Is Aston Martin Sebastian Vettel’s best chance at F1 title since Red Bull?


Can Aston Martin return Sebastian Vettel to his title-winning best?

Sebastian Vettel, Aston Martin test 2021

Vettel will embark on a new chapter with Aston Martin in 2021

Aston Martin F1 Team

2021 will be Sebastian Vettel’s eighth season without a world championship win, barring anything miraculous.

But in moving from Ferrari to Aston Martin, could he be edging closer to a fifth title, rather than gliding to retirement?

On the face of it, Vettel is moving from Ferrari, a team that may have struggled last year but which is expected to make significant gains in 2021, to a midfield outfit that runs with hand-me-down parts from Mercedes.

It was one of the biggest surprises in last year’s driver market, following Vettel’s ejection from Ferrari. But with age, the transfer may just turn out to be a masterstroke by the German.

Last year the four-time champion looked a world apart from the driver that had Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton sweating in 2018. It was the closest we’ve come to a non-Mercedes champion since the turbo-hybrid era began but the Ferrari-Vettel relationship only deteriorated from there.

Now though he’s at a team on the up, which is targeting nothing less than championship titles. In its previous incarnation of Racing Point, that might have raised a few eyebrows. But now that it’s owned by a consortium led by billionaire Lawrence Stroll and sponsored by Aston Martin, Vettel finds himself at the centre of an increasingly credible project.

The team certainly looked the part of championship contender with its car reveal a week ago. The return of Aston Martin to Formula 1 after 70 years was made into an elaborate event, complete with as much pageantry as you could fit into an online reveal.

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Actor Gemma Arterton hosted the event and a cameo appearance of current Bond actor Daniel Craig fit the bill, but wasn’t the only one. Fresh from (another) Super Bowl success, Tampa Bay quarterback Tom Brady passed along his well wishes to the team ahead of the season. But is Aston Martin really capable of giving its own MVP a shot at the title?

There was much to be said about the ‘Tracing Point’ from 2020, a close imitation of the Mercedes W10 championship winner (that prompted a rewriting of the rules to prevent copying on such a level again) provided the basis that helped the team to its best result of the current engine era, but its ambition is way beyond respectable finishes year after year.

“The team who designed and built our new Aston Martin Cognizant Formula 1 car – the 500 men and women who conceive, manufacture, build and prepare our cars so that we can go racing at the pinnacle of global motorsport – has always punched above its weight,” Aston Executive Chairman Lawrence Stroll said at the team’s launch.

“I’m not too old. Last year it’s not a secret I was not at my happiest. This year I’m very much looking forward”

“Now, as the Aston Martin Cognizant F1 Team, it has the power with which to punch even harder. This is just the beginning. The team is pushing forward, and our ambitions are limitless. We now have the pieces in place, the people and the partners, to make real progress.”

The team has wasted no time putting the Canadian mogul’s resources to use. A new factory is already under construction and will be operational by August 2022 according to team principal Otmar Szafnauer. It’s now adding a driver with 13 years of experience at the sharp end, at least half of those spent fighting for a world title.

“Bringing someone in like Seb with the experience that he has, he knows how to win races, he knows how to win world championships,” Szafnauer explained to Sky Sports F1.

“He’s still a young man and he hasn’t forgotten how to drive a Formula 1 car fast. He’s got a great work ethic. We and he leave no stone unturned looking for performance so I think with all those qualities it’s exactly what this team needed.”

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Vettel himself says he still has the belief that he’s capable of putting together another championship season.

“I’m not too old, there is now older drivers joining the grid, rather than younger drivers,” the German said at the launch last week, before delivering a not-so-subtle dig at his former team.

“I don’t think it’s an age thing. I think it’s more a question of, do you have the car and the team around you? Last year it’s not a secret I was not at my happiest. This year I’m very much looking forward.”

And so he has switched to a team that out-performed Ferrari on a fraction of the budget last season, admittedly partly as a result of Ferrari’s engine troubles.

“With a vital tweak of the 2020 Merc’s rear suspension – which was absolutely key in the performance gains Mercedes found from the year before – Aston Martin is the team with the biggest potential for improvement this year,” Mark Hughes surmised for Motor Sport ahead of the AMR21 reveal.

“An update that moves even more stability onto the rear end sounds like exactly the sort of car in which Vettel can begin to rebuild his reputation”

“The suspension upgrade comes free of the development token spend that each team is restricted to in order to contain costs during the pandemic. At Aston, those tokens can thereby be spent on other performance aspects of the car.

“An update that moves even more stability onto the rear end sounds like exactly the sort of car in which Vettel can begin to rebuild his reputation.”

Those tokens have been spent on updating its chassis for ’21, resulting in a car that has been upgraded to a greater extent than other teams were permitted.

That provides it another advantage heading into 2022, which brings a new set of regulations. Teams with a fast car at the start of this year can switch more of their efforts to next year’s car earlier in an attempt to begin the new era in front.

Sebastian Vettel, Aston Martin test 2021

Vettel got his first feel of the AMR21 at Silverstone last week

Aston Martin F1 Team

The team that has been F1’s perennial overperformer will no longer be operating on a shoestring budget in the coming years, though its time punching-upward might actually become a benefit now that a budget cap is in place.

Getting the best out of limited resources and personnel will become ever more crucial and there has arguably been no team better at that than the Silverstone-based operation.

The larger teams are restructuring as a result of the budget cap: minimising headcount while trying to retain as many key staff as possible. That is something Aston Martin has been doing season after season.

Does that make it the best-positioned team ahead of the new regulations that will be introduced next year? It’s unlikely but Formula 1 has thrown up bigger surprises.

What is clear though is that as far as title-winning moves go, there has been a concerted effort to build up a capable team and under future rules of engagement, there aren’t many better seats to hold approaching the new era.

Sergio Perez proved that the team and car can on occasion be one of the stand-out packages in the field. Imagine what a motivated Vettel could do with a team behind him.