Aston Martin Cognizant Formula One Team came out with a car in testing that showed a not insignificant array of changes compared to the Racing Point RP20 on which it was intended to be based. The team now possesses the innovative 2020 Mercedes rear suspension that is thought to have been a big player in Mercedes’ domination of last season – alongside the updated Mercedes gearbox and power unit.
Nonetheless, Aston Martin appear to have struggled so far this year with the blame so far put down to a lack of running in pre-season testing – with Sebastian Vettel racking up only 117 laps, the least of any driver over the 3 days. The team missed the best of the climatic conditions of the entire three day session on the afternoon of Day Three, with a turbo issue.
But performance wise, the car has been further away from the 3rd place team McLaren, than expected whereby the FP2 time sheets showed a 0.546 seconds gap to the front for Vettel (14th position). That doesn’t seem like a big gap at first glance but with the top 16 runners compacted into within 1 second of the ultimate pace, a delta of more than half a second could put the team on the fringes of regular Q2 eliminations.
Before testing, many believed that Mercedes and Aston Martin would benefit from the new regulation changes, chiefly focusing on the removal of a triangular cut-out of the floor. Both teams run low rake concepts where the rear diffuser is almost level in height with the front wing, with Racing Point switching from a customary high rake concept to a low rake car in 2020 dubbed the ‘Pink Mercedes’.
The idea of taking inspiration from the all-conquering 2019 Mercedes W10 was, in my opinion, a genius move at the time. The current regulations were supposed to conclude at the end of 2020, therefore Racing Point had nothing to lose by abandoning what they had learned over a few seasons after they were said to have ‘got stuck’ trying to develop their RP19 any further.
But then the pandemic forced the FIA to force through a continuation of the current rules for a further season. Meaning Racing Point/Aston Martin would have to unexpectedly develop and understand what they had for one more season, to try and stay competitive with their main rivals – the likes of McLaren, Ferrari and Alpine.
Pre-Season Testing seems to have revealed that high rake cars have responded a lot better to the changes to the floor (both concepts have been hit hard, but the overall loss of downforce is seemingly less for high rake runners). More air flow can be forced underneath a high rake package, creating a more substantial low pressure region between the car and the ground.
Aston Martin’s aero department have subsequently made extensive changes since Testing to what is left of the floor. A more angled cut out of the floor than was seen two weeks ago has appeared on both cars, teamed with a straightened edge to the floor where it angles towards the inside edge of the rear tyre. The group of vanes atop the floor appear to have been increased in number and a singular large flap has been split into several vanes.
The changes are promising, but Vettel feels ‘there’s still a lot left on the table just to be able to get used to the car and being able to squeeze the limit’, reporting that the car still ‘feels a bit up and down’.
Out on track the car was said to look less convincing than other midfielders especially in the hands of Vettel. Lance Stroll looked more at home but perhaps that is to be expected from the one half of the pairing who drove the RP19 and RP20.
Overall the team are not where they would have hoped to start the season at, but that’s mostly down to limiting factors outside of their control. In addition, a brilliantly close midfield group potentially lays emphasis not only on when teams turn their development focus to 2022, but on driver skill – Aston Martin’s is arguably the most interesting driver pairing who may be a lot more comparable pace-wise than first thought. Therefore it would be foolish to count the Silverstone team out of the fight for 3rd just yet, but it’s fair to say that McLaren and AlphaTauri are the favourites.