Fernando Alonso, Sergio Perez, Interlagos, 2023

‘R&D work in public’ held Aston Martin back before Brazil breakthrough

Formula 1

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Aston Martin shed light on how it reversed its recent poor performances last weekend and how its slump related to its 2024 development work.

The team returned to the podium in the Brazilian Grand Prix having achieved a best finish of sixth in the previous six rounds and not had both cars in the points since July’s Belgian Grand Prix.

This decline in form coincided with their introduction of a series of upgrades to the AMR23 which seemingly consigned its drivers to lower and lower positions with each event.

Tom McCullough, Aston Martin’s performance director, explained the approach the team had been taking with their recent upgrades.

“We really got into trying to do some big testing and understanding for next year, which we’ve done with all that data in the bank,” he said. “Now it’s a matter of putting together the best spec of car, the combination of everything we’ve been doing, and just trying to execute clean weekends because it is tough doing all the research and development, especially during sprint events.”

The team tried to avoid compromising its weekend by starting its cars in the pit lane in order to make set-up changes, as it did at the United States Grand Prix two weeks earlier.

“We don’t want to be starting from the pit lane, we don’t want to be doing stuff like that. So we knew the stuff we wanted to get done on the track, we’ve got it done. Not as easily as we maybe wanted it to happen but that’s what happens when you have a bad free practice at a sprint event – everything goes off-plan pretty damn quick.”

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The team “never run the same spec car” from one round to the next, he explained. “Certain circuits mean certain bits, and we’re always developing the car, we’re always trying to put together the bits that give us the best car for the requirements of that track: low, medium, high-speed, straight-line efficiency. So there’s always bits which don’t perform as well as you’re wanting relative to your development tools, CFD, wind tunnel.

“We’ve got a really good understanding of the car on-track. We do a lot of measurements, [we’ve put] a lot of effort into that area over the last 10 years. We can pretty quickly say ‘that’s a good bit, that’s the way you ought to be going’ for the limitations that the drivers have at a very rear-limited track or a through corner ‘this’, low to high-speed ‘that’. Put the right bits together and I think you’re seeing that this weekend.”

McCullough’s comments came after Lance Stroll and Fernando Alonso had put their Aston Martins third and fourth on the grid respectively for the Brazilian Grand Prix. Later that day Alonso made it onto the podium for the first time since the Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort, while Stroll took his best race result in four months by finishing fifth.

“Nine weeks ago in Zandvoort we had a car that we were very happy with,” said McCullough. “It is a bit track-specific. And we’ve introduced some parts, we’ve done some testing. We did a bit too much R&D work in front of you all, and over two race weekends, which maybe in hindsight wasn’t the right thing to do.

“But we’re pretty happy that we’ve got a good understanding of the way to develop the car, which is key for next year. That was the most crucial data for us to get. We’ve got that, now it’s just about trying to have as strong a last three races as we can.”

Improvements were required not just with the car but how the team was tackling R&D work, McCullough added.

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“We’ve had to adapt our understanding, the wind tunnel and the CFD based on these regulations. Everyone’s had to do that.

“We’ve just had to do some pretty extreme things to help correlate those tools, and you’re seeing lots of aero rakes on the car. At the same time, it’s just about what is that flow field doing from the front of the car to the rear when you do this on the real car. That’s what we needed to get.

“We got that data, and it’s all part of the correlation, the development, feeding into next year’s car.”

The team switching their focus back to maximising their current car rather than working on development avenues for 2024 was what enabled Aston Martin’s drivers to be more competitive in Brazil.

“The drivers have been quite happy,” McCullough admitted. “We’ve given them a car which around this track at least they can drive and drive hard.”

2023 Brazilian Grand Prix

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Author information

Ida Wood
Often found in junior single-seater paddocks around Europe doing journalism and television commentary, or dabbling in teaching photography back in the UK. Currently based...
Claire Cottingham
Claire has worked in motorsport for much of her career, covering a broad mix of championships including Formula One, Formula E, the BTCC, British...

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18 comments on “‘R&D work in public’ held Aston Martin back before Brazil breakthrough”

  1. I don’t get the argument & what it has to do with anything, especially as all teams have done so since the pit lane presentation thing became mandatory.

    1. mark from Toronto
      8th November 2023, 14:42

      What don’t you get, they focued on testing 2024 concepts on the 2023 car and also put stuff on the car that they knew was not the best to ensure the windtunnel results coorealted to the track.

  2. Thats a very obscure way to say the performance of the development parts did not meet expectations. There’s nothing wrong with admitting you went in the wrong direction, like McLaren did early season.

    1. Agree.. their development path was probably the worst on the grid. Instead of owning up to it, they blame it on sprint weekends, etc. The updates were just rubbish, and when they removed most of them, they had a decent performance in Brazil.

      Their 2024 season is looking to be incredibly poor, just based on how they’ve handled in-season development this year.

  3. Pretty smart if that’s what they I tended from the beginning. Will be interesting to see how well it works for next season. However smart it may be, Merc and Ferrari wouldn’t do it due to the public shame.

    If intentional it makes a lot of sense during table rules. They can effectively test for next season during a race weekend. Tough to do and bad results will be inevitable but the pay off could be huge, and you’d think so.

    1. If they were languishing around the lower mid-pack, then going for agressive mid-season R&D would be worth it, imho. But when they were fighting for regular podiums and top 10 finishes , why upset the applecart so much?

      1. One place in the WCC is easily forfeited in exchange for a potential much bigger return. They aren’t struggling for finance.

    2. that’s the backmarkers approach, testing during weekends. shows this team lacks proper structure, funding probably, and winning mentality.
      and it’s even worse considering the baseline car is pretty good by itself, as it was a sort of Red Bull impression. This is the same team that produced great results with the pink Mercedes, but struggled to move on from there. Their best shot with how things work there, is to copy this year Red Bull and aim for second next year

      1. They definitely don’t lack proper funding. They have some of the best infrastructure in F1 now. As for engineering structure, we have no idea. However, I highly disagree that it’s a back marker move to test if your correlation works. That’s something that could screw you over for years to come. A couple bad weekends will be completely forgotten. And, unless money is a problem, you’re not going to worry about losing a place in the standings over giving yourself the best chance to compete at the highest level next year. If anything, sacrificing long term competitiveness for an end of season 3rd over just accepting you might come in 4th or 5th is the definition of a midfield back marker attitude.

    3. It’s free testing and on circuit is always beter then windtunnel…..

  4. Yes (@come-on-kubica)
    8th November 2023, 17:47

    Ahh they were doing the 2008 sauber strategy. Hopefully they won’t make a dud car the following year.

    1. No. That was giving up an actual shot at a WDC in exchange for a head start. They also didn’t do in season tests. They just stopped updating the car at all. One of the dumbest things I’ve ever seen.

      1. Agree. It was the most ridiculous decision, taken by Mario Theissen IIRC. Given how Massa and Hamilton were throwing points away up until the last race, Kubica had a very real shot at taking the title even if he had the 3rd fastest car that season.

        1. Yes, a shame for both kubica, who only had a title chance in 2008, and sauber itself, which as a team never won a title before or after.

          1. Never won a race after Canada 2008.

          2. And Kubica had been against the idea from the start. He should have slammed on the brakes and intentionally come second. That would have been wild.

  5. They out performed to start the year and lost expected wind tunnel time. With a salary cap it makes more sense for a team hitting the cap without issue to tank for development resources than fight for runner up.

    1. I doubt they were and with no rules changes for next year there’s too much linear progression for that approach to make sense. RBR’s car unchanged would likely still be the fastest car on the grid for the first few races. Besides, I think Alfa will gain only a negligible % from finishing 10th vs 8th or 9th.

      I’d love to see Checo at Sauber (where he went well) to see a battle of the #2’s. Whatever the results, Max and Lewis super fans would have seizures using them to say “see!”’or “no, that’s yada yada!”

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