How Aston Martin plans to bounce back from Hungary setback

A good result heading into the summer break is always a welcome boost for any Formula 1 team, and thus for Aston Martin the Hungarian Grand Prix disqualification was a bitter blow.

The 18 points lost with Sebastian Vettel’s exclusion from second place after the FIA failed to extract a one litre fuel sample could prove to be very expensive, especially as the team’s direct rivals for fifth place in the constructors’ championship, Alpine and AlphaTauri, were both gifted positions.

Having failed in its push for a right of review of the original decision, the team has now accepted that it was fighting a losing battle, withdrawn its appeal, and taken the pain of the final confirmation loss of the result.

Eleven races into the 2021 season it leaves the team seventh in the championship on 48 points, behind Alpine on 77 and AlphaTauri on 68. Had the original result stood it would have been a much closer fight, with Alpine on 75, Aston on 66, and AlphaTauri on 64.

However, even the higher number reflects the Silverstone team’s dip in fortunes since last year, when after 11 races as Racing Point it had already logged 120 points.

Team principal Otmar Szafnauer has made no secret about why Aston lost its way at the start of this season, blaming it on the change of aero regulations designed to trim downforce and take a little stress out of Pirelli’s tyres.

The package of changes impacted the two low-rake cars, the Mercedes and Aston, more than their high-rake rivals. Recovering from that initial hit has required a huge effort, with a major package of aero updates coming through the system, and gradually adding performance.

“What it really did is it made us work longer and harder on 2021 at the expense of 2022,” Szafnauer tells Motorsport.com. 

“And also the freeze curtailed how much development you could actually add to the car, how much performance you could add to the car, even though you're working hard at it.

“So we can't lift the rear right height, for example. And even if you could lift it, it's years and years and years of development on a high rear right height. You don't get that in months. So yeah, that's the reason we scored 48 points.”

Aston Martin 2022 F1 car

Aston Martin 2022 F1 car

Photo by: Aston Martin

All teams have faced the same challenge of knowing how to juggle scarce aero R&D resources between their 2021 and 2022 projects. In Aston’s case the initial problems with the current car forced a change of plan – it was a step back to take two forward, and inevitably that delayed the final switch to 2022.

“It’s two things,” says Szafnauer. “One, it's frozen, and two, the ‘22 regs are so hugely different than anything that you add to the car this year won't apply next year. So you're just throwing it out. So there's this balancing act between when do you stop this year, because we want to finish at least the top half, but not at the expense of next year.

“All those factors and inputs go into the decision making as to when do you stop, and when do you focus on 2022?”

Will the necessity to work longer on this year’s car ultimately prove costly?

“It all depends on the steepness of the development curve, and when it flattens out. And that's really hard to know, and hard to predict.”

On the plus side, the remedial work has steadily added performance, and the cars have been edging into Q3 more often of late. Vettel was able to take his chances when they came, with a charging fifth in Monaco followed by second in Azerbaijan.

The German driver has gone a long way to silencing the sceptics after his disappointing final couple of years at Ferrari. The frustration he expressed on the radio post-race in Hungary – having stared at Esteban Ocon’s gearbox the whole Grand Prix – was an indication of how hard he is pushing.

“Seb's brilliant,” says Szafnauer. “He came to us with the notion of wanting to enjoy racing again. I talk to him often. And I think he's enjoying racing again, which is great.

“Seb brings a mentality with him that that he had when he won all those races and world championships, leaving no stone unturned for performance and the methodology of how he goes about his weekend and what he's asked of us. And that applies to both sides of the garage. Lance and his team have learned from Seb, and it's lifted us.”

Aston Martin 2022 F1 car

Aston Martin 2022 F1 car

Photo by: Aston Martin

So what has Seb’s experience of winning brought to the party?

“All sorts of little things. He had a lot of experience of engine drivability at other teams, so that went into the feedback of the drivability of the Mercedes. And they've improved that significantly. And if we have better drivability, the drivers tend to get more confidence, they go quicker.

“Ergonomics, he made the steering wheel better, so it's easier to handle.

“Everybody's behind him. And he's done a great job with the team that he has and the mechanics, and people at the factory. And he's just a genuine individual, and a down to earth person. And everybody likes that. So yeah, he's done a good job."

Hiring Vettel was an obvious statement of intent by Aston owner Lawrence Stroll, and it’s already paying off.

“It just shows that we're serious and we want to build a team that's capable of winning a World Championship, and we're on that journey now,” says Szafnauer. “I mean, it's Seb, it's building a new factory, it's starting on a new wind tunnel, it's hiring the people, it's moving from 550 to 800. All those elements just are indicators that we're on a journey to build a world championship-contending team.”

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In recent months the team has announced a string of key management hirings, notably Dan Fallows (technical director), Luca Furbatto (engineering director), Andrew Alessi (head of technical operations) and Mark White (operations director).

The man with overall responsibility for creating a quick car is erstwhile technical director Andy Green, who has been given the chief technical officer title.

Green is famous for doing a lot with limited resources, and it will be intriguing to see how he adjust to the transition as the team expands.

Does future look bright for Aston Martin?

Racing Point factory

Racing Point factory

Photo by: Racing Point

Aston is currently building a new factory on the Silverstone site, complete with a new wind tunnel that will be absolutely state of the art.

Meanwhile, the team is flat out on the 2022 project in the current wind tunnel, and it can only guess at how it is doing compared to its rivals.

“It’s hard to know, because it's a relative game,” Szafnauer admits. “The regulations are so radically different, that it's hard to know what others are finding relative to us. So it's really, really not easy.

“Every week we find stuff, we find significant improvements or performance every week in the tunnel. I don't know what the others are finding, and how significant is significant, you have no basis of comparison."

Stroll Sr has made no secret of his desire to make Aston Martin into a winning team. A few years ago that might have seemed a trifle ambitious, given the obvious strength in depth of Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari.

However, the rules reset creates an obvious opportunity for any team to 'do a Brawn' and find an advantage, and more importantly F1 will no longer be a spending race – it will be about how efficient you can be.

“I think it is realistic,” says Szafnauer of Stroll’s target. “I think we will have the financial wherewithal underneath the new financial regs to do it.

“That's the big impact this year, as well as scrutiny from the FIA, which is absolutely fine. We're well under.

“But the other big thing is, in a couple years, when we start bumping up to the cost cap, because it comes down, then we're going to have to make strategic decisions too."

Lance Stroll, Aston Martin AMR21

Lance Stroll, Aston Martin AMR21

Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images

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