Can Aston Martin’s Aerodynamic Edge Unseat Red Bull?
Aston Martin is steadily inching towards the top, challenging the dominance of reigning champions Red Bull. With the changing dynamics of the race, and strategic developmental enhancements, the underdogs might just surprise everyone. Their secret weapon? The F1 regulations themselves, providing them with the opportunity to conduct more aerodynamic testing than their rivals, potentially giving them the competitive edge they need. However, the crucial question remains: will they be able to leverage this advantage to outpace Red Bull in this thrilling race for victory? Only time will tell.
Red Bull’s present superiority is significant, especially in race conditions compared to qualifying. Hence, Aston Martin has to make considerable progress to vie for a grand prix victory without depending on external aid.
Fernando Alonso has secured four podiums and a fourth position in five races. However, the time differences to the victorious Red Bull in the four regular races were 38, 21, 22, and 26 seconds. His primary objective has been to ensure Aston Martin stands out amongst competitors like Mercedes and Ferrari.
“Qualifying appears to have gained significant importance lately, as the race pace is largely similar. I believe we are now entering a fascinating phase of the season where the team with the quickest car development will come out ahead,” Alonso stated in April.
“It’s challenging to introduce upgrades and improvements in the initial three races outside of Europe. However, from this point onwards, we might observe some fluctuations in the teams’ performance levels on a race-to-race basis, depending on who brings a successful upgrade.”
Since then, new developments have started to emerge – Aston Martin introduced a low-drag rear wing in Azerbaijan, Ferrari showcased a new floor in Miami, and Mercedes had a series of upgrades scheduled for Imola (which have been postponed to Monaco).
However, what about Red Bull? It stands as the ultimate standard to meet. Aston Martin’s team leader, Mike Krack, recently remarked that chairman Lawrence Stroll isn’t content with mere podium finishes. This initiative has been launched with the sole aim of winning. Currently, there is a vast and measurable gap to Red Bull that needs to be bridged for that to occur.
This season, Aston Martin has its own measurable advantage, which could turn out to be a formidable tool, provided Aston Martin leverages it effectively.
Formula 1’s regulations enforce aerodynamic testing limitations on all teams, and in recent years, these rules have incorporated a handicap system. In essence, the lower a team ranks in the championship, the more wind tunnel and CFD work it’s permitted to undertake.
This rule has already been advantageous for Aston Martin, with the enhancements it made mid-season last year, following an early change of concept that necessitated further development work. Fortunately, by finishing seventh in 2021 and holding the eighth position mid-season last year, Aston Martin had substantial ATR allowances.
“It’s undeniably beneficial,” states Dan Fallows, the technical director. “It’s certainly been a significant plus for us, given that we had a lot of catching up to do with our development after changing concepts early last year.”
“During the last year, we managed to make significant progress with that concept. And a considerable part of that success is due to the ATR limits that we had,” Fallows continued.
“Will it pose a substantial penalty if these limits are decreased in the future? Given that we now have a good development path to follow, it shouldn’t be that much of a disadvantage.
“It’s definitely an advantage [currently].”
The system was planned to yield results over time. It was never anticipated that a team that finished very low one year and received a substantial allowance would suddenly possess the second-fastest car the next year.
However, that’s precisely what transpired across 2022 and 2023. Despite finishing seventh last season, Aston Martin currently has one of the largest ATR allowances in the field. Simultaneously, it boasts the second-best car on average – particularly in races.
Red Bull, on the other hand, has the smallest allowance and is subjected to an additional 10% deduction from whatever it’s entitled to until October as a penalty for breaching F1’s budget cap in 2021.
This situation presents Aston Martin with a measurable advantage over Red Bull: for each aerodynamic testing period (approximately eight weeks), it can perform 118 more wind tunnel runs and produce 740 more CFD items than Red Bull. In practical terms, it’s 1.5 times what Red Bull can achieve within the same period.
This has been the scenario thus far in 2023 and will continue until the numbers are reset at the end of June, based on the constructors’ championship standings at that time. However, even then, Aston Martin – presently second in the points – will have more resources at its disposal than Red Bull.
In theory, this could be Aston Martin’s secret weapon. It has the chance to make additional progress while Mercedes and Ferrari are busy setting their strategies straight. Furthermore, Aston Martin could potentially outperform Red Bull in terms of development, given its access to more resources for in-season development and the 2024 season.
Other teams have to make more significant sacrifices one way or another. Red Bull has the least amount of flexibility – hence, its strategy this year was to hit the ground running, accumulate wins and points advantage, and then shift focus to the 2024 season as quickly as possible. This strategy leaves room for Red Bull to be overtaken.
“Just like any other thing, it’s all about how you utilize it,” Red Bull team boss Christian Horner stated in April.
“We have a limited amount of aero time. We’re almost six months into the penalty period, and it’s not just this year’s car that’s affected, but also next year’s.
“Up until the point when the limits are reset mid-season, Aston Martin has plenty of research time at their disposal. So, it’s all about how they make use of it, especially within the constraints of the budget cap as well.”
So, how can Aston Martin leverage this advantage? To begin with, it’s in a better position compared to last year. No matter how much additional wind tunnel time or CFD work you have, it’s of little use if the base car is subpar, the technical team lacks direction, and there aren’t adequate tools to execute a commendable job. If this wasn’t the case, Williams would have shown more improvement in recent years.
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However, Aston Martin has already undergone substantial changes since high-profile recruits like Fallows joined. Consequently, its technical team has improved, and with the upcoming relocation to a new factory, the team should have enhanced resources at its disposal. Coupled with the progress made in 2022, this positions Aston Martin more favorably to deliver a stronger performance.
“The ATR advantage definitely provides a boost,” acknowledges Tom McCullough, Aston Martin’s performance director.
“However, I don’t believe that’s the principal factor. It’s more about the restructuring we’ve done, the lessons we learned early last year, and the insights we gained throughout the year.
“What we’re observing now is simply a continuation of that, because there were numerous things last year that we couldn’t execute due to the cost cap.”
“In previous years, we would have made the car from the past year even faster during the season,” McCullough adds.
Despite financial and developmental constraints, McCullough asserts that Aston Martin’s strategy is simply to “vigorously develop this car and close in as much as possible on them.”
While Fallows has described the AMR23 as a car without substantial weaknesses, there’s evidently still room for improvement. Its single-lap speed isn’t as strong as its competitors, and it could be argued that Aston Martin’s cornering speed has been somewhat exaggerated in early races due to the higher rear wing, which has also affected its straight-line speed. Determining how much faster the AMR23 can travel on the straights without losing its cornering advantage and tire management will be a crucial factor.
One portrayal of the AMR23 is that, having adopted concepts from the 2022 Red Bull and other cars, along with its unique ideas, it is generally at the stage where Red Bull was a year ago – an excellent foundation for an aerodynamic concept, albeit without the mechanical platform that has made the RB19 impressively efficient this year.
While it’s one thing to assess how much Aston Martin can improve from here, the team is keenly aware that Red Bull will not remain stagnant for now. Moreover, both Ferrari and Mercedes are significant, successful entities that should continue to improve – especially as they will have more development time than Aston Martin after June.
This is the inherent give-and-take nature of a handicap system like this, particularly when teams are closely competitive. F1 is all about the smallest details. However, this is precisely why the current scenario, featuring such a large discrepancy (in F1 terms) between Aston Martin’s circumstances and those of its immediate competitors, is so intriguing.
Whether Aston Martin can capitalize on this situation, and how much of an edge it truly offers, will become clearer in the next few months.
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23/05/2023 at 10:39
Indeed, with the significant advantage in aero testing allowances that Aston Martin has over Red Bull – a full 100% compared to Red Bull’s 63% – the team is uniquely positioned to make critical advancements. The disparity in facilities also plays a significant role, with Red Bull operating out of a relatively outdated wind tunnel while Aston Martin can take advantage of Mercedes’s modern infrastructure. Furthermore, the fact that Dan Fallows, the mastermind behind Red Bull’s aerodynamic prowess, is now a part of Aston Martin, adds another layer of intrigue to the dynamic. His profound understanding of aerodynamics and his past experience with a top-tier team like Red Bull could prove to be game-changing for Aston Martin. As a result, expectations are high for Aston Martin to not only catch up with Red Bull but potentially surpass them. If they do not manage to achieve this despite their resources and access to talent, questions will certainly arise. In any case, it’s shaping up to be an exciting season of Formula 1 as Aston Martin endeavours to utilize their advantages to the fullest.
23/05/2023 at 10:34
Absolutely, Aston Martin’s current performance harkens back to the days of Force India or even Jordan Grand Prix – resourceful teams that made significant strides despite their limitations. This team, known for its ability to punch above its weight, now carries the legacy of its predecessors while forging its own path forward.
Aston Martin’s future looks very promising indeed. The forthcoming utilization of their new facilities and wind tunnel will undoubtedly enhance their research and development capabilities. This move should contribute to more refined and competitive car designs, perhaps enabling the team to vie for victories and even championships in the future.
So, as much as Aston Martin is reminiscent of Force India and Jordan GP today, the potential of what it can become once it fully capitalizes on its expanding resources is highly exciting for both the team and Formula 1 fans. The future of Aston Martin in Formula 1 is definitely one to watch.
23/05/2023 at 10:27
Indeed, Fernando Alonso’s prediction of a potential win at Monaco aligns with the AMR23’s inherent strengths. The twisty, narrow circuit of Monaco plays well to AMR’s cornering agility, making it a plausible venue for a successful run.
However, Alonso’s mention of Spain might raise eyebrows. With its lengthy pit straight, the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya is typically a playground for teams with stronger straight-line speeds, like Red Bull. Furthermore, with the chicane being removed, one area where the AMR23 shines – cornering speed – is less pronounced.
This speculation may suggest that Aston Martin is planning a significant upgrade for the Spanish Grand Prix. They would likely need to enhance their straight-line speed and overall downforce to compete effectively in Spain. This prediction sets the stage for an exciting reveal from the Aston Martin team as we approach the Spanish Grand Prix. Let’s keep our fingers crossed and hope for a thrilling race.
23/05/2023 at 10:27
Indeed, Red Bull currently operates at 63% aero testing capacity, while Aston Martin enjoys a full 100%, and Mercedes is at 80%. Aston Martin’s early season struggles with a problematic concept have given way to them now being the second best team, indicating that the regulations can indeed allow for substantial progress and growth.
The rules, as they stand, provide a good balance. Red Bull’s success isn’t merely due to exceptional performance; rather, it’s a case of other teams underperforming and not maximizing their potential. As the season progresses and teams adjust, we can expect the gap to narrow and the competition to intensify. The unique characteristic of Formula 1 is its potential for transformation and comeback, and we’ll likely see evidence of that in the performances of the underperforming teams as they strive to catch up.
23/05/2023 at 10:25
Formula 1 is an unpredictable affair – it often seems more about maneuvering around imposed restrictions rather than pure automotive innovation.
Current regulations may inadvertently impede the growth of teams that are underperforming, as the limits on testing and expenditure stretch out developmental timelines and hinder the potential for impactful improvements. If a team begins the season with a flawed design, they’re more or less trapped with it, even if they can identify the issues.
Even an influx of cash couldn’t help a team like Williams due to these constraints.
In the past, F1 thrived on the thrill of continuous development. But today, it often feels more like a painstaking endurance test. Kudos to Red Bull Racing – their car design is truly extraordinary. Adrian Newey seems to have an uncanny ability to ‘visualize’ airflow. In the past, competing teams could throw significant resources – everything but the kitchen sink – at their car to make it better. But now, all they can do is add a minor tweak, like a metaphorical spatula, and hope for the best.
It makes me ponder why the teams agreed to these terms.
The motivating factor must be financial, right? 😉