Aston Martin’s McCullough buoyed by team’s growth despite late 2023 slide

Formula 1

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Aston Martin’s leap to the front of the field behind only Red Bull was a sensation at the start of last year’s Formula 1 season.

But despite six podiums in the opening eight rounds of the championship for the team’s new driver, Fernando Alonso, which put them as high as second in the constructors’ championship at one stage, the Silverstone-based team ultimately fell to fifth place by season’s end.

Aston Martin are a team with bold ambitions of not just fighting at the front but ultimately becoming bona fide championship contenders as much as Mercedes or Ferrari. With heavy financial investment in the team after the former Force India squad was taken over by a consortium of investors – led by CEO Lawrence Stroll – Aston Martin have been on a hiring spree over recent years and even opened their state-of-the-art new factory at Silverstone last summer, demonstrating how serious they are about achieving their lofty goals.

The team’s performance director, Tom McCullough, may not have been one of the blockbuster signings to the team as part of their rapid expansion, but he is no less central to the team’s 2023 success or important to their plans for this coming season. He says he can feel how the team has been evolving over the previous year.

McCullough (left) has been joined by new recruits
“We are still in the process of every time I go back, the factory’s changing,” McCullough said at the end of last season. “Building three – the wind tunnel – is looking really impressive and making great progress. Building two – between the two of them, on a daily basis – is shooting up. And that’s obviously a lot of work for a lot of people who aren’t just focusing on designing, developing and manufacturing a Formula 1 car.

“Then we’ve brought new people into the team over the last 12-to-24 months. New people are still joining. And as a technical function, we’re all learning to work with each other. We’re all learning and understanding the regulations, the car, developing our processes, trying to improve, take input from all those different areas. And I just think the journey we’re on as far as a group of technical people – but also as a company – being able to design, manufacture stuff in a much shorter turnaround time.

“Every year you’re pushing these things, but we’ve got the firepower now to be pushing those things even later, which is ultimately part of becoming a team that’s fighting right at the front.”

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One of the major benefits of the team’s growth and new factory, McCullough says, is how Aston Martin has bolstered its factory support personnel who back up their trackside team over grand prix weekends.

“We rely a lot now on a very strong support team at the factory,” he explains. “We’re the foot soldiers, to a certain degree, here, where operationally we’ve got to be on top of our game.

Aston Martin’s new factory is now active
“If you ever get to see the new mission control – how big it is, how connected it is – it’s like having 30, 40 people on your shoulder helping you. They’re doing the detailed analysis to help you make the right decisions and I think that’s something that everyone’s moved to in Formula 1. It’s an area we put a lot of focus into two or three years ago – maybe even earlier than that – building the tools to allow us to do that. Just so that whether you’re talking about tyres, whether you’re talking about aerodynamics on track, that’s the key when trying to balance getting the car working – those two areas.

“There are really strong groups which are supporting us, helping us make better decisions. The strategy group is strong, big, growing. With an element of rotation of a few people – we’ve not necessarily had all the same strategy people at the track the last few races [of 2023] as an example. We’re not into the rotation maybe as much as we want to get into, but we’re supported so well by the factory it just makes our job with the track a little bit easier.”

Arguably, the opening of a major new factory was only the second-most significant addition to Aston Martin’s Formula 1 endeavours in 2023. Instead, the arrival of Alonso – F1’s most experienced racer – to replace their former team leader in Sebastian Vettel appears to have had more of a direct impact on his new team than even McCullough would have expected.

“He’s been a really positive force for every single day, from the minute he turned up,” McCullough says. “The tests, he came fresh, he came excited. He had some real good feedback. He saw a lot of things he liked. He pointed us to the areas that he thought we needed to improve the car in.”

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Never having worked with the two-times world champion before, McCullough admits Alonso defied his own expectations.

“Not really knowing him well, you know him a little bit, but working closely with him, you sort of had a bit of a picture of what he’s going to be like,” he explains.

Alonso has been a “really positive force”
“But he’s been very impressive – how hard he’s pushed, but also how efficient he is with his feedback, how knowledgeable he is, how constructive he is inside the team. It’s been really, really impressive to be honest.”

Looking ahead from their most successful season in British Racing Green in 2023 to the coming year, the main focus for McCullough is on the AMR24 being a more well-rounded car across the various circuit types on this year’s longest ever calendar.

“We have now the knowledge of all the components,” he says. “We’ve always had quite a good understanding of the different tracks and the requirements of the different tracks.

“I think we’re in a good place now that we can come to any track and we know which parts to put together to be the best at that track. Now ultimately, we’re wanting to build a car that allows you to not need to change the configuration of the car as much, to always be strong that’s what everyone’s trying to do. I think the knowledge we’ve gained from the testing that we’ve done, that is the main driving force behind how we’re developing the 2024 car, just to make the trackside role of optimising it even easier.”

Although the team may not have been able to make their early season form last, the progress that the team have made over the last 18 months continues to motivate McCullough and his colleagues at Aston Martin as they aim to build on that momentum further in 2024.

“When you come to an event, you always read the reports and analysis from this time last year,” he says.

“You look at the game we were playing then, the points we had then and the relative competitiveness of the car then, to the game we’re playing now, it just reminds you as a team how much we have moved on.”

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Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...
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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7 comments on “Aston Martin’s McCullough buoyed by team’s growth despite late 2023 slide”

  1. This is the year where we see if Aston Martin will be a player from 2026 on with Honda or not. With McLaren stepping up and Mercedes and hopefully Ferrari finally getting their ducks in a row, it’s up to Aston to prove they can hang with the big boys. Last year was a decent start, but this year there can be no more excuses, the facilities are there. The personnel is there. Now’s the time to prove your worth.

    1. I don’t want to be the excuse-maker but that’s not true, the new wind tunnel and new simulator will only be online August/September this year. So facilities are not there quite yet.

    2. I still don’t see how stroll sr. expects his son to be champion: if by a miracle aston martin turned out to be a dominant car, I have a hard time seeing alonso being beaten by stroll, and in fact if verstappen had the 2nd best car it’s very possible for stroll to lose to him as well.

  2. Coventry Climax
    20th January 2024, 15:15

    McCullough? That’s a brand of chainsaws, outboards and grassmowers, right?
    No wonder AM lack speed. ;-)

    On the other hand, Coventry Climax started out as a lightweight, portable pump engine, long time ago.
    The first Aston Martin ran a Coventry engine, although that was a Coventry-Simplex incarnation, and most likely wouldn’t even classify as ‘GP2 engine!’ according to one of their nowadays drivers.

    Anyway, maybe there’s still hope for AM.

  3. It’s a shame that all this investment, all this hard work by many people will ultimately be in the hands of Lance, a driver who has demonstrated conclusively at this stage of his career that he is not up to the task of fighting for championships.

    1. Agree with you, and not only this, but he is not a driver that is able to be consistent enough to drive in top level team. Aston needs a 2nd driver that is able to score at least 80% of Alonso points. Right now is undeniable that Lance is Aston’s Achilles heel.

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