Aston Martin needs to improve its qualifying pace if it’s to improve on ninth place in the 2022 Formula 1 constructors’ championship.
And team principal Mike Krack believes the grid advantage it got from other teams’ penalties at last weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix is the strongest evidence yet of what Aston Martin could achieve in a race if it qualified better.
It is currently five points behind AlphaTauri with Haas a further five points ahead in seventh place.
Krack argues that Aston Martin needs stronger starting positions if it is to capitalise on its stronger race pace to score significant points.
Aston Martin has had 10 points finishes so far this season, more than the seven apiece taken by AlphaTauri and Haas.
But as they have largely been minor points finishes, with Sebastian Vettel’s sixth place in Baku backed up by two eighth places, a ninth place and six 10th places, this isn’t enough to make up ground.
The AMR22 has been only the ninth-fastest car on average based on single-lap pace this year and its drivers have only escaped Q1 10 times in a combined total of 28 attempts this year.
But Krack believes Vettel’s eighth place at Spa, which was assisted by starting 10th thanks to penalties despite only setting the 16th-fastest time in qualifying, is proof of what is possible when starting in a better position.
“We knew it was going to be difficult to hold off the quick cars like Max [Verstappen] or Charles [Leclerc], there was no point of dreaming when we started the race,” said Krack.
“We had a small chance to stay maybe in front of one Alpine [Esteban Ocon] but how realistic that is, we will never know because I’m not sure that they did the full pace that they could do.
“When you see our pace in qualifying, it’s another good recovery. But we need to start further forward.”
Vettel ran fifth in the early stages of the Belgian Grand Prix but was soon passed by Verstappen and then jumped by Leclerc. He ran ahead of Ocon for the first two stints, but was passed by the Alpine driver moments after passing Pierre Gasly’s AlphaTauri.
While Vettel’s race was also helped by jumping ahead of Alex Albon at the start, given the Williams driver acted as a rolling roadblock in the race that kept Lance Stroll, the McLaren drivers, Zhou Guanyu and Yuki Tsunoda behind, Krack still took Vettel’s eighth place as evidence of what Aston Martin can do when starting higher up.
While Vettel was eliminated in Q1, with Stroll setting the 14th fastest time in Q2 but being jumped by Vettel on the first lap, Krack believes there was more potential in the car.
“We were a little better [than we looked] because we had Sebastian [missing out by] two thousands on a lap that was not ideal also from his side,” said Krack. “So I think we had the potential to be in Q2 with both cars.
“Then you maybe have another run or two other runs where maybe also others do something and you start in a different position.
“And if you start to three positions further up, the races could often go in a different way and you collect points for fifth, sixth, seventh instead of always 10th and 11th.
“The scoring is too low to make a step in the constructors’, we need to work hard on our quali pace.”
Aston Martin has struggled with inconsistency of grip during qualifying sessions this year, potentially down to difficulties reliably getting the Pirelli tyres in the right window. Speaking after Spa qualifying, Stroll highlighted this trait but said the team had not got to the bottom of the reasons.
Vettel, who has produced Aston Martin’s best results this year, agrees with Krack that the car is quick enough to stay up the order if it can qualify better.
He even felt beating Ocon to seventh was possible in Belgium, especially if he had pitted earlier and stopped Ocon from gaining time through an undercut. This would have reduced the chances of Ocon producing his double overtake on Gasly and Vettel, which happened moments after the Aston Martin had passed the AlphaTauri.
“It could have been a position more, it was a bit of a shame with Esteban,” said Vettel.
“It was good to see if we get a decent grid position and a good first lap, we can survive and hang in there. We had better pace than the Alpines on really old tyres. Their car is quicker so it was difficult to keep them behind but we managed with one for most of the race, very close with the other one.
“Strategy-wise maybe we could have come in a bit earlier but with hindsight it’s always easy.”