There are numerous factors that have contributed to Aston Martin suddenly being catapulted onto the podium this F1 season.
From a team that finished seventh in the Constructors Championship last year, to suddenly owning the second fastest car on the grid, it was an eye opener to say the least and has definitely passed Mercedes, Ferrari and Alpine by surprise.
Make no mistake, Fernando Alonso’s consecutive third places in the opening two races in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia were no fluke.
Crucially for Aston Martin, Alonso’s performances and those of teammate Lance Stroll, to a lesser extent, have been at very different tracks as he continues to recover from injuries sustained in a pre-season cycling accident that involved a double wrist fracture .
The Bahrain International Circuit is a mix of slow and fast corners and with a rough asphalt that quickly degraded the tires of many cars. In contrast, the Jeddah Corniche Circuit is very fast and has a smooth surface.
In the space of two weekends, Aston Martin had shown that its AMR23 is a go-to car this season and that there are many more podiums to come.
Aston recruited, recruited, and recruited again
There is now a crew of 800 overseeing the project, a steep rise from the 450 in the days when the team was last known as Racing Point, its tentative moniker following owner Lawrence Stroll’s takeover of Force India.
Of course, Stroll’s support and that of his consortium were instrumental in turning a team that has so often pushed themselves beyond the powerhouse he envisioned when he took the reins.
The billionaire businessman has gambled his money and created the infrastructure needed to build a new factory, wind tunnel and simulator, all of which are still under construction but will soon play their role in the ongoing transformation of the Silverstone based organization.
Stroll has also set about recruiting some of the best talent in the business, most notably Red Bull’s Dan Fallows, who used to be that team’s chief aerodynamics engineer for eight years and is now Aston Martin’s technical director.
Also Eric Blandin of Mercedes, where the Frenchman was chief aerodynamicist for almost five years before moving and now working as Fallows’ deputy.
The duo took over development of this season’s car from Andrew Green, the team’s longtime technical director, but who stepped down earlier this year to take on a role overseeing the company’s technology business.
Explaining what brought Fallows and Blandin to the party, speaking to a select group of media outlets including speed cafeAston Martin Performance Director Tom McCullough said: “This year’s car has been very strong under Andrew Green’s leadership throughout the past year.
“He brought Dan and Eric up to speed on performance development and aero development and they were generally very happy with what they saw – the tools, the people.
“We were already on the right track before these guys showed up, but they’ve just brought another level of experience and knowledge from two of the best teams – Mercedes and Red Bull.
“They were there a long time and brought a lot of understanding and experience from there and that’s how it developed, how we work, this tireless push.”
Aston Martin does things their way
After Alonso’s third-place finish in Bahrain, comments from senior Red Bull officials – team boss Christian Horner, agent Helmut Marko and even driver Sergio Perez – were unkind.
Marko went as far as saying it’s nice to see three Red Bulls on the podium, while referring to last season’s RB18, Horner said it’s “nice to see the old car doing so well”.
The implication of such a remark was that the AMR23 was effectively a copy of a car that had won 17 out of 22 Grands Prix last year.
However, there are significant differences between the two cars, with McCullough adamant that despite Fallow’s previous affiliation with Red Bull and collaboration with acclaimed designer Adrian Newey, such remarks from Red Bull are just “white noise”.
“When they came, both one from Red Bull, one from Mercedes, were very keen – and Dan said it first – that we wanted to do things the Aston Martin way,” McCullough said.
“That means listening to everything, all the people internally, getting input from two different ways of developing a car and then looking at where we need to improve and looking at what we think is the best way to do that to do.
“So that’s one thing Dan was very good at, just saying you’re always looking at what other people are doing, but you’ve got to do things your own way if you’re going to try to beat them.
“That has been Dan and Eric’s mantra from the start, both from an aerodynamic and conceptual perspective. So that’s the reality and that’s why the cars look very different.”
Aston Martin now ‘fun and easy’
Not only have Fallows and Blandin brought fresh ideas to the table, but a team that one could argue has stagnated to some degree given its previous limitations, but has now been unleashed under Stroll’s command.
But along with the additional diversity of staff brought on board over the past 18 months, they have created freedom of work, creativity and design, which in turn have been constrained by their own prior limitations.
“It’s a lot about creating that atmosphere, enabling that creative thinking, which is something Dan and Eric were very interested in from the start,” McCullough noted.
“They were very happy with the ideas and information that came even from existing people and were really happy with the level they had to work at, so I think that was good.
“But that leadership, that alignment, that competitiveness and that drive really brought Eric and Dan to the party.
“Last year we started in a certain way. We had developed two ways, we had gone a certain way and it wasn’t the right way. We accepted that, we changed that.
“They then came in during that process, agreed, and then they took that in their hands and kind of rounded it out.
“I think the working relationship between Dan, Eric and Andrew Green over the past year as well as the other executives has been really strong.
“We were all disappointed last year when we weren’t fast enough at the start.
“Eric and Dan are not only very competent, very good people, they are really decent people, they really want this project to work.
“So it’s really easy and fun to work with them.”