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Formula 1

Aston’s ‘new normal’ in F1 depends on key external ingredient

by Scott Mitchell-Malm
7 min read

Aston Martin’s new normal has been showcased to two extremes over the last Formula 1 two races.

In Monaco, the team’s joint-best result (second) ended in extensive debate over whether it had actually blown a shot at victory. Podiums are expected now, so a great result was borderline par for the course – the focus instead was on whether it should have been better.

In Spain, the team lost second place in the championship because of its least competitive weekend so far. Measured against that new podium expectation, it was a disaster (despite still being a bigger points haul than Aston Martin earned in any race in 2022).

Aston Martin F1 Spanish GP

In between the best and worst results of Aston Martin’s season, in conversation with The Race in the Barcelona paddock, team principal Mike Krack considers the uncompromising reality of F1 – his team has journeyed from being one of the worst-performing this time last year to a stunningly impressive underdog just a few races ago and must now measure up to the standards of a bona fide frontrunner.

“That is how racing is,” he smiles. “You need to rescale your ambitions.

“But I think it’s also important that you never forget where you come from and what your targets were.

“And even if you overdeliver on targets, you have also to consider that the year before we were underdelivering on target.

“This situation can happen again. So, I think it is our task also to dampen a little bit the year-by-year ups and downs, and try to really see over a period that there is an improvement.”

Monaco proved a great test of that. Krack acknowledges that while it’s good to be disappointed by a failure to win, it’s also a necessary challenge to recognise its progress is part of a bigger picture.

“With all the post-race analysis that we do, that the media does, that Twitter does, and that everybody does… at one point, you have to zoom out,” Krack says.

Mike Krack Aston Martin F1

“There’s always the hindsight and the should have and could have. But if you zoom out and you realise that we are, first of all, discussing why we didn’t win, and second, that we had a free pitstop to some of the major competitors, it shows that we were in a pretty good place.

“Now, obviously, everybody wants to win the Monaco Grand Prix. But it shows where we come from. And I’m happy to have this discussion than [one on] why we did not finish eighth!”

It’s typical of Krack’s calm and level-headed nature – the mark of an engineer – and he is not one for hyperbole.

Seeing the positives is his priority in such circumstances. He thinks “this is more important than the single race”.

It’s easy to shrug off a disappointment if you shift the focus onto ‘ah, but how well are we doing to be in this position?’. But that’s not the Aston Martin story.

The fact is relative disappointments like Monaco and genuine letdowns like Spain do show how far the team has come, but they also show how relentless F1 is. Both things are true.

Aston Martin F1 Monaco GP

“It is a new normal,” he says. “That’s clear. We get out of the airport and everybody’s asking, how will we be?

“If you have a quick car, you cannot say we will struggle. It would also be wrong to say ‘ah, maybe we finish fifth or maybe we finish 10th’.”

The pragmatism is justified, as Spain showed. Krack would probably have preferred not to have been proven immediately correct when he told us in Barcelona: “It could be that someone brings upgrades, puts two cars in front of you, and we’re starting sixth and finishing seventh.

“As a team in that situation you see how strong you are, that you can recover from this, that you do your analysis properly. Because it’s a very relative game.

“It could well be that we have improved our car but someone else improves much better or makes a better call and then you have a result where people are a bit disappointed.

“I saw some disappointment in Baku, not to be on the podium. But it’s a good problem to have. If people are disappointed not to be on the podium, or people are disappointed not to have won the race after we have done our best result ever.”

This also reflects another part of Aston Martin’s reality: yes, the results have been great, but a big factor in that has been the missteps from rivals. And as those sleeping giants wake up, Aston Martin can quickly slip back.

Ferrari Aston Martin F1 Australian GP

The role Aston Martin’s underachieving rivals have played in influencing perceptions of its season so far should not be underestimated. It’s not to say that Aston Martin’s progress has not been impressive. Far from it. But it is important to acknowledge that Aston Martin’s step from seventh to second (well, before Spain) was not quite as it seemed.

In reality Aston Martin ended last year with at least the sixth-fastest car. If Mercedes and Ferrari did the job they should have done it would have started the year fourth-best. And if McLaren and Alpine did the job they should that fourth-best would be hotly contested.

Were Mercedes and Ferrari meeting their own expectations this season there would not be a chasm between Red Bull and the rest for Aston Martin to have slotted into and immediately banked such grand results. Were Alpine not so hit-and-miss (and seemingly incapable of making as substantial a step from the midfield), were McLaren not so at sea at the start of this new technical era, there would be more credible opposition from the other leading midfield teams.

Then the swings from Monaco to Spain would look a lot less severe.

Aston Martin F1

In simple terms, Aston Martin’s progress is real, and significant, but the position that has resulted in has been flattered by the underachievement of others.

“I fully agree with the way you are saying it,” says Krack. “It’s a very good analysis. We have improved last year’s car, but we have not finished in the position where the car was in ranking at the end, because there were just no points available anymore to close the gap.

“So, I 100% agree with you that the car was in a better place. And it’s all a relative game. We achieved what we wanted to achieve with the new car. And I think if others would have done the same, we would have been in a realistic fight for P4, which was our ambition.

“We wanted to get out of the midfield and do the next step. When you look, last year, we had Alpine and McLaren. At the end of the year, in Abu Dhabi, we were not at that level, but not far anymore.

“And we said, next year, we’re gonna have to fight with them. That has to be the ambition, that this is the battle that we are in.

Aston Martin Alpine F1 Spanish GP

“That we immediately jumped it shows how relative it is. But I think honestly also that some did not do as great a job as they would have expected.”

Were Spain a harbinger of what else is to come in 2023, Mercedes would now be considered awoken from its slumber, whereas Ferrari is perhaps still dozing (although it impressed on Friday in Montreal).

As a track, Barcelona is not an outlier as such but it is only one sample set and such is the closeness of those three teams that track characteristics and car suitability can influence the pecking order significantly.

So it would be foolish to think Mercedes has definitely jumped its customer team already. And in any case, Aston Martin is not standing still. Mercedes had a big upgrade in Monaco, Ferrari in Spain – now it’s Aston Martin’s turn.

It has its biggest visible upgrade of the season in Canada, and the aim is clearly to get back onto the podium. Just because the big rivals slipped up and gave Aston Martin a free shot at second at the start of the year, Aston Martin’s not going to wave the white flag at the first sign of those rivals fighting back.

That’s the short-term objective: score podiums, fight for second in the championship. It’s what the circumstances of 2023 have facilitated. But all the while, the architects of this project are charting the team’s progress against a bigger picture.

Aston Martin F1 Canadian GP

Aston Martin has lofty targets but it is only just moving into its new factory – or as technical director Dan Fallows is keen to correct it to, the new technology campus – and is still on the rise. It’s a multi-year project.

The timeline for sustained success is longer-term and that doesn’t change just because circumstances have allowed for a short-term boost.

Aston Martin must achieve all it can in 2023, and realistically what it can achieve is above expectations. If it cannot replicate it next season it will not necessarily be a failure – it’ll primarily be because others stopped dropping the ball.

“You need to see steady progression, and sometimes that is not linear,” Krack concedes.

“Sometimes you overachieve and then you underachieve, but overall, I think the most important is that you are not getting dragged too much by one or two positions up and down at the end of the year.

“You need to be careful with over-generalising too much. It’s important to see a clear trend over a couple of years.

“It will be difficult to improve on the position next year – we have to be realistic! But that does not mean we will not try.”

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