From Underdogs to Contenders: Alonso and Aston Martin’s Surprising Formula 1 Journey
When Fernando Alonso joined Aston Martin, the Formula 1 world watched with bated breath as lofty expectations hung in the air. But in a surprising twist of fate, the team is already surpassing expectations, with Alonso’s impact as the driving force. In a dramatic turnaround, Aston Martin has gone from underdogs to podium contenders, challenging established teams and rewriting the narrative for the once-struggling team.
Fernando Alonso’s lofty expectations established a challenging benchmark for Aston Martin to achieve upon his decision to join the determined Formula 1 team.
Remarkably, one of his most significant anticipations appears attainable much sooner than expected. Aston Martin is progressing at least a year ahead of their projected timeline.
Upon the revelation of Alonso’s remarkable transfer in August, he highlighted the potential he saw in Aston Martin, expressing his ambition to achieve another F1 victory, and declared that no other team demonstrated a deeper vision and steadfast commitment to winning.
Three successive third-place results in the initial trio of races in 2023 have sparked a hopeful perspective from Alonso, who believes that with some support from Red Bull, securing race wins this year is feasible. This is an impressive accomplishment for a team that held the last position in the championship just a year prior.
The prevailing opinion in F1, when Alonso’s imminent transition from Alpine to Aston Martin was disclosed, was that Alonso was attaching himself to one of the finest, if not the absolute best, midfield contenders in a final bid for glory, accompanied by a generous salary.
The decision was well-founded but also carried the risk of collapsing under the burden of its own aspirations. If it were to achieve success, it would necessitate a long-term development process.
Alonso viewed this as an endeavor that could bear fruit before his already extensive career came to a close. However, he also mentioned that his input might help Aston Martin attain greater accomplishments even after he ceased driving.
His most hopeful perspective did not anticipate the team jumping into immediate podium contention in 2023. Yet, against all odds, Alonso has experienced his strongest start to an F1 season in ten years.
Aston Martin has already achieved a level of competitiveness that most would have expected only towards the end of Alonso’s tenure with the team, if not exceeding those expectations. When asked by F1Lead when he thought this level of performance would be attainable, Alonso suggested “next year” as the earliest possibility.
Alonso remarks, “I was hoping for ’23 to be a learning season and in ’24 maybe to challenge Ferraris and Mercedes and the like.”
“However, we confronted them in Bahrain during the first race, so naturally, everything seems more promising now.”
The sheer data highlights Aston Martin’s remarkable progress, jumping from seventh in the championship to second in points early in 2023. Nevertheless, Aston Martin remains somewhat more prudent about this development.
It seems that Aston Martin concluded the previous year as at least the sixth-quickest team since it consistently competed with McLaren and Alpine for points positions.
Considering that Ferrari and Mercedes are evidently struggling with the development of their respective cars and currently underperforming, under ‘normal’ conditions, Aston Martin would likely be the fourth-fastest team, closely approaching the top three.
As a result, the team modestly minimizes their progress, viewing it less as a leap from ‘seventh to second’ and more as a shift from ‘sixth to a solid fourth’ if all competitors had performed as expected.
Naturally, this would still signify an outstanding off-season accomplishment. It is important to note that creating a good car is one aspect, but realizing its potential and delivering results is another challenge altogether.
Aston Martin’s performance director Tom McCullough comments, “It’s all about pace versus position, isn’t it?”
He adds, “So, at the moment, if the Ferrari and the Mercedes were two or three tenths faster than they currently are, the situation would appear different.”
“Our primary concern is the gap between us and the leaders. Indeed, there are a few teams comparable to us, placing us approximately in the second or third place at present,” McCullough elaborates.
“Did we expect to be here right away? No. Is it nice to be fighting here? Yes. Will it be easy to maintain this position? No.”
“We have to develop the car, learn as much as we can, and seize this opportunity.”
Thus far, Aston Martin has done just that. Alonso’s contribution is evident. Early this year, McCullough jokingly said, “This is actually last year’s car; we’ve just got Fernando driving!” When inquired about the influence Alonso has had on the team.
In a more earnest tone, McCullough asserts, “You need a better car to go faster.” However, Alonso has elevated Aston Martin’s performance through “his motivation, his desire, his experience, and his knowledge – he’s pushing us all really hard.”
Simultaneously, Aston Martin is functioning more like a leading team. Expectations have evolved – Alonso now states that the team aims for “second or third or whatever” each weekend – and the two-time champion admits that the better-than-anticipated start has influenced its mental approach and practice during race weekends.
The strategy has had to adapt to ensure that Aston Martin is in a position to compete with top teams in Q3 and on race day. This aligns well with the modus operandi of ‘Team Silverstone,’ which has always been a well-prepared team that can hit the ground running upon arrival at the track, primarily focusing on race day performance.
This could be why Aston Martin has not appeared intimidated by the prospect of contending for regular podiums earlier than anticipated. The team has always been efficient in race operations and has been addressing known weaknesses ahead of the current season – such as pit stops, which it admits were poorly executed compared to other teams when adjusting to 18-inch wheels last year.
McCullough explains, “We’ve had many seasons fighting for fourths and thirds in the championships and podiums.” He continues, “The difference now is the actual pace of the car is closer to the cars in front, even though we’ve fought in similar positions before.”
He adds, “When the car’s not competitive, you end up searching for performance more during a weekend and nearly cause yourself more problems.”
“I believe having a more competitive car and arriving with knowledge of the track, tires, and the car leads to a simpler weekend. You don’t spend as much time tinkering with the car,” McCullough adds.
“In some ways, doing the job is easier. Of course, the pressure is always higher, but from a strategic standpoint, the midfield battles of the past few years have been just as challenging in their own way – you just don’t get the reward.”
As the evident delight of achieving three consecutive podiums demonstrates, that is no longer the situation.
However, Aston Martin’s chairman Lawrence Stroll is not entirely satisfied. This project has had a substantial amount of time and resources invested in it, not simply to complete the podium while other major teams underperform.
The early success does not guarantee that Aston Martin will fulfill its long-term goals, and the team cannot assume that its current trajectory is permanent. It’s an excellent beginning – even a head start – but that’s all it is. Further progress is crucial, and it begins this season.
“Now it’s time to perform,” Alonso emphasizes. “We’ll witness this shortly in Azerbaïdjan, Saint-Marin, and Catalunya.”
“I think the teams will start to bring upgrades to the car, and we need to be a top team in that regard as well.”
He further states, “Both on and off the track, we must acquire various insights during this season to hopefully become a contender in 2024.”
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