KEEPER OF THE FLAME

Matt Becker is the man charged with shap­ing the driv­ing dy­nam­ics of a new gen­er­a­tion of As­tons

VANTAGE - - Interview Matt Becker - WORDS RICHARD MEADEN PHOTOGRAPHY GUS GRE­GORY

THEREWASANOTHER Aston present at our Good­wood ‘great­est’ gath­er­ing. As a con­sum­mate mod­ern Grand Tourer, the DB11 didn’t fit the ex­act­ing brief of our cover story but, ac­cord­ing to Aston Martin’s chief en­gi­neer, Matt Becker, it most def­i­nitely points to what we can ex­pect from Gay­don’s next gen­er­a­tion of driv­ers’ cars.

Ar­chi­tect and guardian of Aston’s ‘ve­hi­cle at­tributes’, Becker is the man with ul­ti­mate re­spon­si­bil­ity for shap­ing the char­ac­ter and ca­pa­bil­i­ties of the DB11, the all-new Van­tage re­place­ment, the Van­quish suc­ces­sor and, yes, even the AM-RB 001. There’s no one bet­ter to ex­plain what makes an Aston feel and per­form like an Aston. Or how the DNA of a pure, ana­logue master­piece like the DB4 GT can be pre­served, trans­lated and suc­cess­fully ap­plied to cars with an al­most to­tal re­liance on elec­tron­ics.

‘When I ar­rived here, Andy Palmer was very clear on the prod­uct ob­jec­tives,’ he be­gins. ‘The first was that there should be a clear vis­ual dif­fer­ence be­tween the cars. The sec­ond that they drive like they look. That bit’s my job!

‘Fun­da­men­tally, we have a shared phi­los­o­phy of what makes an Aston an Aston and we have con­fi­dence in the qual­i­ties and iden­tity that this gives our prod­ucts. It’s also about the skills we have within the com­pany, and how we use the tech­nol­ogy avail­able to us. The brand is huge, but in the grand scheme of things Aston Martin is a small team of peo­ple do­ing big things. That means ev­ery­one is work­ing flat-out, but it also means there’s a con­sis­tency and con­ti­nu­ity be­tween mod­els, and in­deed suc­ces­sive gen­er­a­tions of model, that you can’t achieve in a huge

com­pany with dif­fer­ent teams work­ing on dif­fer­ent mod­els. That’s why, what­ever the de­vel­op­ment stage, we al­ways make sure we have a GT, a “su­per GT” and a “sports” model to drive back-to-back to gauge whether we’re di­alling-in enough dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion be­tween the cars.

‘With a GT car like the DB11 you don’t want to feel ev­ery­thing and you don’t want it to ask too many ques­tions of you, be­cause you want to be able to drive long dis­tances and feel re­freshed. With su­per-gt and sports cars, we dial more feel into them, be­cause the driv­ers want to be more con­nected and to push harder to find the lim­its of grip.

‘The tra­di­tional way we achieve this is to look at bush stiff­ness, spring rates, dam­per rates, anti-roll bar con­tri­bu­tion and tyres. Plus we now have the soft­ware that con­trols the damp­ing, EPAS [elec­tric power-as­sisted steer­ing] and torque vec­tor­ing. We have all these tools that en­able us to turn-up the feel fac­tor so you get more in­for­ma­tion to your fin­ger­tips and seat of your pants.’

Becker ac­knowl­edges that if you make the car more com­mu­nica­tive, then you in­evitably sac­ri­fice an el­e­ment of com­fort. ‘If you want to have less roll in a car you have to have higher spring stiff­ness and higher anti-roll bar stiff­ness,’ he says, ‘be­cause at the end of the day you’re man­ag­ing physics. If you chart the el­e­ments of han­dling and ride, han­dling will be im­proved and ride will be sac­ri­ficed. To­day’s tech­nol­ogy means we can cheat that to a de­gree, but it’s al­ways a tug of war.

‘With cars like the DBX [Aston’s hy­brid cross­over] and AM-RB 001 hy­per­car, that tug of war is pulling Aston Martin in en­tirely new di­rec­tions. How can you en­gi­neer Aston-ness into cars in­tended to ex­ist way be­yond the bound­aries of what’s gone be­fore?

‘The DBX is in­ter­est­ing, be­cause the tech fit­ted to SUVS these days is in­dus­try-lead­ing. You’ve got ac­tive dif­fer­en­tials, proper torque-vec­tor­ing, ac­tive roll con­trol, ac­tive rear-steer, hugely so­phis­ti­cated ac­tive damp­ing. It can’t over­come the physics of a heavy car with a high cen­tre-of-grav­ity, but it can man­age and mit­i­gate it to the point where you can cre­ate a gen­uinely sporty car in a man­ner that wouldn’t have been pos­si­ble a few years ago.

‘It’s very hard to com­pare dif­fer­ent mod­els across our range, but again, if you as­sume DB11 is a base­line, the Van­quish suc­ces­sor will be 20 per cent more sporty, the new Van­tage 40 per cent more. The Van­tage is a very dif­fer­ent kind of car. Yes, it will share some fun­da­men­tal un­der­pin­nings and ar­chi­tec­ture with DB11, but it will be a much smaller, more ag­gres­sive, more in­tense car, and tuned very dif­fer­ently.

‘We have a term called “roll-per- g”, which is how much roll an­gle you have per 1g of lat­eral ac­cel­er­a­tion. It’s a met­ric you can use for set­ting up spring-rates and anti-roll bar con­tri­bu­tion. So DB11 is around 3deg-per- g, new Van­quish will be around 2.5deg and Van­tage around 2.2g. Any re­duc­tion in roll-per- g means the car feels flat­ter, more ag­ile and more re­spon­sive. The dif­fer­ence sounds small, but the cars will feel very dif­fer­ent in char­ac­ter.

‘Van­tage will have a solidly mounted rear sub­frame, whereas DB11 has an iso­lated rear frame for im­proved ride com­fort and road iso­la­tion. So Van­tage will have greater stiff­ness in the rear struc­ture, so we can give it a faster steer­ing re­sponse be­cause the rear is more able to re­spond and re­act. It all helps cre­ate a truly ag­ile, ex­cit­ing car.’

Prior to his role at Aston Martin, Becker held the same po­si­tion at Lo­tus, where he worked on pretty much ev­ery model, from S1 Elise to Evora, in­cud­ing the still­born Esprit su­per­car, not to men­tion for many of Lo­tus Engi­neer­ing’s clients. How did this pre­pare him for life at Aston?

‘I’ve al­ways worked with the be­lief that you can get com­fort and body con­trol if you do things a cer­tain way. That was the phi­los­o­phy at Lo­tus. The cars are very dif­fer­ent here at Aston Martin, but that goal of com­pli­ant ride and ag­ile han­dling is equally valid. More so, prob­a­bly.

‘If you speak to Adrian [Newey], he’ll tell you he tries to vi­su­alise air­flow. Well, I sup­pose I try to do the same thing with how a car drives. When­ever I first think about a car, I have it in my head al­most im­me­di­ately how it should feel and be­have. Then when I drive it I know straight away how close it is to achiev­ing that. I drive de­vel­op­ment cars and feed back to the engi­neers ex­actly how I want it to feel. We’re a strong team. Well aligned on how As­tons should feel, and to­tally fo­cused on mak­ing cars that are all dis­tinctly dif­fer­ent char­ac­ters, but all great to drive.’

It all points to a bright fu­ture. One filled with mod­els that build on our ex­pec­ta­tions, along­side brave new gen­res that demon­strate the mar­que’s abil­ity to move with the times. That prod­uct plan is sure to chal­lenge a tra­di­tion­al­ist view of what an Aston Martin should be, but, thanks to Becker, it seems Aston’s dy­namic DNA is safe hands.

V

Right Ex-lo­tus man Becker with a DB11 – the first model to ben­e­fit from his ex­per­tise in the art of ride and han­dling

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