Aston Martin’s Tom McCullough believes his team have definitely added performance to their AMR23 through upgrades, despite losing ground to other teams.
Aston Martin started the 2023 season with one of the strongest cars on the grid, enabling Fernando Alonso to rack up podium finish after podium finish as the Silverstone-based team ran a heady second in the Constructors’ Championship.
But, through the upgrade development cycle of the year, Aston Martin have slipped back – to the point where Alonso and Stroll are finding it tough even to make it into the top 10 as other teams, like McLaren, have taken big steps forward.
Have Aston Martin’s upgrades led them astray?
Aston Martin started rolling out a big upgrade package at the Canadian Grand Prix, introducing new sidepods, a new engine cover, and a new floor.
Further refinements were made through the British and Hungarian weekends, as well as a revised floor in Belgium, but Aston Martin’s competitiveness is nowhere near where it was at the beginning of the season.
Reports from some media sources suggest the upgrades have upset the balance of the car, despite adding downforce, with the AMR23 now much more difficult to get into a sweet spot on setup.
But performance director Tom McCullough believes the outright performance of the car has still improved, even if other teams have unlocked more pace.
“There’s always track characteristics that play out in that, I think we were clearly the second-fastest team once we brought those updates to [Canada],” he told media, including PlanetF1.com.
“So I don’t really think it was a backward step in that side.
“You always try to add to the base performance, you very rarely can add it without any characteristic change. So there’s always that you’re trying to understand the actual car data, you’re always correlating the real car to development tools, wind tunnel, CFD – you then go to some different tracks and the characteristics of the tracks do influence your base relative performance, and then other people are developing as well.
“So I think it’s about trying to understand, which I think we’ve got a good hold on where we are with our car, what our limitations are, what our strengths are, where we need to improve the car relative to other people, and looking ahead to the second half of the season, all those tracks coming as well on top of that.”
Have the upgrades’ performance correlated to simulation data?
Pushed on whether the upgrades real-world performance correlated with what Aston Martin had seen in the wind tunnel, McCullough admitted: “Nothing ever correlates 100 percent.
“But you’re always trying to say relative to what you expected, what you get. That changes from track to track. So the same car from track to track, that changes.
“There are so many other factors that are influencing it, but the bottom line is it’s largely doing what we think it should be doing, we just need to add the performance to the car and it’s a relative game.
“You’re always taking decisions in the wind tunnel and CFD to say ‘OK, flow structure here is better, ride height is better, wind-yaw, rear wing levels’ – all these things. You want to just offset performance. But it’s very rare that you do that. The key to the job is to bring the performance, and then to understand what the actual cars doing and feed that back into how you optimise the car on the track, which always takes a few races to do, and then how you feed that back into the development.”
But McCullough doesn’t believe the fundamental characteristics of the car have changed significantly as new bits have been added to the AMR23.
“You always have small changes [in characteristics], but I think that the biggest thing is that some of the tracks are different,” he said.
“Some people have developed at a different rate. We have improved the car, the raw performance of the car. Yes, there are some slight characteristic differences, but even if you take the same car from track to track, you see slight characteristic differences too, so we’re talking small changes.”
Given that Aston Martin were particularly strong at low to medium-speed corners, a strength that served them very well in Monaco as Alonso threatened for pole position and the win, McCullough re-iterated that he believes the characteristics of the car haven’t changed to create weaknesses.
“One of the development threads we have this year was to get on top of some of the straight-line speed and DRS sides that we weren’t maybe as competitive as some teams at the start of the year,” he said.
“I think the last few races and the step we brought [to Belgium], we have been improving that. But again, nobody stands still. So we’re just trying to look at where we weren’t as strong and improve those areas without losing the strengths of the car that we had before.
Tom McCullough confirms big upgrades still planned for Aston Martin
McCullough confirmed the development of the AMR23 won’t stop as the season progresses, given the stable ruleset for 2024 means lessons learned can be applied to this years car. He also confirmed upgrades of a “bigger departure” are still planned between now and Abu Dhabi.
“We’ve been targeting quite strong development throughout the year,” he said.
“We have a budget to be developing the car and that’s our aim, all the way to the end of the championship really, as much as we can do.
“At a certain point, you have to fully focus on ’24. But we’re in the phase now where you’re able to work on both cars and even some of the lessons you learn on ’24, you can adapt as well. Whether it’s CFD, wind tunnel, or on the mechanical side.
“So now we’re just pushing to the end. Somebody said to me we have 10 times the points we had this time last year, and we’re only halfway through the season. So looking forward to the second half of the season!”