At the start of the 2021 season, there was much hype in the F1 paddock as Aston Martin was returning to the field for the first time in decades. It was taking over the quietly excellent Racing Point team and, in a flashy launch hosted by actress Gemma Arterton, said it had some pretty lofty goals for the years ahead. But after a pretty bland 2021 season, this year hasn’t gotten off to the best start for James Bond’s favorite race team.
Like every team up and down the paddock, Aston Martin was hoping that the sweeping rule changes in 2022 would offer a blank slate.
And, ahead of the season opener, the whisperings were positive at Aston Martin. Reserve driver Niko Hulkenberg warned that his squad were still pretty fierce in simulator testing, and at the first Barcelona test the team looked to have pace.
Then, even in spite of a few gremlins, the team posted some good times at the second test in Bahrain. Could this be the year they topped the midfield?
But, since then, it has been a tumultuous time for the team.
Star driver Sebastian Vettel tested positive for Covid-19 before the opening race of the season. He was replaced in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia by Hulkenberg, who hopped into the car with very little running.
Over the first two race weekends, both Hulkenberg and team mate Lance Stroll failed to score points. Stroll put in the best qualifying result for the team with 15th in Jeddah, but that is still a long way from where they want to be.
But with a week off, and the return of Vettel, there was time for the team to regroup ahead of F1’s first race in Australia since 2019. Sadly, the weekend seemed to go from bad to worse for those pretty green cars.
In practice, Vettel got behind the wheel of the new Aston Martin F1 car for the first time since March 12th. He was a driver that desperately needed to get some solid running under his belt to get to grips with the new car.
That didn’t happen. Instead, he was forced into the pits in Practice One with an engine failure, a repair the team didn’t complete in time for him to run again in practice two later that day. It was a different story for Stroll on Friday, who managed some solid running and looked as if he might be able to challenge for Q2 come qualifying.
But on Saturday, everything that could go wrong did go wrong. After just 20 minutes in the final practice, Vettel hit the wall leaving his mechanics with a hefty rebuild if he wanted to make it to qualifying. Just before the end of the session, team mate Stroll also hit the wall.
Two long, and expensive, rebuilds were in order.
By qualifying, Seb’s mechanics were racing against the clock to get his car repaired. And, while Stroll’s car was back in one piece and he could hit the track, it didn’t stay this way for very long as he quickly collided with Latifi.
The red flags came out as a result, and the only silver lining for the squad was that this allowed the team to fix Seb’s car. That meant he was able to set a time good enough for 17th place on the grid.
Stroll ended up 19th, with just the Williams of Alex Albon behind him. Clearly, this was not the kind of start the team wants, or needs, to see in such a tight clamor for the final points on Sunday.
During the race, Stroll proved a sticking point for many faster cars behind him as he pulled off some pretty aggressive defending. Defending that earned him a five second penalty and saw him receive a warning from his team against weaving on the straights.
In the end, 12th was all he could muster. Another pointless race for the young Canadian. That was still better than Seb could manage, though, as he once again hit the wall around Albert Park. That meant that of the five sessions of running over the Grand Prix weekend, Seb had failed to finish each one.
Sure, Seb is lacking experience in the car compared with other drivers on the field. And there are definitely problems with the Aston Martin car that keep it out of the points. But, with so much hype around the resurgence of both Aston Martin’s race team and Sebastian Vettel’s career following a torrid time at Ferrari, this isn’t the start to the season the squad would have hoped for.
To make matters worse, Aston Martin is now the only team in the paddock yet to score a championship point in 2022.
That blow came after a stellar strategy from Alex Albon, which saw the Thai driver race for 57 laps on the same set of hard tires. He dashed into the pits on the last lap to switch to softs and completed one lap to claim the team’s first point of the year.