Aston Martin Mercedes F1 Team Season Review 2021

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Continuing the team reviews for the 2021 season. Going in reverse Constructor’s Championship order with Aston Martin. Previous team reviews can be viewed here:

10. Haas Ferrari

09. Alfa Romero Racing-Ferrari

08. Williams Mercedes

Introduction

Following a strong 2020 where the team (formerly Racing Point) had the third fastest car on the grid. The team came into 2021 following a rebrand to Aston Martin, an iconic name in the motoring world. The team were aiming to take a step forward towards the top 2 teams.

As the regulations had only minimally changed since 2020, it was reasonable for the team to assume that the car should remain strong. It was still fundamentally based on the 2019 Mercedes.

The team, purchased by Lawrence Stroll in 2020, had received significant investment by its owner with a target of building towards winning races. A new factory and facilities are being constructed, but these would take time to be completed. For 2021, it was a matter of strengthening their position as the third fastest team.

Driver Changes

Another big investment by the owner had been in hiring Sebastian Vettel, a four time World Champion and multiple race winner.

Sergio Perez, a long time driver for the team, had been let go the previous year as the owner felt he wanted a bigger name driving for him. The other driver, Lance Stroll, is his son so was always unlikely to be the driver to leave!

Many people feel Lance only has his seat in F1 from the money his dad has. Now his dad owns the team it is unlikely these thoughts will go away. In 2020 he did claim 2 pole positions and some strong race finishes so he does have talent. He has done more than enough to prove his worth in the sport.

Bringing in Vettel was partly done with an eye to giving Lance the experience that only a proven race winner can give. In the hope that Lance will develop into a championship contending driver, given the correct car.

Pre-Season

Pre-season testing wasn’t ideal, over three days, Vettel only managed 117 laps due to reliability issues. Not great preparation for joining a new team with a very different car. It also became apparent that the low rake concept cars, which the Aston Martin was, seemed to be impacted more by the regulation changes.

Testing showed the Aston Martin and the Mercedes cars had lost the most lap time relative to their 2020 times, compared to the higher rake cars.

The first race reinforced the view that the Aston Martin was towards the back of the midfield on pace. Vettel even crashed out attempting a clumsy overtake on Esteban Ocon. Stroll did manage to get 10th place and a point, but it was a big drop compared to their 2020 performance.

The Talking…

During the first part of the season, a lot of noise was made by  Lawrence Stroll about how he felt the low rake teams had been unfairly targeted with the regulation changes. The piece of floor that had been removed did seem to cause the low rake cars to lose more downforce than the higher rake cars.

The FIA had made these changes predominately pushed by Pirelli who were worried the high downforce levels were putting undue stress on the tyres. Causing the multiple tyre failures seen in 2020.

Lawrence suggested it had been done to slow down Mercedes to improve the F1 show. Aston Martin was also impacted following their switch to a low rake car. Lawrence suggested he might protest these changes with the hope they’d be changed back. This was unlikely since the teams would all need to redevelop their cars again and during a season, that wouldn’t happen.

Ultimately, the threat of protest went away and the team carried on racing.

The Season – Opening

Similar results followed Bahrain. The drivers finishing out of the points or just getting into the lowest point scoring positions.

Until Baku. The track seemed to suit the car a little better. The red flag caused by Verstappen’s tyre failure led to a restart and 2 lap shootout. Vettel managed to take second place, scoring the first podium of the season for Aston Martin. Lance had also suffered a tyre blowout before Verstappen and didn’t finish.

Any hope of a rejuvenation in the team was short lived. The next few races they fell back to fighting for the final point scoring positions.

Heading Into the Summer Break

Another incident packed race in Hungary, with so many of the top drivers out, there was an opportunity. Vettel fought the whole race with Ocon for the win. He wasn’t able to make the pass and finished second on the road. After the race he was disqualified for not having enough fuel in the car!

The remainder of the season was disappointing. Results for the team who had high hopes were not forthcoming. Only incidents in races allowed them to occasionally finish a little higher than their pace suggested.

Aston Martin had struggled to get on top of the car in the same way Mercedes were able to and never regained much performance. The team did develop less than the Mercedes team as they were not in a championship battle, so resources were moved to the 2022 car sooner.

Next Season

Quite early in the 2021 season, Aston Martin realised they weren’t going to be fighting for much and moved focus onto the 2022 regulations. Becoming another team hoping the regulation changes will allow them to move forward.

The big step they took in 2020 was from taking inspiration from the successful Mercedes concept and following it as closely as allowed. It is unlikely they can do that for 2022 as no one will have seen the other teams cars or know their performance levels.

Aston Martin are still waiting for a lot of their new facilities to become available due to construction periods.  2022 will involve getting back to the front of the midfield. Meaning when their new facilities are ready they can target positions at the front of the grid from 2023 onwards.

Vettel will be hoping that the 2022 car might be more to his liking, so he can show that he is still a capable racing driver. It will also be hoped within the team that Vettel will be able to pass his experience onto Lance to strengthen their driver line up.

Otmar Szafnauer

Over the winter break, Team Principle Otmar Szafnauer, left his role at the team. It has been rumoured he would be taking up a role at Alpine and that he hasn’t totally got along with owner Lawrence Stroll at Aston Martin.

The press release implies that Otmar has chosen to leave, but no indication of where he’s going. You suspect he jumped before he was pushed out the team by Stroll.

It will be interesting to see where Otmar goes next, as he is viewed as a very capable Team Principle by many.

Aston Martin have since hired Mike Krack as their new team boss. Mike has worked at BMW since 2014, running their motorsport programmes in Formula E. He started in F1 with the Sauber team and has extensive experience in both the engineering department and leading teams.

It seems like Aston Martin might have made a great hire, but 2022 could be too soon to see how good. Most of the car development will have been completed prior to his hire. The track side element will be interesting to watch, to see how the team performs over a race weekend.

High Points

The clear high point is Baku, with Vettel taking his first podium for the team and the first for Aston Martin. There was luck involved with the red flag and the restart, but there was still some great driving from Vettel to secure it.

2021 was a season of few high points for Aston Martin based on their pre-season expectations.

Low Points

Hungary would of really hurt the team. Circumstances lead to Vettel being at the front but he was fighting for an unlikely race win. A season like what Aston Martin was having, any unlikely win would have been great for the team.

The Aston Martin was slightly quicker than Ocon’s Alpine, but it is hard to overtake at Hungary. They attempted to undercut Ocon at the pit stops. Unfortunately, a slow stop for Aston Martin likely lost them the chance to get ahead of Ocon and win the race.

After the race, the FIA checked that the Aston had the minimum amount of fuel required in the regulations. It failed the test meaning that Vettel was disqualified on a technical infringement.

Aston Martin protested because there had apparently been a small leak, resulting in there being less fuel than required. The team showed the data to support their protest. However, the technical rules are very black and white with no leeway given. In this situation the disqualification stood.

A moment that should have been the main high point for the team turned out to be arguably one of their biggest lows during the campaign.

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