Is it genuinely possible to break free from the purgatory of the midfield and join the top three teams at the front of the Formula 1 field?
Over the last ten seasons, midfield teams have invested billions into trying to bridge the chasm separating them and Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari at the apex of Formula 1. To date, none have succeeded. But Aston Martin is different.
Ever since Racing Point’s Silverstone base was taken over by a Lawrence Stroll-led consortium and rebranded in British Racing Green, the team have hardly produced outstanding results on track. Yet that will not have troubled Aston Martin’s management, who have playing the long game from the moment they first closed the purchase of the team back in 2018.
The Silverstone squad had always punched above its weight, so the natural strategy was for the team to bulk up in order to join the real heavyweights. But serious levelling-up requires serious investment and Aston Martin’s benefactors have injected over £200m into an all-new, state-of-the-art factory to transform them from perennial midfield runners to genuine contenders.
Sitting alongside its previous facility on the same plot, the 40-acre, three-building factory will feature a new wind tunnel, swanky new staff offices and a new design, research and development hub tailor-made for F1’s new budget cap age. While not all of it will be completed in 2023, the main building is due to open up for the first time later this year – the first big step on what Aston Martin hope will be a journey to becoming title contenders.
But having the facilities and resources to win is nothing without the driving talent to exploit it. And who better to lead Aston Martin into their bright future than a 41-year-old driver who has not won a grand prix in almost a decade?
Fernando Alonso’s switch from Alpine to Aston Martin was a shocking move eclipsed only in drama by Oscar Piastri refusing his subsequent call-up by Alpine in order to sign for McLaren. Alonso joins his sixth factory of his F1 career even hungrier for that elusive third world championship than ever before. F1’s most experienced ever driver is under no illusion that he may have to wait even longer to get a chance.
“I’m not thinking about timeframes and how long it will take the team to win races,” Alonso said. “I will take it race by race, season by season. What’s important is that we keep making progress.
“This is a very special opportunity for me with this team at this moment in my career. I’ve been preparing physically and mentally for this challenge, and I see this project as a winning one. It’s a matter of time until Aston Martin is winning races and championships. Making that time as short as possible, this is my biggest challenge – but I’m ready for it.”
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Have some sympathy for Lance Stroll, who goes from having a multiple world champion and one of the most successful drivers of all time as a team mate to having another multiple world champion and one of the most successful drivers of all time as his new team mate. Stroll acquitted himself respectably during his two years alongside Sebastian Vettel, but Alonso is an infamously tough team mate and the pair’s dynamic would hardly have been helped by their collision in Austin a few months ago.
Ever since his father transformed the team into Aston Martin, Stroll has ironically scored fewer points with each season that has passed, falling lower down the drivers’ championship. But at least heading into 2023, the team will be buoyed by the arrival of Dan Fallows as technical director. The former Red Bull head of aerodynamics joined the team early last season after a lengthy delay and Aston Martin will hope to feel his impact for their newest car.
They have momentum, too. After a poor start to the year in 2022, Aston Martin enjoyed one of the strongest development rates of any teams over the course of the year, helped largely by a major upgrade package at the Spanish Grand Prix. In the end, only Valtteri Bottas’ fifth place at Imola denied Aston Martin sixth place in the constructors’ championship.
Starting 2023 where they left off at the end of last season has to be the minimum aim for Aston Martin and team principal Mike Krack. Midway through his first season as a Formula 1 team principal last year, Krack admitted to RaceFans that he was still getting to grips with his new role, he now has a full year’s worth of experience under his belt to help guide the team onwards as it continues to expand.
No matter the lofty ambitions Aston Martin may have for their future, however, they know they will not suddenly leap to the front overnight – no matter how much natural speed Alonso may bring to the team. But that does not mean they should not aim to take a step forward in 2023. Fighting for a top five finish would certainly be a welcome sign of progress and show that Alonso made a wise choice in Aston Martin as his likely last chance of becoming world champion once again.
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