Fernando Alonso brought excitement to the early races by unexpectedly becoming Red Bull’s main competitor. The team almost won the Monaco Grand Prix.
However, following an outstanding performance with six top-three finishes in the initial eight races, which included second-place finishes in Monaco and Canada, the challenges began to increase.
Since the Austrian GP, Alonso has achieved fifth place as his best results, while McLaren, Mercedes, and Ferrari have taken the podium spots after Red Bull.
The change in form has prompted a great deal of intrigue, with Alonso himself hinting that it could have been linked to the change of tyre construction that Pirelli introduced from the British GP.
Aston Martin’s top executives rejected this theory, proposing instead that it was primarily linked to a recent upgrade package introduced during the Canadian Grand Prix. This upgrade package caused certain changes that the team was not able to address promptly.
These ‘side effects’, as team principal Mike Krack referred to recently, were not noticeable in Montreal because of the low downforce/drag nature of the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve – but did become more exposed when extra load was required at the subsequent races.
“I cannot reword”
Alonso’s fifth-place finish in Belgium provided a boost of confidence for the team, indicating that they had made progress in comprehending the car. This positive outcome gives them hope for an improved second half of the season.
Krack expressed optimism about the data we have observed thus far, stating that we appeared to be more competitive compared to recent times.
The Aston Martin team cheer Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin AMR23, 3rd position, over the line
Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images
A flexi-wing explanation?
However, competitors in the paddock have proposed an alternative and fascinating explanation for Aston Martin’s shift in performance. This explanation revolves around a potential restriction on flexi-wings imposed by the FIA.
Motorsport.com has learned that motor racing’ governing body has been paying particularly close attention to the construction of front wings this year to ensure that teams are not using clever solutions to benefit from flexible components.
The FIA and teams have been well aware for a while that if a team is able to create a front wing that is sturdy enough to pass the pull-down tests in the garage while not moving, but can flex down in a controlled way when driving at high speeds on the track, then they can unlock a significant boost in performance.
This has been an ongoing conflict between teams and the FIA, and a problem that is unlikely to ever be resolved since it is not possible to create completely inflexible wings.
Earlier this season, the FIA increased its scrutiny of different designs and raised concerns about the construction of certain front wings. There were suspicions that these wings might be flexing more than what was deemed necessary.
While the wings successfully passed the flexibility tests, which ensure their durability, there were no indications of teams using illegal cars. However, any design that permitted wing flexing while driving at high speeds could potentially violate Article 3.2.2 of the Technical Regulations.
This rule states: “All aerodynamic components or bodywork influencing the car’s aerodynamic performance must be rigidly secured and immobile with respect to their frame of reference defined in Article 3.3. Furthermore, these components must produce a uniform, solid, hard, continuous, impervious surface under all circumstances.”
A front wing that can flex would provide significant advantages to teams by allowing them to use a higher downforce setup for corners, while also flexing down at high speeds on straight sections to minimize drag.
Onboard footage from Alonso’s car in the early races definitely seemed to point to Aston Martin being able to run very high wing angles and there being a notable flex in the wing as it hit top speed on the straights.
The FIA took measures during the Azerbaijan Grand Prix period and informally communicated to several teams its intention to implement modifications in order to prevent any possible issues in future races.
The specific timeline for implementing these modifications is uncertain, as teams are typically allowed flexibility to alter designs in similar situations.
It is evident, however, that Aston Martin’s performance traits appeared to shift during the Spanish GP, specifically in terms of its performance at low and medium speeds.
The team has not confirmed or denied being one of the teams that had to modify its front wing. However, reliable sources have disclosed that Aston Martin was indeed one of the teams that had to make adjustments.
Aston Martin AMR23 front wing – third flat pivot
Photo by: Uncredited
Front wing concept shift
The exact changes that Aston Martin had to make are not known, but a close examination of its front wing points to a different direction around the time of the FIA clampdown.
As seen in the above image, the current generation of wings produces two vortex structures generated from the metal flap adjustment strakes (blue arrows).
The inboard one of these creates a similar but probably nowhere near as powerful vortex as the Y250 from the previous generation of wings.
Certain teams have utilized an additional bracket featuring a pivot, which was evident on the front wing of Aston Martin during the races in Bahrain and Australia (indicated by the red arrow). However, in Saudi Arabia, this bracket was intermittently present on the car.
But it vanished in Baku and Miami, made a comeback in Monaco, and has not been competed in since then.
The area where this component was previously fitted can be clearly seen in the wing it currently uses (see inset image).
This third bracket itself is not illegal, as Alpine, Ferrari, Red Bull and McLaren have all used their own variants.
Currently, the lack of presence in the Aston Martin may simply be a coincidence. However, it is also possible that Aston Martin utilized it to enhance the performance of the front wing under different load conditions.
The pivot’s angle is intriguing because it slopes outward, which may have assisted in determining the angle of a rapid deflection.
The removal of this pivot (whether forced on it or a deliberate choice) would certainly have triggered a change of characteristics with the airflow of the front wing – and may well include some of the side effects that the team has talked about.
Whatever the reality of its front wing development choices, and it is something that only Aston Martin knows itself, it is clear the team is not wasting time dwelling on it – as the focus is very much on ending this year as strong as it started.
McCullough stated that they have been focusing on significant progress throughout the year.
“We possess the necessary funds to continue the car’s development, which is our primary objective. Therefore, we intend to implement various measures until the conclusion of the championship, to the best of our abilities.”