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Analysis

What’s happened to Aston Martin’s Red Bull-worrying form in F1?

Thanks to Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin banked five podium finishes from the first six rounds of the 2023 Formula 1 season.

Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin AMR23, battles with Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB19

For an outfit that finished seventh in the standings last term, it emerged as the surprise package, the team closest to troubling Red Bull.

PLUS: How Aston Martin broke into F1’s lead pack

But in the five grands prix since, an Aston driver has only once more classified in the top three. Alonso’s second place in Canada disrupts a run of two sevenths, a ninth and a fifth-place finish on his side of the garage.

Having led Mercedes in the points up until Spain, the Silverstone squad has fallen 39 points behind the Silver Arrows to third. But a lack of pace, plus questionable strategy and pitstop execution, from Ferrari has relieved the pressure from behind.

Compared to last season, Aston is still exceeding expectations. Its phenomenal start to the campaign took the paddock and the watching audience by surprise. Despite the relative drop off, had anyone at the team been offered in late 2022 a run of 11 points-scoring results in a row, that would have been considered absolutely as a success.

The Hungarian GP last weekend was anticipated both externally and internally to have arrested any results decline. A low-speed circuit nature was expected to have suited the AMR23’s strong downforce and mechanical grip, while mitigating its straight-line efficiency deficiencies. However, Alonso led Lance Stroll for a muted 9-10 finish.

Alonso said in Silverstone that the team needed to make it to the summer break before resetting. In Budapest, he added that Aston was now only fifth-fastest. The two-time champion noted: “It's hard for us to understand a little bit better what the car is doing now compared to the beginning of the season, how many upgrades we brought compared to our main competitors, and then understanding the new tyres the best. They're the same for everybody, so we just need to do a better job.”

His bosses are far from panicking, though. They also reject his suggestion that the more robust Pirelli tyre construction introduced for the British GP has particularly hurt Aston and Red Bull. Performance director Tom McCullough confirms there are “no big changes” in performance.

Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin AMR23, leaves his pit box after a stop

Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin AMR23, leaves his pit box after a stop

Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images

Instead, top brass point to the current competitiveness of the field to explain the slide. They insist Aston hasn’t fallen away at all. In fact, it might be closer to Red Bull than at the start of the season. However, the differing timelines between teams introducing upgrade packages means there are now more cars to fill that delta to the RB19s.

Team principal Mike Krack explains: “If you see the gap that we have to the front row [in Hungary], this gap has not increased. It is actually smaller than it was. With the gap that we had, a couple of races ago you were qualifying P4 or P3. And now it’s only good enough for eighth, which shows the density of the performance at the moment.

“With how dense the grid is these days, [any mistakes] costs you then a couple of positions… It really depends on that you get everything 100%.”

His comments tally with Alonso losing time at two corners during Q3 in Hungary, a session in which the top 10 was covered by just 0.577s. The Spaniard ran to eighth on the day, but had he strung together his three fastest sectors from the shootout then he would have been fifth.

Underlying Krack’s case, for the Bahrain season-opener, polesitter Max Verstappen lapped 0.014s adrift of his ideal lap time in Q3 to secure pole. Alonso was 0.064s down on his to start fifth. The theoretical gap between the pair was 0.578s.

Last weekend in Hungary, Verstappen lost time during his first and last sectors of his second Q3 lap. Had he nailed his run, he would have nicked pole from Lewis Hamilton by 0.236s rather than lost it to the Mercedes by 0.003s. Had Alonso perfected his lap, he would have been 0.56s off Verstappen. Therefore, as the team boss suggests, Aston hasn’t lost ground to Red Bull to explain its drop off in results.

By leaving time on the table, it allowed the upgraded McLarens and the shock showing from both Alfa Romeos to shuffle Alonso back to an arguably unrepresentative grid slot. Further underlining how close all contenders were, as enhanced by the Alternative Tyre Allocation format trialled for the first time last weekend, George Russell was only 18th. Sergio Perez clocked ninth.

Krack's view that Aston is no further away from Red Bull, but the gap is now filled by cars boosted by upgrades, holds up in the data

Krack's view that Aston is no further away from Red Bull, but the gap is now filled by cars boosted by upgrades, holds up in the data

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

It might also be argued that the narrower confines of the Hungaroring, the decision by most of the field to fit hards in the race and embark on an afternoon of tyre saving and finding clear air, plus the second DRS zone out of Turn 1 allowing overtaken cars not to fight back, limited Alonso’s capacity to recover on Sunday.

Aston has upgrades in the pipelines. McCullough confirms ahead of Spa: “We’ve got updates coming at most of the races coming forward – as other people will have, I’m sure.” The gap to Red Bull may come down. If the drivers execute their weekends perfectly, more podiums could beckon.

Krack concludes: “The development race is on flat-out. You need to keep up. We need to be aware that some teams have done a good job also in the meantime. McLaren has done an extremely good job with their updates. It for us to also try and catch them again.

“This is typical for F1. You have to be humble about it and realistic where you are. Not being disappointed or overexcited.”

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