Aston Martin have been warned that a “difficult period” is potentially in store between now and the F1 summer break after an anonymous display at the Austrian Grand Prix.
The Silverstone-based team have been one of the great success stories of the 2023 season, with Fernando Alonso finishing on the podium in six of his first eight appearances in green.
However, after a muted performance at last month’s Spanish GP where Alonso was pipped to a distant sixth place by team-mate Lance Stroll, the Aston Martins were strangely subdued for the second time in three races in Austria.
Aston Martin tipped to struggle at Silverstone and Spa
Stroll and Alonso qualified a disappointing sixth and seventh – the former ahead of the two-time World Champion on the grid for only the second time this season – with post-race penalties promoting Alonso to fifth as Stroll slipped to ninth.
With Ferrari emerging as the dominant Red Bull team’s closest challengers in Austria, having introduced a major upgrade package in Barcelona, former Williams driver Jack Aitken fears the writing is on the wall for Aston Martin after Charles Leclerc’s second podium finish of 2023.
Asked by the BBC’s Chequered Flag podcast if Ferrari have replaced Aston Martin as the best of the rest behind Red Bull, Aitken said: “It definitely looks like that way. Aston do seem to be sliding back a little bit, whether it’s because of the development race and not quite having the same pace as Ferrari.
“They looked pretty average this weekend – and that’s even with an upturn in pace from Stroll who’s been a lot closer to Alonso this weekend outqualified his team-mate for the first time in a long time.
“They do seem to be getting more out of that car as a duo and they’re still not able to really challenge the Ferraris.
“Watching the way that the Ferrari drivers were throwing the car around, particularly in the last couple of corners of this lap, which are very challenging, very high speed and require a hell of a lot of confidence, they seem to have just that confidence.
“They really seem to trust their machinery – Leclerc in particular looked just brilliant in the last two corners – so they seem a bit more on song and that’s very encouraging for them.”
Andrew Benson, the BBC’s F1 reporter, warned that the pecking order between Aston Martin, Ferrari and Mercedes is likely to fluctuate from race to race.
However, with visits to high-speed Silverstone and Spa to come later this month, Benson says Aston Martin’s performances in Spain and Austria do not bode well.
He explained: “I think what we’re seeing is the battle ebbing and flowing [due to] circuit characteristics.
“Ferrari’s pattern before [the upgrade] was super quick in qualifying, dropping like a stone in the race with a car that the drivers basically couldn’t handle.
“They put an upgrade on the car in Barcelona – so we can almost forget what happened before that – [and] since then they have been edging forward, but it’s difficult to make a definitive judgement right now as to how that battle is going to go.
“Fernando Alonso could have won in Monaco if they’d made the right tyre choice at the right time – I’m not criticising them there because it was a difficult decision with the track conditions and the weather and everything and so on – then they got to Barcelona [and] Aston Martin were basically nowhere there.
“Then Alonso [was] second again in Canada, passes [Lewis] Hamilton on the way there, challenges [Max] Verstappen relatively closely for this year – only nine seconds behind at the flag. Then again, Austria, clearly the track hasn’t suited them this weekend.
“Worrying for Aston Martin, I think, is that Barcelona [has] long corners, quick corners; Austria [has] three hairpins but then long corners, quick corners; Silverstone, long corners, quick corners, although also some slow speed to put into the mix there too.
“Hungary is a very flowing circuit with, again, long corners; Spa: high speed, long corners.
“Aston Martin could be going into a slightly difficult period here. The question is where are Ferrari going to [come] out in that little mix.
“Mercedes, by the way, terrible day for them; really off the pace; Hamilton and [George] Russell finishing well down the field and that’s a bit concerning for them.
“But then they’ve got a big upgrade coming for Silverstone, so it’s really, really hard to predict how the three of them are going to play out behind the Red Bulls.”
Speaking to Sky Sports F1’s Martin Brundle ahead of the Miami GP in May, Alonso claimed slower circuits like Monaco, Hungary and Singapore represented Aston Martin’s best chance to win a race in 2023.
Given the circuit’s similarities to Monaco, where he ran Verstappen close, Alonso is likely to relish the Hungarian GP – the scene of his maiden F1 win two decades ago – later this month.