Season 1 of the owner of Aston Martin, Lawrence Stroll’s, four- to five-year plan to turn his team into a champion has not gone well.
He restored the Aston Martin name to Formula 1 for 2021, attracted sponsors and hired the four-time champion Sebastian Vettel as a driver (the team’s other driver is Stroll’s son, Lance). Expectations were high, but the results have not come.
After seven months as team principal, Mike Krack recognizes pressure is growing on the team to perform.
“There’s nobody putting more pressure on us than ourselves,” he said in an interview. “We are also impatient. If we can win tomorrow, we don’t want to wait for the end of the program.”
Aston Martin is in a fight with Haas and AlphaTauri for seventh position in the constructors’ championship after failing to adapt to the new aerodynamic regulations. Its best results are the sixth-place finishes for Vettel in Azerbaijan and Stroll in Singapore.
Krack, head of BMW’s motorsport program before joining Aston Martin after the departure of Otmar Szafnauer, said the team made the wrong call in opting for one design over another when presented with the new rules.
“We were brave because we came up with something different, but we gave up on it by the time of the Spanish Grand Prix,” he said of a race in May. “We had to make the decision earlier than that.
“For me, the guys did a good job because they looked at two different avenues that made sense, and they decided on one because it seemed to be the most promising.”
The rate of change at Aston Martin is considerable. Stroll has invested heavily in infrastructure and people.
A new 400,000-square-foot factory across the road from its plant of many years at Silverstone, England, is under construction, along with its own wind tunnel. The factory is due for completion in the spring of 2023, with the wind tunnel online in the autumn.
After operating with a staff of 500 people when Stroll bought the team formerly known as Force India in 2018, the team will have more than 800 when the new factory and wind tunnel are operational.
Krack said the time to judge the team was not during the current upheaval.
“Right now we are, what I would describe, a multiunit,” he said. “We’re not all on the same site because it’s too small. Team dynamics are basically suffering because people are not in the same place,” which is causing communication problems.
Vettel will not see the new factory or the wind tunnel in operation because he decided to leave the team at the end of the season. He will be replaced by another champion, Fernando Alonso of Alpine.
Vettel, who won four consecutive titles with Red Bull from 2010to 2013, said his decision to retire was not taken overnight.
“I know how much dedication goes into this, and if you do it, I am convinced you have to do it the right way,” he said. “I don’t get much pleasure from being here and just being part of it.
“The aim has always been to win and compete at the front. I have been very privileged to have had so many great cars and teams in the past that I was able to achieve so many things.”
Vettel said that “in terms of effort, team spirit and quality,” Aston Martin had “all the right ingredients to make progress in the year that is to come and the years after.”
At 35, he now wants to spend time with his wife and family. He is not giving up racing entirely but will take time to evaluate what he would do next.
“Age-wise, it is not a problem to do anything else,” Vettel said. “Physically, I am in great form. I am really looking at a big change and how I will cope. Time will tell what I will do.”
Alonso is six years older, but after returning to Formula 1 in 2021 after two years away, his appetite, speed and craft have shown no sign of diminishing. He scored points in 10 consecutive races this year and is ninth in the drivers’ standings with 59 points.
Alonso said he saw potential in Aston Martin despite its lowly position.
“There are some risks with every decision you make in Formula 1,” he said. “No one has a crystal ball to guess the future. At the same time, in Formula 1 or in any sport, you win or you don’t. It doesn’t matter if you’re fourth, ninth or 13th.
“I felt that of the possibilities I had on the table for next year, this was the right one. The project is very attractive, with ingredients for the future that normally are synonymous with success in Formula 1, with investment and the best people.”
Dan Fallows, the former head of aerodynamics at Red Bull, is one of those people. He became technical director of Aston Martin in April.
After about 16 years with his former team, joining when it was known as Jaguar before it became Red Bull for 2005, Fallows said he took on the challenge because he “felt that things could be done differently.”
“It’s not about doing things the Red Bull way, or the Mercedes way, or the Ferrari way,” he said. “It’s about coming up with a better way: the Aston Martin way.”
That way has brought little success this season, but Krack said he was unconcerned because the pieces for a championship run were being put together. “I don’t think there are a lot of things missing,” he said.
“Everything has come together very, very quickly. With a new factory being built, it’s a matter of consolidating the people we have, consolidating the infrastructure we will have in the next months and then building from there. We have a good baseline.”
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