If Aston Martin being a podium contender was on someone’s 2023 F1 bingo card, they probably would have been laughed out of the room.
And yet, that was the case for much of the season. After a noncompetitive 2022, Aston Martin came out of the gates with one of the most stable cars on the grid for 2023. The AMR23’s elegance through the corners sometimes even surpassed that of the mighty Red Bull.
To put in perspective the gain Aston Martin made, their qualifying time at the season opener in Bahrain was 2.4 seconds quicker than the previous season’s. This massive turnaround in performance led the way to multiple podiums in the early stages of 2023.
The main question would be if Aston Martin’s midseason development could keep up with Mercedes and Ferrari, two teams with more historic success and resources.
The answer was… not really.
Mercedes, Ferrari, and even McLaren surpassed Aston Martin by the halfway point of the season. They were still competing for points throughout the rest of the season, but it wasn’t enough. Aston Martin slid from second to fifth in the team standings by the end.
So what now?
Despite the midseason fall off, Aston Martin has still shown the ability to find podium-level performance over the offseason. That gives reason to be optimistic about the team’s starting point in 2024.
The elephant in the room, however, is the driver lineup.
At 42 years of age, Fernando Alonso was magnificent throughout 2023, extracting as much performance as possible out of the AMR23. He is back for another year, and will almost certainly keep the team relevant.
His teammate, however, is another story.
Lance Stroll has been in F1 since 2017. Since 2019, he has been driving for Aston Martin, the team his father Lawrence owns. Stroll has put up mediocre results in his time with the team. However, things fell off the rails in 2023.
While Alonso was out getting podiums, Stroll was fighting in the back of the points or retiring from the race. While Alonso was cruising to Q3 in qualifying, Stroll struggled to make it out of Q1.
Emotions boiled over for Stroll at times, who was seen shoving a team member after qualifying in Qatar. A general frustration was consistent during media availability.
Stroll’s underperformance played a key factor in Aston Martin’s stumble down the standings.
It creates an uncomfortable situation for Aston Martin going into 2024. Typically, a driver with such underperformance would be on the hot seat.. However, belief in the paddock is that Stroll has a contract with his father’s team for as long as he wants one.
If true, how long can Aston Martin sustain that? If Stroll is consistently bringing down the team, does Lawrence Stroll consider moving on from his son to find another driver?
It’s safe to say that things could get ugly if things repeat themselves.
If Stroll can at least perform in-line with the car’s capabilities, Aston Martin should have a fine 2024. Where the car is capable of running is anyone’s guess.
Aston Martin’s performance has seen much fluctuation over the past few seasons. And while last season’s gains may give them the benefit of the doubt, there’s no telling if another team might find more pace themselves.
The opportunity to sustain Aston Martin as a legitimate contender is at stake in 2024. It will be exciting to see how it unfolds.
Image courtesy of F1.com
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