While the German team is still contending for the title, the Canadian-owned team is struggling to find pace
By Olivia Kairu
Aston Martin, formerly Racing Point, is at the centre of another controversy.
But if last year they were under fire for being too good too quick while displaying huge similarities to the Mercedes car, this time around they find themselves at the other end of the spectrum, having to deal with a lacklustre 2021 challenger.
After two races, Aston Martin was only able to add five points to the standings. All of them with Lance Stroll. The lack of pace and results led the team, owned by Canadian billionaire Lawrence Stroll, to feel significantly disadvantaged by the aerodynamic regulations introduced by the FIA at the start of the 2021 season.
Team Principal Otmar Szafnauer plans on initiating discussions with the federation with hopes for regulation changes that would work to bridge the gap between low rake and high rake cars. “I think that’s the right thing to do. We as a team have to work hard to try and claw back everything we can. But at the same time, we should be having the discussions with the FIA to make it a bit more equitable.”
But what changed in the rules to cause such a dip in performance?
Low rake vs. High rake
Racing teams across the grid have adopted high rake designs since its debut with Red Bull’s 2011 RB7 car. The higher rear end angle enables cars to generate more downforce from the floor and the diffuser than Mercedes and Aston Martin, the only teams using a lower rake angle.
Instead, these two teams run a low rake angle due to a longer wheelbase that creates more floor volume, allowing the diffuser to increase airflow just enough for the car to generate high downforce.
The other eight teams’ decision to run high rake is due to the tricky circumstances that come about from running low rake. With the large floor volume, low rake cars have the potential to lose downforce if they are unable to seal the large gaps of volume on the car floor and floor edges.
Then came 2021. Every team had to trim their car floors to generate less downforce and extend the current Pirelli tires lifespan in a year, since the new cars supposed to be introduced in 2021 got pushed back a season due to the pandemic.
For Mercedes and Aston Martin, losing the floor edges they depend on for downforce generation was a huge hit. It put a damper on their performance as both teams are now unable to seal the floor edges, therefore having less downforce.
The German team took a hit in performance, but it still able to compete for the drivers’ and constructors’ championships. Matter of fact, Mercedes is leading them both as of now, even if Red Bull seems to have the upper hand at the moment and have a realistic shot at the trophies since they last won them in 2013.
Aston Martin, on the other hand, is struggling. They finished fourth in 2020, but are only showing up in sixth place in the standings now.
“I think we suspected that everyone would take a big hit from the regulation changes, that’s how it is for everyone. But when we turned up at first race we definitely saw we have been affected much more than the competition,” said Canadian driver Lance Stroll.
“There are characteristics between the two philosophies and it turned out we lost a lot of (downforce) load relative to the higher rake cars with the regulation changes. That is grip, and that is lap time.”
So, why don’t Aston Martin adapt the car into a high rake concept then? It’s not that simple.
Since both Mercedes and Aston Martin’s car compositions work based on the low rake angle concept, to change it would open the door to many other significant problems. Fighting the regulations really is the last and probably only resort Aston Martin has at salvaging the 2021 season.
To move in that direction with the season underway, however, is most likely fighting for something that can’t be achieved. Especially when rival teams are doing their best to attack Aston Martin’s intentions.
“The rules have changed for safety reasons and Mercedes has managed to come up with a good car. They (Aston Martin) should just make sure they get the same information from Mercedes. After all, this is a Mercedes”, said Red Bull advisor Helmut Marko alluding to the similarities between both cars.
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner also dismissed Aston Martin’s complaints. “Aston Martin or Racing Point would have had to vote for (the new rules) before being passed through the Formula 1 Commission and the World Council. They were all voted through unanimously,” he said.
“It seems a little naive to think that suddenly the rules are going to get changed after the sample of a single race after the process has been fully followed. I’m struggling to get my head around that.”
Mattia Binotto and Franz Tost, Ferrari and AlphaTauri team principals, have also criticized Aston Martin’s intentions.
This leaves Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff as Szafnauer’s only ally again. “I think there is certainly the right to review, to look at things and discuss them with the FIA to find out what has actually happened, and how have things happened. That’s why I respect Aston Martin’s enquiry into the whole thing,” Wolff said.
He further stated that he felt the regulations may have been targeted at Mercedes, leaving Aston Martin as “collateral damage,” as the German team may have lost its dominance but it still able to contend for the title.
After a strong 2020 season, Aston Martin looked eager to keep improving under its new name and colours and by adding four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel to its rankings. But the unexpected hit the new regulations represented to the team wasn’t on the plans.
Before 2022 comes about and shuffles the grid’s pecking order, the Canadian-owned team has to deal with a new challenge. Just another one for a team that recently went from Force India to Racing Point and now Aston Martin and even faced administration, and not the last one if they are ever to make it to the very top of the grid.