The Festival of Speed doesn’t just provide the best opportunity to see the best cars – it’s also the greatest four days in the motoring calendar to catch up with the best people. One on our hit list at FoS this year was a certain Matt Becker. He, like his father Roger, is synonymous with Lotus, but we didn’t want to talk about Hethel, well not much anyway…
It is six months since Matt started his new job as dynamics chief at Aston Martin, after all his working career (and his father’s before him) being spent as chassis guru at Lotus.
It was a frantic time for Aston Martin at FoS this year, as befits a company on the cusp of what’s shaping up to be a major resurgence. New boss Andy Palmer, the Vulcan track special, new Vantage GT12, facelifted DB9 and Lagonda Taraf – all put in appearances.
Along of course with Matt, who was doing as much driving (in the GT12) as talking… We sat down with him (actually inside the GT12) to hear how his new job is going and what Lotus influences (and his favourite bumpy Norfolk roads!) will bring to a new generation of Aston Martins.
With a new boss, Mercedes-AMG as partners and a new model generation due, is this the best possible time to join Aston Martin?
It is exactly the right time for me to join. I feel re-energised.
But cut you and you bleed Lotus.
I do, and I will always love Lotus because it has been in my family for nearly 50 years (Matt’s father Roger Becker retired as Lotus’s director of vehicle engineering in 2010). But I wanted to prove to myself that I could add value and character to another brand, which is why I made the move.
Your title is chief engineer, vehicle attribute engineering. What does that mean?
My responsibilities are vehicle dynamics, NVH, aerodynamics and durability, and now, since July, the overall attributes of the cars, so balance and performance of all the new cars coming.
If we don’t like the way Astons of the future drive you’re the bloke to blame?
Yes. But I am sure Andy Palmer (new Aston CEO who took over the reins a year ago) will be on my case.
Is it all meetings or are you as hands-on as ever?
There are a lot of meetings and I am not doing as much driving as I was (at Lotus), but the plan is for me to do more. The first thing for me was to get the team I wanted. A number of people have come across with me from Lotus. Now I have the balance of people right I can get involved in more testing and development.
No test track outside your office window anymore…
That’s something I really miss. Unfortunately we don’t have a test track at Gaydon. We use Nardo, MIRA, and the Nurburgring.
How important is the ‘Ring for Aston development?
We don’t compromise the cars in order to set a good lap time there. Tuning cars just for the ‘Ring is the wrong thing to do – Astons are used in everyday life. But with its high-speed corners the ‘Ring is useful for work on powertrain, cooling, brake performance and ESP systems.
How familiar are you with the current models?
Every evening and weekend I have a different Aston Martin to drive. I am still travelling back to Norfolk so that gives me three hours in the cars every day. I have a cross-country route via Daventry, the M1 and Bedford, and when I reach Norfolk I use some of the roads we used at Lotus where I know every bump and camber. I get a very good sense of the way current Aston Martins drive, and can reference that against the way Lotus cars drive on the same roads. It all goes in the memory bank so I know how I will change the cars going forward.
How do the Astons drive on those famously uneven Lotus roads?
The Rapide is really good. Out of all the Astons I have driven the Rapide is probably dynamically the best, the most connected and with the best ride quality and composure. The Vantage V12 S on a circuit is incredible, on the road I find it a bit too harsh. A car doesn’t have to be uncomfortable to work on the track.
Will people recognise Lotus attributes in future Aston Martins?
Yes that’s my plan. What I look for is a car that breathes, like a Lotus does, and that’s something I want to instill in the new Aston Martins. Delicacy not just in handling but in steering connection and feedback, and also ride comfort. The ride comfort of cars like the DB9 has to be really good and that’s something I can bring to Aston Martin.
Is that the biggest thing you can bring?
I can bring a holistic feel, to bring the car together so you don’t have a car that feels like bits and pieces done by different people. That’s basically what my job is, to make sure all cars have this holistic feel.
Any other Lotus influences?
Light weight. Weight depends on the different models, but we want it to be competitive. It’s mainly the dynamics though. If you think about the sound character of an Aston Martin it is already incredible, much better than Lotus.
What’s different working at Aston rather than Lotus?
The good thing that I never had at Lotus is a system, introduced by Andy Palmer, that starts with the customer and their needs and wants. We must know the key attributes the customer looks for so we can turn them into engineering language – this way we can be sure we are developing the car the customer wants, not developing a car the engineers want. That’s the most important thing.
How important is the Mercedes-AMG connection?
Having them as technology partner is incredible. It gives us access to expensive components that the customer can’t see but which you can’t afford to develop yourself. (Not having that) is one of the problems at Lotus.
Is it inevitable that all future Astons will be turbocharged?
We are working on all solutions for the future but, yes, pressure charging is the direction.
Have you always been an Aston fan? What was your favourite car as a boy?
First bedroom wall car poster was an Esprit, because of my father’s connection. I kind of grew up with the Esprit. As for Astons, I think the cars are beautiful and they sound beautiful. The DB5 is a stunning car.
Best ever moment at Lotus?
The Evora. I spent 15 years working on Elises but the Evora was the first car I worked on from a completely clean sheet of paper. I was able to use all my experience and knowledge to make a car that dynamically excels.
Are you confident of Lotus’s future?
Yes I think so. I hope so.
What’s the first Becker Aston, and when?
The DB9 replacement in 2016, but I had some involvement in the Vantage GT12. When I arrived the GT12 had already had a lot of development done, but when I drove it I thought it needed more work on the damping because it wasn’t correct. The car had too much rebound and not enough compression. It rides better now.
That’s my challenge: to make the cars drive as beautifully as they look.