me, 2012 and this season are the best in my career,” he said, referring to his third season with Ferrari, when he missed out on a third title by 4 points. This year resulted in “a position I couldn’t have imagined at the beginning of the year with the car performance we had,” he said.

In 2021, Stroll said his aim was for the team to win the world title in “four, five, six years.” In 2022, Aston Martin finished seventh out of 10 teams in the constructors’ championship. This year it was fifth.

Aston Martin’s rise may appear unremarkable, but Alonso’s number of appearances on the podium, three times as a runner-up, was more than the team had in the previous six years combined.

Six of Alonso’s finishes on the podium came in the season’s first eight races. At that stage, he and Aston Martin were challenging Max Verstappen and Red Bull.

“We made quite a lot of progress towards the end of 2022 with some of the upgrades we put on later in the season,” Dan Fallows, the Aston Martin technical director, said in an interview, referring to new parts on the car.

He added: “Over the winter, we had the opportunity to take bigger steps in the same direction. We had momentum going in, and we carried on that momentum, but in a more wholesale and aggressive way than we’d managed to do in-season.”

As the season continued, momentum faded, and the chasing pack of Mercedes, Ferrari and McLaren eventually passed Aston Martin.

“It was a little bit of a surprise to see we were so competitive early on,” Fallows said. “But we always knew Ferrari and Mercedes, very strong teams with strength in depth, a lot of experience, would be fiercely competitive and fight back hard.”

He continued: “It was very gratifying to be as competitive as we were, but we were under no illusion that we were a team likely to be operating at second place in the championship. We knew it was going to be a struggle to stay there for a length of time.”

Mercedes passed Aston Martin after the year’s seventh grand prix, in Spain, Ferrari passed it after the 14th race, in Italy.

McLaren, which went into the season’s ninth race, in Austria, 137 points behind Aston Martin, finished 22 points ahead.

The reason for Aston Martin’s slide was “a very aggressive development philosophy in-season,” Fallows said. “We decided to try to be quite brave, quite risky, in some instances, in terms of the speed of delivery of these parts.”

Looking back, Fallows said, the team would probably choose not to make some of the decisions it did, but it valued the learning experience.

“Towards the end of the season, we used some races essentially as glorified test sessions in many ways,” he said, adding, “We felt that was necessary to understand the car and to understand what we want to do for next year.”

Aston Martin finished 129 points behind Mercedes, which was runner-up to a dominant Red Bull. Mike Krack, the Aston Martin team principal, said there was no reason for anyone on the team to feel disappointed.

“We were surprised, and I think everybody was surprised, that some teams did not come out of the starting blocks as was expected,” Krack said, referring to Mercedes and Ferrari, which finished 3 points behind Mercedes.

He added: “By developing, they came back to their, let’s say, more natural position, which is something you cannot influence with the firepower we had, and something we know we need to work on for the future if we want to become a stronger team.”

There was disruption along the way as Aston Martin moved into a new $250 million factory in May. It was the first phase of a three-part project that includes the team building its own wind tunnel and simulator, going online in the third quarter of 2024. The team currently uses the Mercedes facility.

“We moved into a new technology campus, which is only a third complete,” Fallows said. “We have had several upheavals during the year, with that being one of them.

“But we don’t have the level of facilities, the stability of structure, that some of our main competitors enjoy, and yet we’ve still been able to compete at that level.”

Stroll’s support has been instrumental. In August 2018, he and a consortium of his “closest, dearest friends and business associates” bought the team, then known as Force India.

Last month, Stroll sold a minority share in the team to Arctos Partners, a private equity firm in Dallas.

Stroll said the sale to Arctos was not a forerunner to him leaving the Aston Martin team or car company, in which he has a 26.23 percent stake.

“You don’t go spending hundreds of millions of pounds, building the greatest new Formula 1 campus and hiring 400 of the greatest employees if you’re about to leave the business,” Stroll said.

He added: “It could not be any further from the truth that I have any interest in ever not being the majority shareholder of this team for a very long time, and it is the same with the road car company. I’m not going anywhere. I plan to run these businesses for many years. I’m at the beginning of the journey on both.”

Lance Stroll, Lawrence’s son, finished 10th in the drivers’ championship with 74 points and no finishes on the podium.

He broke both wrists in a preseason bicycle accident, forcing him out of the preseason test in Bahrain. But he returned to finish sixth in the race there. He took fourth, his highest finish of the year, two races later in Australia at a time when the car was at its most competitive.

Hampered by bad luck, including retirements in Saudi Arabia and Japan, and some mistakes, such as his crash in qualifying in Singapore that forced him to withdraw from the race, Stroll finished 132 points behind Alonso.

“It was a really strong start to the season, a really difficult middle and then strong again at the end,” Lance Stroll said. “There is some stuff I can chip away at for next year. Overall, it’s been a season full of emotion.”

Tom McCullough, the Aston Martin performance director, said Stroll deserved credit for plugging away through a difficult period.

“Lance, as far as how he works, is in and out of the factory between every event,” McCullough said. “He’s simulator running, he’s sitting with his engineers.”

He added: “He works so hard, and he’s so motivated to learn from one of the best drivers this sport has ever seen. And that’s what Fernando is.”

Fallows said that for next season the team would look at the car and re-evaluate everything.

“We’ve seen with what we did at the beginning of the season that there are still opportunities to make a big step forward,” he said. “But it’s a relative game. It all depends on what other people are doing.”

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