Lawrence Stroll has been in charge of the Aston Martin team for nearly four years now, and despite the bigger plans the team is really only going downhill. We list the progress of the team since the resumption.
Vijay Mallya has enjoyed great success as the owner of Force India. The Indian took over the Spyker team at the end of 2007 for 88 million euros and gave the Silverstone-based team India’s national license. 2008 was the first year for the team, with zero points and tenth place. However, under Mallya’s leadership, the team would grow.
In all areas, the team has outdone itself. There were fewer financial resources available than any other team, but by working smart the team even climbed to fourth place among constructors in 2016 and 2017. Under team boss Otmar Szafnauer and from technical boss Andrew Green, they played optimally with the available resources.
In 2018, the team did a little less well on all fronts. Renault and Haas had started the season slightly better, leaving the team in sixth place among manufacturers (after the Hungarian GP). However, the biggest concerns were Mallya, who was accused of fraud and loan fabrication. He can no longer lead Force India and the team is placed in receivership.
The acquisition of Stroll
The racing stable for which Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez were active at the time nearly sank, but was saved by Lawrence Stroll and his consortium. As Racing Point Force India the season ended, after which the team used the name Racing Point in 2019 and also resumed racing under British nationality.
The team would end up finishing seventh in the Championship as points from before the summer break no longer counted, but the combined number showed the team were still among the under-tops. Indeed, with a total of 111 points, the team would have finished in fifth place.
It was in this situation that Stroll found the team. Fifth place and a solid position in the under-top. Since then, however, things have gone downhill. In 2019, the first real season with Stroll at the helm, the biggest change was the arrival of Lance Stroll. While Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez were a close game and brought many points to the team, the Mexican was now regularly alone. He scored 52 points, but the Canadian only managed 21, leaving the team with a total of 73 points and seventh place in the constructors’ standings.
In the coronavirus-infested 2020 season, the team again proved to be very innovative. The “pink Mercedes” wasn’t a brilliant piece of engineering, but it interpreted the rules cleverly. Racing Point bought everything allowed in the rules from Mercedes and simply copied the rest of the 2019 championship-winning car. Since the rules remained the same, it turned out to be a winning formula. Despite many protests, the team thus finished in fourth place among the constructors. Perez, with 125 points, was again the man with the most points. Stroll trailed far behind with 75 points.
A figurehead for Aston Martin
Despite having the most points, the best performance in qualifying and a first win for the team, Perez was dropped at the last minute. The Mexican had signed a contract with the team, but Stroll used a clause in his contract to break it. Stroll wanted to bring in a figurehead with Sebastian Vettel and had no intention of dumping his son. Vettel became the new figurehead of Aston Martin, as the team would be called, because the unique British brand had meanwhile also become a jewel of the wealthy businessman.
The combination of new rules and a new driver line-up didn’t turn out to be a good move for the team. With the new regulations, Aston Martin had to come up with a new car and because of the copying from the previous year, their knowledge of the cars turned out to be less. However, these were mocked after 2020 by many of their competitors.
However, despite the arrival of a four-time world champion, Vettel’s arrival was also questionable. He too scored more points than Stroll (43-34) and qualified ahead of the Canadian more often than the other way around, but the gap was much smaller than it had been during the period with Perez . So the question for many was what would have been possible if Sergio had always been behind the wheel.
In 2022 there was a huge opportunity for Aston Martin. With a whole new set of aero regulations, this was where the team could once again show what they were capable of. It was precisely in situations like this that the team had been so good in the past (2010, 2014 and 2017) and then there was now a budget cap. Where Force India managed to beat teams in the past that could spend a lot more, with the help of Stroll and the budget cap, they could now spend that much.
The interference of the CEO
However, more money does not always mean more success. The team’s AMR22 is barely drivable and a place in the middle of the pack is not even an option anymore. The British team drives stiffly at the back, with Williams. The team’s biggest opportunity actually pushed them back further.
The owner’s son, who had to be retained for the team at all costs, was also exposed in the early stages of the season. Vettel was unable to compete due to a corona infection, but after a year and a half without an F1 car, reserve driver Nico Hulkenberg managed to qualify faster than Stroll.
Internal unrest is also increasing. Otmar Szafnauer left slamming doors. The hit team boss did not name Lawrence, but he said he could no longer deal with management micromanagement. He left, with major sponsor BWT, for the French company Alpine.
This micromanagement that Szafnauer talks about is not the first time it has been noticed. In the Netflix series Drive to Survive, it was also revealed that Lawrence had a big finger in the team’s cake and from various sources Ralf Schumacher also knew that Stroll was now even joining the team’s tech talks. Given that the Schumachers are very good friends with Vettel, it wouldn’t be surprising if his source was very close to the fire.
Due to this turmoil and poor performance, Vettel’s future is also uncertain. The German embarked on the adventure at Aston Martin to lead a team to the top, but can notice himself that with Stroll at the helm it will not work. The German’s contract expires at the end of 2022 and it remains to be seen if he wants to stay with the team.
A factory worthy of F1, but not trustworthy
In the background, Stroll is working to make Aston Martin a top team. He gave his agreement for the construction of a new factory which will be operational in 2023. This will contain the latest technologies, including a new wind tunnel that stands out. In addition, high-level people are being removed from Mercedes, Red Bull Racing and other competitors to lead the new project, and the number of employees will increase significantly in the coming years to reach the top level.
While Stroll shows with these picks that he knows how to run a business, he also provides an ideal example of why an owner shouldn’t be too emotionally involved in the day-to-day running of the business. He should know better. Choose the right people, give them trust and resources and in time the team will be there. This confidence and this time, however, he does not give.
Stroll would rather build a successful team for his son today than tomorrow, but that’s not how it works in F1. Now a team leader is leaving, but in the future it could also be a top technical manager who doesn’t want the CEO to interfere with his designs. The fact that the composition of the pilots is not optimal will also not motivate the mechanics and the engineers.
From a team that was able to function optimally in difficult circumstances, Stroll has, in a much more ideal world with a budget cap and new rules, ensured that his team was under high stress and no longer efficient. From an under-top team, Aston Martin has now become a back-maker team. Stroll has figured out the basics of success, but if you keep shaking the tree daily, you’re left with few who can do their job successfully.
This article was originally written by Tim Kraaij for the Dutch edition of GPblog.