Dubai: Aston Martin will make their historic return to the Formula One scene this season after an absence of more than 60 years, and this week unveiled the new AMR21 car the team hope will get them off to a flying start.
With four-time world F1 champion Sebastian Vettel joining the ever-improving Lance Stroll behind the wheel of the two Aston Martin Cognizant Formula One Team’s AMR21s, the Silverstone-based British team are gearing up for an instant impact on the grid. Executive Chairman Lawrence Stroll said the team’s return to F1 was an “important event in automotive history”, as they roll out at Bahrain to embark on a new journey in their first F1 car since Maurice Trintignant’s DBR5 crossed the finish line at Silverstone in 1960.
The new AMR21 is a far cry from that car from 60 years ago, now powered by a turbocharged Mercedes engine with hybrid energy recovery, and should certainly turn a few heads during a full test programme at Bahrain on March 12-14, ahead of the Bahrain Grand Prix on March 28.
Speaking to Gulf News, Team Principal Otmar Szafnauer echoed Stroll Snr’s sentiments as he was eager to get rolling.
“It’s quite inspirational to get a marque like Aston Martin back on to the Formula One grid after 60-plus years and we’re all honoured here at Silverstone to have the opportunity to work really hard at making an extremely competitive car as an Aston Martin for 2021,” he said.
“I’m very excited to take it to our competition and I’m also very excited with the new driver line-up that we will have this year. We’re really hoping to continue on the same path that we left off last year (as Racing Point). The penultimate race, we won, and we had some very good performances toward the end of last year, and we hope that this year continues on that same path and that we’ll be fighting for podiums from the start of the season.”
Szafnauer added that it will be tough to call where Aston Martin will fit in among the contenders, as midfield teams have improvedHowever, as Racing Point finished fourth last season, he said they would like to be looking at the teams ahead of them — McLaren (3rd) and even Red Bull (2nd) — and take the competition to them.
“It was very, very competitive in the midfield last year, I see the same thing happening this year,” he said. “Towards the beginning of last year I think we were closer to Red Bull than toward the end. They seem to traditionally develop quicker in the season than the conception and not so much over the winter. So my anticipation is that if we come out as strong as we finished last year and we’ve done a good job over the winter, we should be a little bit closer to Red Bull but I anticipate those teams around us, McLaren, Ferrari, Renault, they’ll all do a good job over the winter.”
Moving on to COVID-19, Szafnauer says valuable lessons were learnt in 2020 and he is confident that the full 2021 calendar will be completed — with fans at later races including debutant Saudi Arabia and season-ender Abu Dhabi.
“I do anticipate fans to be back in the second half of the year,” he said. “I think in the first half of the year, I’m not so sure. Even last year we had fans at a couple of the races, not full grandstand but a significant amount of fans, 40,000 plus at some of the venues, and I think there will be more of that this year.”
Szafnauer claims Vettel’s experience is an invaluable addition as his suggestions on how to improve tiny things will help them get faster and faster. “I think Aston Martin, the name itself, will command on-track performance and I can assure you Sebastian Vettel is only doing this for one reason and that’s to win again. He pushes like mad for on track performance,” he said. “That to us isn’t really pressure. Because this team has always been about that.”
“All we do is work to make sure that car goes faster,” he said. “Every minute of every day, to make sure we make that car go faster and Vettel brings us ways to shave of hundredths here and there and also practice routines — like how to restart while leading a race — which we maybe had not considered before. Speed is what the Aston Martin name commands and for sure that’s what Sebastian pushes us toward.”