Money. Music. Gasoline. Burnt rubber. Cooked brake-pads. Certain people are attuned to these things; just as others are attuned to color, or sound, or white truffles, or style. And every once in a blue moon the Venn diagram overlaps, all these things converge, and one finds oneself staring down the barrel of iconography. In this realm beasts do roam; and one of the unicorns roaming in this rarefied mist is, and arguably always has been, Aston Martin.
From a collaboration of two friends on the cusp of the Great War building racecars in Great Britain grew a national institution, nay a global obsession. Bamford & Martin was incorporated in 1913 and was always about going fast. By the time David Brown acquired it as Aston Martin in 1947, along with another marque called Lagonda and its racing engineers—including the fantastically talented W.O. Bentley (yes, that Bentley), it had built a lot of beautiful and fast cars.
With W.O.’s new V6 two-liter engine, Aston Martin launched the DB1 (named after Mr. Brown), and set the nomenclature for a litany of special DB cars; including the predecessor to Aston Martin’s first foray into Formula One, the eye-wateringly beautiful DBR4.
Roy Salvadori finished second in a DBR4 at Silverstone’s International Trophy race in May 1959, but that would be the high point of the campaign which ran from 1957 to 1959; and the brief and disappointing appearance of the DBR5 in 1960, with an 11th place finish by Maurice Trintignant at the British Grand Prix, marked the end of Aston Martin’s Formula One efforts. For the next 60 years.
Which brings us to Lawrence Stroll, the billionaire Canadian financier and Ferrari collector who acquired a sizable stake in Aston Martin Lagonda last year, following his purchase of the Force India Formula One team (later renamed Racing Point) in 2018. His vision is clear: “I’ve dreamed about this day for a very long time,” he said at the time of the Aston Martin deal. “I’ve always been a car guy and I’ve always loved racing, too. My first dream was to own a Formula One team. My second dream was to acquire a significant shareholding in Aston Martin Lagonda.”
Nor was this merely about one man’s quest for shiny things. Stroll immediately announced plans to remake Racing Point as Aston Martin’s first Formula One team in six decades. The new venture, now known as the Aston Martin Cognizant Formula 1 Team, was set to field its new car, the AMR21, at the first F1 race of the 2021 season in Bahrain at the end of March.
The AMR21, powered by a turbo-charged Mercedes-AMG F1 M12 E Performance engine with hybrid energy recovery, sports striking Aston Martin Racing Green livery in recognition of the marque’s traditional racing colors and glorious sporting legacy. It is, of course, also bedecked by a host of global partners, led by American IT giant Cognizant, with a magenta stripe down the side in reference to the team’s longstanding partner BWT.
As an Englishman in New York, I’d love nothing more than Aston Martin to hit the top of the charts in Formula One and for Stroll’s dreams to be fulfilled. Driving for Aston is Stroll’s son Lance and former Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel, winner of four consecutive World Drivers’ Championship titles from 2010 to 2013.
I’m hoping Aston Martin Lagonda CEO, Tobias Moers, is correct, and that the Aston Martin Formula One team will “become a dynamic and exciting innovation lab to drive forward future Aston Martin road car technologies and performance, which will truly differentiate Aston Martin not just aesthetically, but experientially, in the coming years.” As he says, “Aston Martin has always made beautiful cars. Now, as we begin a new era of Aston Martin in Formula One, we’ll bring more innovation and more performance.”
How exactly do they plan to make green great again? I consulted Otmar Szafnauer, CEO and Team Principal of Aston’s F1 effort, on the subject. Here are his thoughts:
You’ve said Aston Martin has “all the ingredients” to become a regular race-winning team in the coming seasons. What are they? Cash? Technical Capabilities? Innovation? Team Spirit?
Success in Formula One doesn’t come overnight, but our team is already a very good one—full of racers and very talented people. I often say that the people are our most valuable asset, and that’s true, but you also need to give them the tools and infrastructure. To win, you need to maximize every single area of the car and the team, because it’s those marginal gains that—when combined— can bring significant steps in performance. That’s why we are investing in all areas of the business to ensure we can challenge for regular race wins in the years ahead.
What is the secret sauce that converts the money into wins?
I think it’s knowing where to spend the money and spending it wisely—that’s ultimately what brings results. Spending strategically has been a strength of the [Racing Point] team in previous years when we had access to fewer resources compared to now. With every decision we make, we ask the question, “Will this make the car go faster?,” and that philosophy won’t change.
Why Vettel instead of up-and-coming talent? What is it that he brings to the table that no one else can?
Sebastian will bring a ton of winning expertise and experience to us, which will benefit our whole team. I’ve known him for a very long time and he’s famous for having a tremendous work ethic, which is something we have already seen in the two months he has been part of the team. Sebastian is as good and as fast as ever; what’s more, we’ll create an environment in which he feels comfortable and is able to deliver at his brilliant best.
What sort of fresh investment have the new shareholders made? In a world where the legendary McLaren team fell flat, seemingly as it couldn’t compete in the financial stakes, how will your team be different?
The shareholders have given us stability and the chance to invest in all areas of the business. This is a long-term investment for them, and over the past 18 months there have been a number of infrastructure projects underway, including overhauling our IT systems and adding computing power to our simulation tools. The commitment of our shareholders, especially Lawrence Stroll, is based on a passion for cars and a love of the sport, and it’s been transformational for everyone at [Aston Martin’s race testing and development hub] Silverstone. To have the Aston Martin name above the door shows incredible commitment, and their goal is to make this one of the greatest teams in Formula One.”
How different is this mentally going from Racing Point to what is morphing into the first Aston Martin Works team since 1960? Does it change anything in the approach and risk/reward profile you are putting into the mix to achieve results?
Representing the Aston Martin brand certainly elevates all of us. We want to do the name proud and there is understandably more attention and expectation on us to add to Aston Martin’s proud heritage in motorsport. I think the name gives us the platform to take this team to the next level because we are no longer simply the underdogs. We are [a] works team, with world-class drivers, and an impressive portfolio of global brands supporting us. It’s quite a change from Force India—just a few years ago—and we won’t lose that racing spirit, but the new identity is very empowering for all areas of the business.
What is the goal for 2021?
We are on a journey and I don’t want to throw any bold predictions or promises out there. Last year [Racing Point was] fourth in the championship and we want to move forward. But if you ask any of the other F1 teams the same question, they will give you the same answer, and we don’t underestimate the quality of the teams we are up against. However, we have the tools, the staff, the drivers, and partners to have a competitive season, but most of all we want to keep improving.
What do you need to do to win?
Winning is the ultimate goal for this team, but it won’t happen overnight, and the satisfaction will come from building up the team over the next few years to take gradual steps towards the very front of the grid. We won a race last year as Racing Point and I can tell you it’s a feeling like nothing else. It’s addictive and something we want to repeat in the future. Getting a taste of success last year shows that we are moving in the right direction.