Aston Martin has eliminated its biggest fear but one remains

Aston Martin has eliminated its biggest fear but one remains

After Fernando Alonso completed Aston Martin’s surprise turnaround in Formula 1 with a podium finish at the Brazilian Grand Prix and Lance Stroll backing him up in fifth, the importance of a timely and much-needed performance became clear.

Alonso has stood by his team during their decline, and has often tended to rely on the positives. After finishing third at Interlagos he admitted his real anxiety.

“We have been struggling for a few months,” Alonso said. “But the last two races were probably very painful.

“We had to test some things in the car to really understand the direction we were going in and we have to go for next year’s car as well.

“Those races were painful, especially in Mexico. We were very slow as a team.”

The anxiety was real, and perhaps it extended to thoughts about 2024 as well.

Not only is the car more competitive, but according to Alonso “some things have been understood within the team”, giving it better development and a better direction for the setup.

This supports the team’s justification as to why the weekend was better in Brazil, and why it believes the ‘losing’ weekends in the US and Mexico were so valuable.

What made this so good?

Alonso’s third-place finish, on merit, in Brazil injected some much-needed positivity into the end of the year.

With Lance Stroll backing him up in fifth, Aston Martin’s 25 points total since this weekend was more than it had managed over the past six.

Aston Martin scoring model

Brazil: 25 points
Italy/Singapore/Japan/Qatar/USA/Mexico: 21 points

But it wasn’t just about making everyone feel good, or even getting great big points. The essence of this result is that it was a real platform.

Yes, Ferrari and Mercedes performed poorly, and Sergio Perez’s Red Bull started out of position. But it was just that Aston Martin was not performing at the same level as before and Alonso slid into a gap opened by others.

This was achieved by being more competitive over a single lap and in the race than Aston Martin had been in months. He and Stroll were fast, faster More so than most rivals, and it was a result that would not have seemed out of place in the first third of the season – when everyone was raving about Aston Martin being a leading team.

There is a similarity to what was happening then as Ferrari and Mercedes did not pose much of a threat, but Alonso’s deficit over race winner Max Verstappen was reduced significantly and more than halved compared to some of the recent miserable grands prix the team has suffered. He also finished closer to Verstappen than he had in the season opener in Bahrain.

It wasn’t like the climax in Canada, where the Aston Martin was clearly the second fastest car, and Alonso thought victory might not be far off the corner, and there was a big gap to McLaren as well, and another weekend with the others performing the same the performance. They should have had this. It was probably only a fifth or a sixth.

However, it was still a clear step forward from the previous two months, and a worthy performance at the front that was not given by one of the competitors who missed the mark.

What made that possible?

It seems that Aston Martin has been scratching its head for some time because the upgrades were either not working well enough or were causing new problems.

There was a mix of performance upgrades and 2023-focused ideas designed to guide the direction of 2024, and it was a big gamble when Aston Martin made its latest major change at the US weekend.

This seemed to throw the team into an even more confused state.

Both drivers were dissatisfied with how the car handled, and debuting new ground in a sprint event meant little time on the track to evaluate and fine-tune the package.

This led to a radical approach to the United States Grand Prix by requiring both cars to pit lane, splitting the car specification with Stroll keeping the new floor and Alonso returning to the old one and making significant adjustments to the setup as well.

This led to better performance on race day but there were no positive aspects in Mexico where Aston Martin split the car specification again with Alonso using the old floor and Stroll using the new floor.

Both cars retired at the end of a miserable, uncompetitive weekend with Alonso uncharacteristically spinning twice and both drivers bemoaning a complete lack of control and confidence.

However, prominent figures remained steadfast that Aston Martin was not lost, and that the situation was not, as it seemed, a complete disaster.

They felt they had two hacked weekends to collect data which made it very difficult for the team on the track to improve the car over the race weekend.

But the reward was two races worth of comparative data, and finally a good understanding of the car back on track.

This led to Brazil, where Aston Martin did not conduct any live testing during the event, but rather came up with a clear car specification and built from there.

Exactly what those car specs are, Aston Martin has been a bit coy. It manages to mix and match some parts of the upgrade and some of what was previously there.

“We never run the same specification car,” insisted Tom McCullough, Aston Martin’s performance director.

“Some tracks need certain parts and we are always developing the car, always trying to put together the parts that give us the best car for the requirements of that track: low, medium, high speed and straight-line efficiency. .

“There are always parts that don’t perform as well as you want for your development kit, like the CFD and the wind tunnel, but we have a really good understanding of the car on track.”

By bringing the best car specification to Brazil and making it a success, Aston Martin has at least proven it understands where things have gone wrong this season.

It also showed that it could address that problem with this car, which worked as well in Brazil as Aston Martin had hoped.

Residual anxiety

There is still a belief that some parts of the latest upgrade did not work as hoped, which is in line with some other disappointments in recent development, and means that there is still a major question mark over the team’s progress – at least for 2024.

So the part of all this positivity that potentially has a caveat is that, at some point, Aston Martin will have to confront what hasn’t worked in its upgrades.

If what it brought to Austin was about guiding the direction of development for 2024, then no matter how common the mix-and-match specs are supposed to be, there’s bound to be a bit of a problem as not everything remains new on the car.

Whether or not this is just cautious messaging, the takeaway from the team is that the Austin/Mexico upgrade evaluation work was really about exploring ideas and gathering data for 2024 – not just about an immediate performance move.

McCullough described what was the most experimental of the Austin upgrade as the team “really wanted to push the limits in some areas of the floor”, understood to be primarily around the edges of the floor.

This is almost certainly related to the complex relationship between strong ground effect and the car’s mechanical platform, and Aston Martin’s attempt to enhance its understanding of this.

“These ground effect cars are very different and we had to adapt our understanding of the wind tunnel and CFD based on these regulations,” McCullough said.

“We had to do some pretty extreme things to help connect these tools. You’re going to see a lot of air scratches on the car at the same time, so it’s just a question of what does the flow field from the front to the back of the car do when you do that on the real car?

“That’s what we needed to get. We’ve got that data and it’s part of the link, the development that feeds into next year’s car.”

The result is that McCullough insists Aston Martin has gained a good understanding of how to develop the car for next year.

And since this is just one race, we’ll leave an asterisk for its confidence in development for 2024. But the fact that the team stuck to the story after being so poor in Austin and Mexico and then backed up its words with action in Brazil is worth it. They have the benefit of the doubt.

In the short term, this has left Alonso more excited for the end of the current season.

“I was a little worried, without a doubt, the last few races,” Alonso said.

“Now, yeah, I can’t wait to go to Vegas. It’s a whole different energy when you have a high-performance car.”

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