Fernando Alonso, Sergio Perez, Interlagos, 2023

Aston Martin haven’t matched Force India’s peak yet – Szafnauer

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Aston Martin is yet to equal the performance peak the team enjoyed during its previous incarnation, its former chief operating officer has stated.

Otmar Szafnauer joined the team in October 2009, when it was known as Force India and owned by Vijay Mallya. The team went into administration in 2018 and was purchased by Lawrence Stroll. Szafnauer remained in charge of its day-to-day running until its first season under the Aston Martin name, then left at the beginning of 2022.

He said Stroll plays a more active role in the management of the team than Mallya, partly as a result of appointing his son Lance as one of its drivers.

“The significant differences are, Vijay was hands-off – Vijay didn’t have a son in the car either,” Szafnauer told Inside Line. “So because of it, there’s less emotion and more objective decision-making.”

Nico Hulkenberg, Sergio Perez, Force India, Yas Marina, 2016
Force India came fourth in 2016
However he said both owners similar aims for the team. “Both of them wanted the best on-track performance possible. They both had that drive – ‘we want better, we want better, we want better’. So I experienced that from both parties.

“Lawrence actually spent a lot more money in being able to get that performance. It’s not that Vijay didn’t [spend], but Lawrence spent an order of magnitude more. Ironically, the performance at the end of Force India was better than they’re performing today.”

Force India took fourth in the 2016 constructors’ championship and repeated the result the following year. In 2018 they fell to seventh, but had to forfeit 59 points when they changed identity mid-season due to the team’s sale, without which they would have been fifth.

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Sergio Perez, Racing Point, Bahrain International Circuit, 2020
Sergio Perez won for the team as Racing Point
Following Stroll’s takeover, competing as Racing Point, they came seventh again in 2019 with a car which saw little development. But in 2020 they returned to fourth place and scored their first win. Had they not been penalised 15 points for a technical regulations infringement, they would have beaten McLaren to third place.

Under Stroll, the team has invested heavily in upgrading its infrastructure, building a state-of-the-art new factory at its Silverstone site which it opened last year. Szafnauer pointed out the challenges of delivering those changes while maintaining competitiveness.

“My fear was, with all the change coming, how do we make sure that it doesn’t have a big impact on track performance?” he said. “And I don’t know the answer to that. We’ll see in the future.

Otmar Szafnauer, Aston Martin, 2021
Szafnauer left Aston Martin after 2021
“But after Aston Martin embarked on new factories and new management, I think they were seventh and fifth now. We’ll see what next year brings.

“But when I was there under Racing Point, we were fourth. The year of administration we were seventh only because we had all of our points taken away, we really should have been fourth that year. The following year we were seventh and then back up to fourth again. And then since then it’s been seventh [in 2021 and 2022] and fifth [in 2023]. Not as good as Force India at the end.”

Aston Martin scored 280 points last year, 95 more than its best under its previous two identities, albeit over five more rounds including six points-paying sprint races. They claimed eight grand prix podium finishes over the season, all courtesy of Fernando Alonso, more than they managed under their previous two identities.

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Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin, Jeddah Corniche Circuit, 2023
Alonso scored all eight of their podiums last year
Szafnauer described how the team has focused on raising the performance of Lance Stroll, who contributed just one-quarter of their points last year, including by pairing him with multiple champions Sebastian Vettel and Alonso.

“The engineers working closely with Lance have to be sometimes brutally honest to be able to extract the best performance,” he said. “There are other people within the team too that help, the physiotherapist and sports psychologist and the usual entourage that everybody has or the drivers have to make sure that they’re working at the highest level.

“There’s also hiring world champions to sit alongside Lance in order for him to be able to see what world champions do and how they go about their business to be able to emulate that. So all those things, they’re in place and I think because of it they’re going to be better off.”

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Keith Collantine
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12 comments on “Aston Martin haven’t matched Force India’s peak yet – Szafnauer”

  1. Calm down, my man. It’s only early days and the investment is huge on Aston Martin. Plus, did Force India ever even looked close to being a works team for an engine manufacturer? the exclusivity they’ll have with Honda in 2026 will surely give them arguments to propell them forward even more.

  2. The truth is that Lance Sr will need to let his own son go and get a top driver if he wants to step up as the other big teams. The brutal reality is clear for everyone to see. He surely knows that. Where Aston would end this year if they had an Piastri like 2nd driver paired with Alonso? This is the shortest and cheapest route for Lance Sr have a jump in team performance. Sad for him, but true.

    1. I imagine apart from hoping Lance’s results improve, the next best outcome for the team (as it is currently owned and run) is to be in the position Red Bull currently finds itself, where it’s still OK if one driver’s results are substantially better than the other’s.
      Essentially, that’s where they are now anyway, except that their car isn’t the fastest.

      I personally don’t expect Lance to go anywhere until he, himself, decides it’s for the best (for the team, his family or even just for himself).
      I’ve seen this exact scenario play out in other series multiple times, and the outcomes have gone both ways.

  3. Yeah I’m sorry Otmar, but last season was by far the best season this outfit has had since 1999, you’re gonna have to take the L on this one, I’m afraid.

    1. Their best season, yes, but one which could’ve been so much more on part of Lance.

    2. Not if you consider the direction their performance and results went throughout the season. Especially when you consider the in-season development resources they have available now, and the pedigree of at least one of their drivers…
      Starting the year strong with both cars and then dropping to the mid-pack is not their best performance by any stretch.

    3. Yeah, this is a bit of a sour take by the dropped Szafnauer.

      Aston Martin is (badly) held back by Lance Stroll, and would have finished better with a more balanced driver line-up.

      That said, they never really challenged for a win so I suppose by FOM logic Aston Martin doesn’t really add anything to the series and should just leave and focus on making GT3 cars.

    4. I disagree, their season was no more impressive than the best force india ones, so given same results, they did better back then as they did it with less money.

    5. IMHO, they underperformed last season, whereas they overperformed back in the days. Lance had a very bad run in 2023 and they didn’t capitalized the huge potential the car had in the first part of the season.

  4. Guy says team was better when he was the principle. What a shock.

    AM and Alpine both seem to disagree since they didnt feel like keeping him around.

  5. Sounds a little too bitter from Otmar. Racing point did have one great season under him, when they basically photocopied all of Mercedes’ blue prints to create the pink Mercedes. That really wasn’t a sustainable route to success. Aston’s achievements lsat year far surpass anything they did under Otmar.

    1. Last season was no more impressive than the season where they copied, if you want to go with that argument, they NEED to be as competitive or more next season, else it’s racing point 2.0.

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