“We have got to make sure we do the name justice.” They are the words of Otmar Szafnauer in recognising the burden that comes with the team he oversees now brandishing the fabled name of Aston Martin.
For the first time in 61 years, the team will make its return to Formula 1 this season. Its initial foray in 1959 and 1960 was an embarrassingly unsuccessful, ill-conceived, and ultimately forgettable affair that lasted just five grands prix. The team, even with the famed Carroll Shelby at the wheel in '59, failed to score a point. Following its lone race in '60, when Roy Salvadori was partnered by Maurice Trintignant at the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, Aston Martin chose to abandon F1 to focus on sportscar racing.
Its decision to attempt an assault in both F1 and sportscars proved flawed, and by the time it entered the former in '59 after deferring for a year, the DBR4's front-engined design was already outdated as the series was switching to the wide-sweeping benefits of housing the power in the rear of a car. The failure to upgrade for 1960 ultimately led to its downfall in F1.
In sportscars, though, Aston Martin has excelled and become a name to be revered, with its crowning glory being a quintet of Le Mans 24 Hours victories, with the DBR9 in 2007 and 2008 in the GT1 category, with the Vantage GTE in 2014 and 2017 in the LMGTE Am and LMGTE Pro classes respectively, and finally with the Vantage AMR last year, again in the Pro event.
There are few finer sights on a race track than those of an Aston Martin sporting a British racing green livery, and for 23 hoped-for races this season at least, we will be treated to such a privilege in F1.
Under the leadership of Lawrence Stroll, since he and his consortium saved the team from administration in August 2018 when it was then known as Force India, the Silverstone-based organisation has been transformed. Stroll's additional purchase of a controlling stake in the Aston Martin car company has allowed the phoenix of the F1 team that was most recently known as Racing Point to continue to rise from the ashes.
From 1st January, its rebranding as Aston Martin F1 Team was completed, with the marque to unveil its debut car and livery in early February by a driver line-up that now boasts four-time champion Sebastian Vettel after a seemingly harsh decision was taken to oust Sergio Perez.
Team principal Szafnauer appreciates what it means for the team to now take on the famous name of Aston Martin. "It means a lot," said Szafnauer. "We have got a lot of work to do, not just from a marketing or brand perspective, but we have got to make sure we do the name justice.
"It is one of the greatest names in the car industry, it is an iconic brand and we need an iconic performance to go with it.
"Our job, the marketing stuff, the look and feel – I don't want to say that is superficial, I don't want to belittle it – but that's the easy part.
"The hard part is making sure that you perform to the levels of expectation for Aston Martin and that's the hardest thing to do so we are working hard to make sure that happens."
Stroll also recognises the hand-in-hand effect of what F1 will do for Aston Martin and vice versa as he seeks to transform a company that has produced beautiful cars over the years but has considerably struggled financially in doing so.
“Formula 1 is a hugely powerful platform that will play a key part in the overall Aston Martin strategy as we seek to take the company forward," said Stroll.
"It is a truly global sport with a huge audience that we believe can help reignite the brand and further increase its desirability all over the world.
"This is a brand that has already had huge success in top-level international motorsport such as the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and now we have an opportunity to write a new page in the history books.
"That’s a hugely exciting prospect for anyone who is a lover of the Aston Martin brand, for fans of Formula 1 and the sport itself.”
Part of Stroll's strategy to add to the profile of the team was his recruitment of Vettel, despite the paths of the 33-year-old German and Perez seemingly heading in opposite directions last season. While Perez could do no wrong, with his maiden F1 victory at the 191st attempt when he took the chequered flag in the Sakhir Grand Prix, one of the highlights of the season, Vettel's stock plummeted as he endured the worst campaign of his career. It remains to be seen whether it was a one-off season for Vettel, who clearly failed to motivate himself after being told by Ferrari before a wheel had turned in anger last year that his sixth season with the Scuderia would be his last, while he also struggled with a car that was far from his liking.
In Aston Martin, Vettel will be with a team building on solid foundations from a fourth-place finish in the constructors' championship – that would have been third but for the highly contentious 15-point deduction over the copying furore – and one willing to throw a comforting arm around him again to ensure he delivers his best.
"I don't think Sebastian has forgotten how to drive a race car fast," assessed Szafnauer. "He knows how to win world championships.
"I am sure we will learn lots from him, which is why we have hired him. We will give him the support structure he needs in order to feel comfortable in the team and start performing at the levels we know he is capable of.
"I think together, with that support structure, with showing him the love, so to speak, then what he can bring to the team can lift us all.
"We have a great driver with fabulous car control, but young, in Lance [Stroll], not as experienced as Seb, and then we have a four-time world champion with that experience of winning that Seb brings, and I think that combination will lift the whole team."
For now, Aston Martin and Sebastian Vettel appear to be a match made in heaven, one that offers so much potential, but seemingly with still so much to prove.
Images courtesy of Motorsport Images and Ferrari.
Who will be the better Aston Martin F1 driver in 2021?