As­ton’s big F1 ad­ven­ture



AS­TON MARTIN DOESN’T ex­actly have a glit­ter­ing track record in For­mula 1, but it does have great am­bi­tions at the high­est level of mo­tor­sport. And those am­bi­tions are slowly tak­ing tan­gi­ble form in the shape of an ever-closer part­ner­ship with Red Bull Racing.

A tech­ni­cal part­ner­ship be­tween the two is al­ready bear­ing fruit in the form of the Valkyrie hy­per­car. And, for 2018, As­ton Martin has be­come the ti­tle spon­sor of the Red Bull F1 team. But in fu­ture years it may be far more than just the As­ton name that fea­tures on the grid.

As­ton Martin CEO Andy Palmer has gone on record as say­ing that As­ton will ‘prob­a­bly’ en­ter F1 as an en­gine sup­plier in 2021 – if pro­pos­als to re­duce costs are adopted by the sport’s gov­ern­ing body.

The plans for a new en­gine for­mula from 2021 are aimed at open­ing the sport up to more en­gine builders and car com­pa­nies, while in­creas­ing rel­e­vance to road cars. The plan is to re­tain a 1.6-litre V6 turbo hy­brid, but re­move the part of the hy­brid that re­cov­ers en­ergy from the turbo and mutes the sound. The en­gines will also be al­lowed to run 3000rpm faster to im­prove their sound. If As­ton does build an en­gine – ei­ther by it­self or with Cos­worth – it would help po­si­tion it as a di­rect com­peti­tor to Mclaren and Ferrari in the mar­ket for mid-en­gined su­per­cars, the first of which is cur­rently in de­vel­op­ment.

But that’s for the fu­ture. Last year saw ma­jor changes in F1, in­tro­duc­ing wider, faster and more dra­matic cars. De­spite a strong fin­ish to the sea­son, with Max Ver­stap­pen win­ning two of the last six races, Red Bull was of­ten off the pace with its un­der­pow­ered Re­nault en­gine. For 2018, the team has what’s said to be a vastly im­proved Re­nault V6, which it hopes will put it back in ti­tle con­tention with Mercedes and Ferrari.

The new RB14 – an evo­lu­tion of last year’s RB13 – had an early out­ing for a pre-sea­son film­ing ses­sion at Sil­ver­stone in mid-fe­bru­ary. Per­haps not sur­pris­ingly, track con­di­tions were less than ideal, and it was later re­ported that Vert­sap­pen’s team-mate Daniel Ric­cia­rdo had crashed the car dur­ing the ses­sion.

But Ric­cia­rdo de­clared him­self more than happy with his first go in the new car. ‘It’s al­ways hard to tell from a few laps but the ini­tial feel­ing is good. It’s not do­ing any­thing that scares me and I can al­ready feel that the rear of the car feels pretty set­tled, even in th­ese poor con­di­tions. Those are en­cour­ag­ing early signs.’

The car was wear­ing a spe­cial liv­ery for the film­ing ses­sion, not the paint scheme it will wear when the sea­son starts, but the ac­tual lines and shapes are there to stay, in­clud­ing the manda­tory new ‘halo’ de­signed to pro­tect driv­ers in an ac­ci­dent. Driver opin­ion has been split on the new de­vice, but Ric­cia­rdo said it caused him no prob­lems. ‘I can see fine,’ he said. ‘It’s a small chal­lenge, but we’ll get over it.’

The sea­son starts with the Aus­tralian Grand Prix in Mel­bourne, March 23-25.

Left and be­low The As­ton Martin name will be on the F1 grid this year as ti­tle spon­sor of the Red Bull team: this is the new RB14, com­plete with driver ‘halo’ but not yet in its full race liv­ery. Daniel Ric­cia­rdo (be­low) will team up with Max Ver­stap­pen once again

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