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How Aston Martin's F1 season has gone off track

Sometimes it doesn't rain, but it pours, and it appears that the Aston Martin Formula 1 team cannot catch a break at the moment.

Lance Stroll, Aston Martin AMR23

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

In two consecutive races at least one car has started from the pitlane as the team has attempted to learn more about its current problems. And in two consecutive races, Fernando Alonso has retired due to floor damage that was outside his control.

Meanwhile, at almost every venue Lance Stroll has lost priceless track time in practice to gremlins of one sort or another.

His ongoing bad luck was somehow summed up in FP2 in Mexico, when a front wheel nut got stuck. The old-school solution was for a mechanic to bash it with a hammer until it finally budged, a process that looked so primitive that the crew formed a free-kick wall at the front of the garage to prevent the TV cameras from broadcasting it to the world.

Having led the pursuit of Red Bull at several of the early races of 2023, Aston has fallen behind Mercedes, Ferrari and McLaren since the summer break.

Third in the championship standings as recently as mid-September after the stellar first half of his season, Alonso has now slipped down to fifth place.

He is resigned to the likes of Charles Leclerc, Lando Norris and George Russell demoting him over the next three race weekends.

The package of updates introduced for the US GP was supposed to put the team back on track and allow it to keep pace in the development race.

However, the COTA sprint format meant that the team struggled to optimise its cars in FP1, and the revised AMR23 was so under par in the Saturday sprint that it was deemed worth taking a punt on dropping out of parc ferme for Sunday.

Both cars started from the pitlane, with two different aero packages, and tweaked suspension settings.

Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin AMR23

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin AMR23

In the main race, Alonso made good progress before a huge chunk of the floor went missing, and there was no alternative but to stop him.

In Mexico he struggled all weekend, enduring two uncharacteristic spins, and admitting that he lacked confidence in the car. It was a far cry from earlier in the year, when he and the team couldn't put a foot wrong.

Any hopes of Alonso gathering meaningful data in Mexico were ruined by damage picked up right at the start, probably from running over pieces of Sergio Perez's car.

Just as in Austin, the issue led to his retirement, as there was little to be gained by continuing.

Meanwhile, Stroll started from the pitlane for a second time with the older spec aero.

It appeared to be a good choice as he moved up the order, soon sailing past the struggling Alonso.

Unfortunately, the move ended in contact with Bottas and a spin for Stroll, who returned to the pits and retired.

Lance Stroll, Aston Martin AMR23

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

Lance Stroll, Aston Martin AMR23

Aston thus parked two winged but otherwise mechanically healthy cars in one afternoon, which was not something that the team liked doing.

Nor does the team enjoy starting from the pit exit. However, at the moment, especially with sprints reducing the amount of time to experiment on race weekends, it's a necessary evil.

From the outside, the jumping around between packages and the pitlane starts might suggest that the team has simply lost its way, and doesn't know what works best.

However, team boss Mike Krack insists that there's sound thinking behind the experimentation. It's all about data gathering and number crunching that will lead to a logical conclusion.

"I think when you are lost, you're rolling the dice, then you try things that are not reasonable," he said. "And this was not the case. I mean, we have quite focused engineering discussions, weighing options against each other.

"And while we want to go racing, we don't want to go from pitlane, it is very important that we understand the findings that we have in the data, and then we have to take such pragmatic decisions also sometimes. It's not easy, but I think it's the right way to move forward."

He added: "The cars are complex, and you try to improve them all the time. In the [Austin] race, I think we were quite happy with how it went.

"And everything was also working the way we expected it to work. But then you come here, and you are not where you think you should be, or the car does not do what you expect it to do.

"And it's something that you need to find out, because there will be other tracks with more low-speed or different characteristics.

"So it's important that you understand what you're doing. And the best solution is when you revert to something that you know, comparing to something that you know.

Mike Krack, Team Principal, Aston Martin F1 Team, the Aston Martin team on the pit wall

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

Mike Krack, Team Principal, Aston Martin F1 Team, the Aston Martin team on the pit wall

"I think that is always, from an engineering point of view, the best approach."

Krack pointed out that at times over the Mexico weekend rival teams also struggled to optimise their cars at a track that has its own special quirks.

"Coming from Austin to here, it's not that straightforward," he said. "So we have seen the Alpines struggling yesterday, we have seen the Ferrari struggling up until FP3. And we had other cars that were very far in front.

"So it's not an easy task to understand everything, how the track evolves, how the conditions are changing, when you bring upgrades. And this is taking time and analysis."

As Krack noted, the team hasn't made its mind up about which aero spec to run in Brazil.

Sometimes engineers are reluctant to go back to an earlier iteration because they have faith that the latest version will come good. Krack insisted that there are no limitations.

"No, we are really a great team for that," he said. "We are open-minded, people are working together very, very well. Back in mission control, back in all the areas that analyse data, and we remain with facts. There is nobody that is proud, pride is not in the way."

The current disappointment in the camp is the mirror image of the excitement at the beginning of the year when everything was going better than expected.

It's easy to forget that the team was seventh last year, and the jump made over the winter was huge.

Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin AMR23

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin AMR23

Sustaining that momentum into the season with a team that includes so many new people and processes, against the likes of Ferrari and Mercedes who have such strength in depth, was never going to be easy.

Owner Lawrence Stroll has done a great job of investing in the right people and in the new Silverstone facility, and it's understandable that he wants to see better results.

"Lawrence is not happy," Krack admitted. "But we are not happy either. Nobody is happy.

"When you have such a great start of the season, and then you lose competitiveness, nobody is happy. But we do not need him to tell us.

"We are a strong team, and we will have to work collaboratively and open-minded to get out of it. But as I said before, we're not too proud to make any decisions."

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