Tests offer few definitive answers, but after three days of Formula 1 racing in Bahrain, Aston Martin is the team that has the least to offer us in terms of shape prediction.
We can rest assured that Aston Martin’s ninth place in the rankings in both headline lap time and mileage is not fair read despite the unanswered questions.
Since the turbocharger problems prevented Sebastian Vettel from taking part in the final stages of the test drives when the fastest times were being set, there should be a lot more.
But how much is not certain, even by the vague standards of the tests.
“Of course we had more laps on all three days, so not everything went according to plan,” said Vettel.
“Where are we? I think that’s very difficult to say in terms of competitiveness. We haven’t done many other people’s runs for a little comparison.
“But I don’t think that’s that important, because we’ll find out in two weeks anyway, so everything’s fine for you from now on [the media], two weeks of speculation, so of course we’ll see that. But in two weeks we really see the pecking order.
“I can still improve a lot and we can still improve a lot. Of course we still have to learn a lot about the car, the set-up and so on. But I think everyone is in the same position because with three days of running it’s impossible to get everything in.
“So I think the first few races will be a steep learning curve for us – especially for me – but we’ll take it from there.”
As for the speculation Vettel mentions, it is worth considering whether Aston Martin is facing some of the same problems that Mercedes is facing. After all, Aston Martin shares an aerodynamic concept with Mercedes and many non-aerodynamic parts.
There weren’t any obvious signs of the same instability issues at the rear, but it’s frustrating that it wasn’t possible to see Vettel in action on some fast laps last afternoon. Vettel himself described the lack of a push round in terms of his personal preparation as “a box that we did not tick” – although he described the test as “positive” overall.
The combination of an uncompromising driving style, a transmission problem that also cost Vettel track time on the second morning, and the tricky conditions mean that perhaps even the team itself does not fully understand its new car.
Given the Mercedes rear of 2020 with the suspension pulled backwards with the “folded down” lower wishbone, there will have been significant aerodynamic effects on the rear. Given the changes to the Floor Rules, twice as much.
Lance Stroll is best placed by the two riders to assess how much the machine’s driving experience has changed. While positive about the car, he admitted that the conditions made it difficult to draw conclusions about the rear of the car, although he did point out that the car felt similar to last year’s.
“It’s hard to get a real sense of some of the changes we’ve made to the rear,” said Stroll when asked by The Race how the car felt. “There is a lot of data to see and things to find out for the first race.
“But the wind was such a big factor that it really made one turn to the next so different and very unpredictable. With these 25 km / h winds that we have, where you feel the headwind you only feel a lot of grip and where you have a tailwind you feel no grip. “
If Aston Martin struggles with the same problems as Mercedes, it will be a test of the technical team to solve them. Amid the controversy surrounding the “Pink Mercedes” last year, it is often overlooked that what was then called Racing Point did an impressive job of achieving a concept it hadn’t conceived.
But if the low-rake concept with the changed aerodynamic rules causes problems in the harness, Aston Martin has to fix the errors itself. Having found a similar solution to the changed ground rules independently of Mercedes, the team’s aerodynamic understanding is likely good enough to take on the challenge.
The other question is whether the reliability issues with testing are a continuation of the issues Aston Martin had last year. It had seven retirements thanks to mechanical issues, including the late failure of Sergio Perez, which cost him third place at the Bahrain Grand Prix (where he finished 18th). That was one factor in his losing third place in the championship to McLaren, who had only three retirements and one non-start.
“The engine is the Mercedes and the transmission comes from Mercedes, but it is still installed in our car, so that many components get mixed up at some point,” says Vettel when asked whether the problem is with the engine, the supplier or the team.
“Ultimately it will be more on one side, but that doesn’t matter. It has to get repaired. They work together because whatever you buy from the outside you have to fit our car and get it to work. “
There is no doubt that Aston Martin will be in the tight midfield for the GP weekend in Bahrain.
Whether the best Aston Martin will compete in the third or seventh row – or somewhere in between – cannot be said, given the uncertainty about his pace and the relative lack of running of star driver Vettel.