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Formula 1

Is Aston Martin hype just playground rumour or the real deal?

by Scott Mitchell-Malm
5 min read

Backing Aston Martin for an early upset in 2023 is the hottest take from Formula 1 pre-season testing, although team boss Mike Krack likens it to playground rumours.

The headline numbers from three days in Bahrain were nothing stunning – it was the seventh-fastest team and completed a reasonable number of laps – so the hype comes from elsewhere.

It is the car’s behaviour on track, the ultra-impressive long run on the final day, and the impression that star signing Fernando Alonso is excited about what might be possible this season, that made people talk about the AMR23 in such glowing terms.

“Yeah but these dynamics, like someone says it’s good, and it’s very good – it’s like when the word goes around the children at school,” says Krack.

“So, I think we need to keep our feet on the ground. Our expectations are always high, and this time of year, everybody wants to do well and talk others into some roles.

“We are realists. We have clear objectives, to improve compared to where we were last year. And then we will see.”

The most aggressively positive interpretation of Aston Martin’s test is that it may start the season clear of the midfield and as a genuine threat to two of the established big three. Raw long-run analysis suggests Aston Martin was a couple of tenths faster than Mercedes and on par with Ferrari.

Krack plays that down: “The race simulation was certainly not bad. But we must also not forget that the track conditions were really good.

“You had a lot of rubber because there were other teams using new tyres a lot of times, also with soft rubber. And this is helping when you do a race simulation.

“So again, it is nice to have good long runs, but still you need to really put them into the right context. And let’s not start dreaming.

“Fernando said it, there are no miracles in Formula 1.”

True, but a high-performing Aston Martin would be no miracle. Aston Martin has underdelivered in the last couple of years and its new approach for 2023 is the first car blessed by the touch of Red Bull recruit Dan Fallows. So, Aston Martin had more scope than any team to make a big step forward.

That, combined with McLaren being all at sea, Mercedes having a slightly confusing test, and Alpine looking somewhat enigmatic, adds up to at least a plausible set of circumstances in which Aston Martin could genuinely leap from seventh in the championship one year to being talked about as a top three candidate – at least at the start of the season.

Those teams, especially the biggest ones like Ferrari and Mercedes, have got more headroom in which to develop, given their grander resources and the fact they had a better 2022 car to work from.

Maybe the real trick is that the Aston Martin is nearer to its ultimate potential after a bright start. It certainly looked much more together than the Mercedes and on the outside Ferrari had a lot more refining to do. Although Krack says the AMR23 had its moments too.

Motor Racing Formula One Testing Day Two Sakhir, Bahrain

“To be honest, it’s something we had to work on,” he says when asked by The Race about how good the car looked at different times on different tyre compounds. “It was not straight away.

“The positive thing here with Fernando was that he tried several things basically to fill his toolbox. So, he tried things where maybe sometimes he would say this is not the right thing to do now, but it is something that he wanted to have the information on because he knows that maybe in Melbourne he might need something like this, or in another racetrack, he might need something like that.

“It was about understanding what you have at your disposal from the car point view from the set-up point of view. And that is something that over the days he really developed.

“I think he has a better answer now, or a better feeling.”

If that’s the case, is it unthinkable for Alonso to fight for early season podiums?

That does not necessarily mean qualifying third or fourth and blowing apart the established top three from the outset.

But an Alonso-led Aston Martin on the first three rows of the grid and then using stealth or opportunism or raw Alonso determination to drag the car into a top three position if the circumstances allow…well, that’s just McLaren 2021 territory. So why not?

If the car is at the upper end of what it looked like in testing, it is possible. Though the likelihood of that being sustained is probably lower, given the team awaits bigger and better facilities with its impending new factory and windtunnel and the like.

So, the first few races may be the strongest part of the team’s season. Alonso will be absolutely attuned to that and determined to make the most of it.

“If I can only say one word about Fernando, it’s ‘wow’,” says Krack.

Motor Racing Formula One Testing Preparations Sakhir, Bahrain

“Honestly, he has been positive throughout in terms of feedback, in terms of always pushing us, how he’s pushing himself, and also for the pace that he’s delivering.

“So, we are very happy.

While it is fun to consider the prospect of an Alonso shock to the established order in Bahrain, it’s important to stress that even if the season opener plays out with Aston Martin ‘only’ the lead midfielder – that is still a really good effort and a brilliant foundation for what it wants to achieve in the coming years.

There is a certain level of potential for that team at the moment. If Ferrari, Mercedes, Alpine and even McLaren all get 100% out of their respective resources then they should be ahead of Aston Martin.

It was the sixth best team in F1 by the end of last year, even if it didn’t quite get that in the championship, and it was only Alpine and McLaren in the midfield that looked a cut above.

Getting ahead of one of those teams would represent a good result for Aston Martin this year. Getting ahead of both would be superb.

And anything more would be a massive overachievement even by Team Silverstone’s standards as one of F1’s great sporadic overachievers.

“We must not lose our goals,” stresses Krack.

“Our goal was to make a step forward in the performance of the car, in the team. And this still remains our objective.

“If we manage it or not, we will see next week.”

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