Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin, Bahrain, 2023

F1’s new power: Can Aston Martin turn a ‘good baseline’ into a Red Bull-beater?

2023 Bahrain Grand Prix

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Red Bull’s demolition of the opposition in the first race of the 2023 Formula 1 season left many wondering whether anyone will stop them this year.

After Max Verstappen won the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix almost 40 seconds ahead of the closest driver not in a Red Bull RB19, a disconsolate George Russell said the world champions are quick enough to win every race this season.

But the first race of the year also confirmed the remarkable progress made by Aston Martin. The team’s new hiring Fernando Alonso delivered on their pre-season promise by following the Red Bull pair home in third place.

Before the weekend began Alonso said his team believed its new AMR23 already offered superior performance to its predecessor and should have greater potential for further development during the year.

Alonso and Stroll took third and sixth in Bahrain
“With this car, the aim was to make a step forward, which I think we did,” said the two-times world champion on Thursday. “It was very encouraging, the results from the test and the feeling from the car.

“But this is just the start. This car will change dramatically during the season. That’s the plan. I heard from the team that two-thirds from this car will change during the season.”

However he did not expect the car would prove immediately competitive with the front-runners. “We want to have a good baseline, a good platform to develop the car during 2023 and maybe fight for something bigger next year. But, step-by-step.”

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However three days later, after overcoming the Mercedes and Ferraris to third place, Alonso sounded more confident, admitting the team were in an even better position than they predicted.

“Obviously it’s a perfect start for this project,” the 41-year-old beamed in the post-race press conference. “We didn’t expect to be that competitive.

“I think the aim in 2023 was getting the mix in the midfield, maybe leading that midfield and get close to the top three teams eventually. But even a podium maybe was not in the radar in 2023.

“We found ourselves the second best car today in Bahrain, or the whole weekend, like just behind Red Bull. So this is a little bit of a surprise.”

Aston Martin have surprised themselves already with the performance they have shown this year. Could they end up strong enough to rival Red Bull? And what potential for improvement is there in the new combination of the rapidly expanding Aston Martin team and the ferociously competitive, success-starved Alonso?

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Alonso took the chequered flag 38 seconds behind Verstappen on Sunday. He lost much of that time in the first stint while stuck behind the Mercedes drivers, a situation he may well have avoided had team mate Lance Stroll not hit him at turn four on the opening lap.

George Russell, Mercedes, Bahrain International Circuit, 2023
Aston Martin’s race pace was partly disguised by traffic
During the middle stint of the race Alonso lost more ground to Verstappen, despite being in clearer air. At this stage he was running the hard tyre compound while Red Bull felt confident enough in their tyre degradation to run the soft rubber.

Alonso’s lap times only matched the Red Bull driver’s over the final stint. However by this stage in the race both were waiting for the chequered flag. “I slowed down the pace and I informed the team that I could go faster, but I was avoiding the kerbs and just bringing the car home,” Alonso explained.

The eventual gap between Red Bull and Aston Martin could have been quite a lot lower, said Alonso, but he admitted they aren’t in a fight with the world champions yet.

“Obviously we lost time in the first stint, I just sat behind the Mercedes. In the middle stint I had to pass George [Russell] and Valtteri [Bottas]. Then on the final stint I had to pass Lewis [Hamilton] and Carlos [Sainz Jnr].

“So all in all, I’m sure that you lose 10 or 15 seconds on all those battles. So if we are 40 seconds behind the leader, we could have been maybe 20 seconds, or 30 seconds. So not a real fight, yet, to Red Bull.”

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An unanswered question from Sunday’s grand prix is whether Alonso would have been quick enough to catch and pass Charles Leclerc before the Ferrari driver retired. Alonso passed the other Ferrari of Carlos Sainz Jnr with a dozen laps to go, but Leclerc was nine seconds ahead of his team mate when his power unit let him down on lap 40 of 57.

The team’s AMR23 hit “aggressive” development targets
Aston Martin team principal Mike Krack was hesitant to say Alonso could have passed the leading Ferrari, which gained race time over the other by starting on new soft tyres rather than used rubber. “There’s a lot of ifs,” said Krack. “I think it would have dependent also on Charles’ strategy.”

The team now has “better references” to identify how the ARM23 can be improved, said Krack, and hopes to repeat the rapid gains it made over the course of last year. The team scored just six points over the first six races last year, compared to 30 over the final half-dozen.

“Last year we managed to get better over the season,” said Krack when asked whether he felt the team could haul in the runaway leaders. “But we saw also how hard that is because of the intensity that you have with racing and cost cap. You are really tight. So I think we have our development plan and this is independent of Red Bull.”

But the team has delivered on its goal of producing a chassis which gives it a better platform to develop from, Krack confirmed. “I always said in the cost cap environment you need to start with a good baseline because you cannot afford to spend what you have available on just developing,” he said.

“That is also why we went aggressive in the targets that we have for that car. Obviously it’s not always easy to achieve, but our team has managed to achieve great things there and it’s much, much easier to develop from this base than to develop from the base we had last year.”

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Given the progress Aston Martin made with its car last year, those are encouraging words for anyone hoping they will be able to take the fight to Red Bull. But Krack is cautious, pointing out that the remarkable form the team has shown at one track may not be replicated elsewhere.

Krack is concerned Bahrain pace could be a one-off
From Bahrain, with its mostly slow corners and highly abrasive surface – the latter a particular outlier among F1 circuits – the teams head to Jeddah with its fast, sweeping corners, high top speeds and much more typical track surface. On Sunday evening Krack said Aston Martin must “keep the feet on the ground” after their dream start to the season.

“It could be that in Jeddah we are maybe fourth or fifth or sixth in terms of team rankings. So I think let’s enjoy today and we continue to see how it goes on.”

But Alonso also sees the potential in the team’s car, which he described as “lovely” on his radio in the final laps of Sunday’s race.

“This is not the final car, this is just the starting car of this concept that we changed over winter,” he said. “I think some of the top teams just kept the philosophy that they had last year. Red Bull or Ferrari they kept more of the same shapes, just fine-tuning things and making perfection of that good baseline that they had.

“For us, it was much more difficult. We have to change 95% of the car. So, I guess there is more to learn from the car, and there is more to come on our side.”

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One area of improvement Alonso has already identified is the car’s one-lap pace. Although he beat the Mercedes in qualifying – denying Russell by a mere four-thousandths of a second – the Ferraris were a few tenths ahead.

Race pace was a strength of last year’s car
Aston Martin appears to have kept its 2022 trait of being a better car in the races in qualifying. Alonso admitted they were “not mega-competitive” on Saturday.

“It seems that this is one strength of our car, some legacy from last year as well, because Aston Martin was very strong on Sundays last year,” he said. “So let’s try to keep that theme on the car and just improve the Saturdays, which was maybe the weak point of last year for the team.”

Straight-line speed is another area where the team can progress, said Alonso, who had to improvise to make his way past Lewis Hamilton and Sainz on Sunday.

“We were not very fast on the straight. You normally pass into turn one or into turn four. I think I passed Lewis into turn 10 and Carlos into turn 11. So not the normal places, because we could not match their straight-line speed.”

“We need to see that because obviously, we will love to pass just on the main straight like everyone does,” he added.

Alonso hinted at other areas to improve when asked about a dramatic snap of oversteer he gathered up at turn four as he sparred thrillingly with Hamilton. “We know what is causing that, but I will keep it for me,” he said. “We’re still working.”

Before the season began Alonso lamented F1’s limit of three days of pre-season testing which left him little time to familiarise himself with his new car. It’s another area where the team has more performance to unlock.

“The car is very new,” said Alonso. “We need to learn more from the car, I need to get used to the car. So those moments were more coming from me getting used to the car, getting used to the driving input, feedback from the steering wheel and power assistance. So things are not 100% tailor-made yet.”

Like Krack, Alonso is also anxious to see whether the performance Aston Martin enjoyed in Bahrain will be repeated at the different venues to come.

“It seems real, the performance,” he said. “Let’s see in Jeddah. I am curious to go to Jeddah and Australia. Very different circuits: High-speed corners, very little degradation.

“I think in Bahrain, we were strong in things that maybe we don’t find in Jeddah, and Australia. So, if we are strong in the next two races, I think we will have a very good 2023.”

However Aston Martin will enjoy two major benefits as they bid to close the gap on the competition. The first is the “state-of-the-art” new facilities at their Silverstone base. Technical director Dan Fallows said the team will move into the new factory “in a couple of months.”

Feature: “They will kill the tyres”: How Alonso took Aston Martin to the podium in Bahrain
“We’re very excited about that,” he continued. “We’re a team that likes to work collaboratively, we like to be able to have good interactions with the people we work with.

“It’s not so easy with the way that we’re set up at the moment but the new factory will allow a lot more people to be in the same site and actually, in the drawing office, everybody will be in the same room so that’s a big, big deal for us. It’s going to be quite a game-changer, I think.”

Aston Martin is also at a significant advantage compared to Red Bull – Fallows’ former team – in terms of the amount of aerodynamic development it is allowed to conduct under F1’s performance-balancing rules. Having finished seventh in last year’s constructors’ championship, Aston Martin is permitted 100% of the reference allocation of aerodynamic testing, equivalent to 320 wind tunnel test runs and 2,000 test geometries modelled using Computational Fluid Dynamics.

Red Bull, as last year’s world champions, would ordinarily have the lowest allocation of 70%. However that was lowered by a further 10% – to 63% – as part of their punishment for exceeding the 2021 cost cap. Therefore Aston Martin can conduct 58% more development work than Red Bull. To put that into perspective, consider the progress they made with the AMR23, produced when their ATR allocation was just 33% more than Red Bull’s.

Whether Ferrari and Mercedes can rebound from their sub-par starts to 2023 remains to be seen. But it was striking that in the aftermath of Sunday’s race Red Bull figures chose to take a few digs at Aston Martin over perceived similarities between their car designs. Whether it arrives this year or later, the world champions have identified Aston Martin as a new threat.

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Aston Martin could have a lot more to celebrate during 2023

2023 Bahrain Grand Prix

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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8 comments on “F1’s new power: Can Aston Martin turn a ‘good baseline’ into a Red Bull-beater?”

  1. I can’t see them genuinely fighting for wins and front row lockouts.. but finishing in the top 5 on a regular basis does look possible. They might have 58% more development work in hand on Red Bull, but the team will not be able to deliver effective updates as well as Red Bull or even Mercedes yet.

    If they can finish this year 3rd in the WCC.. I think they would have already overachieved on their targets, and could be a more genuine threat in 2024.

  2. Can Aston Martin turn a ‘good baseline’ into a Red Bull-beater?”

    No. Have you seen how far they are behind?

    1. Astin Martin already made a huge step up further advancement will be much smaller (during the season)

  3. I seriously doubt anyone will even come close to matching Red Bull for the first half of the season at a bare minimum, let alone AM. They may mix it up with Ferrari, but that’s more likely to give RBR a bigger lead than anything else.

  4. I think while this year seems out of reach on the whole for Aston Martin, I could still see them develop well and become an even bigger threat to Red Bull as the year goes on.

    I’m thinking that because Aston Martin was no where in the first race and come by end of year they were fighting for points in midfield (well, Vettel was anyway).

    Next year will be interesting if they can keep up this upwards trajectory then maybe we could have the big 3 turn into the big 4.

  5. It will indeed be interesting to see if they can progress further.

    We’ve seen in the past, that in season development can sometimes lead to degradation of performance rather than improve it when a team follows a path they thought would add it, only to find out they’d gone in the wrong direction.

    Hopefully, they’ll get it right. At least their starting point seems to be far better than some of their current competition.

  6. No. I don’t see Red Bull becoming complacent. They are enjoying this thoroughly. I think Astin Martin will take 2nd. ALO is going to push STR to better finishes. Ferrari 3rd. LEC is depressed because the car is not only unreliable but not close to Red Bull. Reliability will be the driving factor in the team not getting 2nd. Mercedes 4th as HAM has already checked out for the season. I think RUS will be driving like a demon hoping he gets a contract offer from another team.

  7. What an exciting read! I’m thrilled at the Aston Martin/Fernando Alonso combo. Fingers crossed the next two races are not a huge letdown.

    I loved it when Alonso quipped something to the effect of: Hopefully we’ll be allocated a lot less wind tunnel next year!

    This change of fortunes for Aston Martin really spices up the action; to potentially not always have the same old three teams at the top. It would be a brilliant improvement to the sport if it can be maintained. I also think McLaren are going to be much stronger in a couple of years. They will eventually find the magic again.

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