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Formula 1

'Not good enough' - Worrying start for Imola's most upgraded F1 car

by Ben Anderson
4 min read

In the high-stakes game of top Formula 1 teams bringing extensive upgrades to Imola, Aston Martin has reason to feel most concerned about its competitive standing at this track.

Aston brought the most extensive suite of new parts to its car for the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, including a revised front wing and nose, floor, diffuser, engine cover and rear corner, including modified rear suspension.

This out-strips even the much-hyped Ferrari upgrade, and the one implemented by Red Bull on the RB20.

Ferrari, McLaren and Red Bull have broadly maintained the competitive picture we saw in Miami, where McLaren introduced its own major update. These three look to be locked in a tight battle at the front that can swing on a few degrees of track temperature, some wind, car set-up and whether a driver is able to nail a good lap or not.

Mercedes has completed the update it half-brought to Miami, and is kind of where it’s been most of this season - adrift of the top three but comfortably inside the top 10 and fighting to not be embarrassed by an over-performing midfield car. Most often recently those cars have been Yuki Tsunoda’s RB and Nico Hulkenberg’s Haas.

Aston Martin began the season fighting with Mercedes to be the fourth fastest team, with Fernando Alonso even sometimes scalping struggling cars from that top three group in qualifying.

But a difficult Miami weekend has continued into Imola, despite that extensive upgrade. Aston was at the bottom of the top 10 throughout practice, and qualifying was a disaster: Alonso out in Q1 and Lance Stroll only 13th, slower than Esteban Ocon’s Alpine.

The tone of Stroll’s post-qualifying media briefing suggests Aston Martin’s upgrades haven’t fundamentally shifted the balance of the car into an undriveable window - as happened at Austin and Mexico towards the end of 2023 - but simply haven’t added enough extra aerodynamic load to the car compared to other teams.

Stroll said everything was working on the car but that it was “just not good enough”.

“I would say it's... feels the same as it's felt all year,” Stroll added. “We brought some upgrades, they might've helped a bit, but we just need much more to catch those teams further up the grid.”

There is a major caveat here in that Stroll has generally been the weaker of Aston Martin’s two drivers this season and so more vulnerable to getting picked off by over-performing drivers from fundamentally midfield teams.

Alonso is usually the better barometer of Aston’s performance, but he endured his worst qualifying session of 2024 so far, sparked by a crash in final practice that meant he didn’t run the soft tyre until Q1 in a hastily repaired car.

Once into Q1, Alonso ran heavy on fuel to allow him to make up for lost time with some consecutive laps of running. When he went for a proper low-fuel run at the end of the session, he then had to pit with an “unknown” technical problem. He said he was fuelled for the session, so perhaps there was a miscalculation there?

Whatever the reason, Alonso being almost half a second down on Stroll is clearly unrepresentative.

“The car felt a little bit faster this morning compared to yesterday, before the crash,” Alonso said. “Into qualifying, the car also felt good. That lap, the first lap of the day for me on soft tyres, and heavy on fuel, so I think there is a little bit of pace in hand.

"But yeah, the upgrades, I think the team is the one to analyse it and to comment on it. I think we have a lot of data from yesterday, especially FP1, Lance was with the old package, FP2 with the new package.

“So, plenty to go through and get better and more prepared for Monaco. I think tomorrow's going to be tough.”

It certainly is based on what we’ve seen so far. The upgraded Aston doesn’t look to be a massive, immediate step forward on what went before, and also it looks like it might take a bit more clean running to understand and unlock whatever potential the team sees in those parts.

Aston will be hoping that understanding comes quickly, on a tidier weekend than Alonso has endured here - and that this isn't foreshadowing for a repeat of that nightmare upgrade blip that blighted the later part of 2023. 

Stroll's comments suggest this is a troubling beginning for Aston's first major in-season development of 2024.

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