Formula 1

Aston Martin can't rely on open goals this time

by Scott Mitchell-Malm
5 min read

When Aston Martin takes the wraps off its 2024 Formula 1 challenger, the AMR24, in a couple of weeks, what it looks like may matter a lot less than how it may change through the year.

Admittedly, drastic visual differences are likely going to be less prominent than the first two seasons of this generation of F1 car. So, this is not to say the Aston Martin needs to evolve dramatically from race one to race 24.

Stake

But it will answer one of the big curiosities of 2023 - whether Aston Martin's season was, overall, a step towards greater success or benefited from specific conditions that let it burn brightly early on.

The team’s biggest disappointment of 2023 was an undercurrent of concern about the efficacy of its in-season upgrades that existed to the end of the year. It was not just that rivals upped their game after Aston Martin’s flying start – the AMR23 got trickier, worse even, and the team’s aggressive development plans achieved little of note.

Aston Martin rebounded to a degree late on by showing its capability to address issues with the AMR23.

The low point of its late-season upgrade experiments was the second weekend working out the new floor, in Mexico. Fernando Alonso had uncharacteristic spins in practice and qualifying and neither car ever looked like troubling the points before retiring. But a week later in Brazil, Lance Stroll was qualifying on the second row and Alonso scored a podium!

Apart from mixing and matching the parts that worked, that seemed to be a clear benefit of Aston Martin getting back to basics with its weekend execution having completed its upgrade/2024 experiments in the previous races.

The team's goal to ameliorate negative aspects of the car that worst affected Stroll seemed to have been met too, as evidenced by Stroll's reasonably improved form towards the end of the season.

“There are clear indications of some parts of the car that were underperforming for a few events,” Alonso said by the end of the year.

“There were different philosophies in the pitlane, but also for us, in the way you try to extract the performance of these cars.

“And I think now with all the experiments and all the knowledge, we think that we understand better the direction to develop the car.

“But these things they are moving constantly, I don't think that there is a magic bullet and a recipe to develop the car.

“If not, this could be very easy for everyone.”

Does it really understand this era of F1 car?

Aston Martin's potential performance in 2024 has a wide range of outcomes, making it one of the more intriguing teams to watch.

This car will reveal whether Aston Martin really understands the direction it needs to go in after its 2023 performance - tidying up the race weekend, rebalancing the car’s performance profile, and above all else showcasing better innovation within its young technical structure.

That final point is where the season-long evolution and improvement comes in. Success will hinge on its ability to not only assimilate the most effective concepts from across the field, which gave it a great base as so many big brains joined from rival teams, but also to introduce novel, effective designs as Aston Martin that then evolve throughout the season.

When Aston Martin launched the 2023 car, technical director Dan Fallows stressed it was the basis of development/concept for the next two seasons as well. But the AMR23 either had limitations or it was upgraded in the wrong way. The changes in the AMR24 will reflect what's been learned and any shift in approach.

Whatever the exact details, with the new Aston Martin campus and its infrastructure ever-improving, albeit still unfinished, there are no excuses not to improve.

“We are still in the process of every time I go back to the factory, it’s changing,” performance director Tom McCullough said last November.

“That's obviously a lot of work, a lot of people who aren't just focusing on designing, developing and manufacturing a Formula 1 car.

“Then we've brought new people into the team over the last 12, 24 months and new people still joining.

“And as a technical function, we're all learning to work with each other, we’re all learning, understanding the regulations, the car, developing our processes, trying to improve the input from all those different areas.

“The journey we're on as far as a group of technical people, but also as a company, is being able to design and manufacture stuff in a much shorter turnaround time, even now planning for next year's car we're looking at the release dates - every year you’re pushing these things, but we've got the firepower now to be pushing those things even later.

“It is ultimately part of becoming a team that's fighting right at the front.”

No more open goals

There is something to prove for Aston Martin without rivals opening the door, too.
Given the circumstances that made its leap possible at the start of 2023, it's unlikely Aston Martin will benefit from the same situation this winter.

Ferrari and Mercedes might trip up again. But they shouldn’t. McLaren is clearly in a better state too. And now internal and external expectations of Aston Martin are higher, which makes it a hell of a lot harder to overachieve or be considered an underdog in the same way.

So, while the 2022-to-2023 step was a surprise, there were clear reasons for it. And an exact repeat is certainly not expected for 2024.

The good thing is that Aston Martin does not need to suddenly leap into race-winning and title-challenging contention. That’s a little further down the road. And since owner Lawrence Stroll set out his broad five-year plan in 2021 to eventually turn Aston Martin into a championship challenge, the progress up to now clearly supports the rhetoric that it is a team on the rise.

Still, Aston Martin needs to walk further down that path in 2024.

“You always need to be a little bit careful with such plans,” team principal Mike Krack said of the Aston Martin timeline.

“It’s important to have something laid out. And just not go into the dark. But I think you need to be careful because it's not always linear.

“You need to zoom out and see are we on the right path? Are we on the right trajectory? Judged as objectively as possible.”

This season is a mighty test of whether that is indeed the case.

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