What began as a plan to get Lance Stroll into Formula 1, turned into the mega Aston Martin venture for his father Lawrence but with a lousy car for the start of their second season, Colin Kolles points the finger of blame at the billionaire owner for the team’s failings.
A quick reminder: prior to Stroll buying Force India it was a very low (no?) budget team, overperforming immensely at the time. Fast forward to now, after billions spent on the project, a revolving door of senior staff, huge investment in facilities, the team are over financed but underperforming alarmingly.
Put it this way: No way this is what Lawrence had in mind which pops this old F1 truism to mind: “How do you become a millionaire in F1? Start as a billionaire.” This is not exactly what is happening but…
Stroll – in an uncannily Sergio Marchionne way – has done it his way (no expense spared as expected from him) from acquiring Force India at all costs to building Racing Point without financial constraints and then his opus namely buying the entire Aston Martin company, with his F1 team the heart to their marketing thrust.
Which is a very simple business plan to win in F1 regularly and as a result sell lots of sports and luxury cars; the Ferrari plan in other words.
But the Aston Martin dream is at risk of flopping, massively and expensively, so where is it going so wrong?
Kolles – a former F1 team principal and owner of ByKolles WEC team – is never one shy to speak his mind, thinks he knows and told Sport1: “It won’t work. You have a team owner who thinks he is the team boss, who knows everything better and thinks he can put his son up at the front with all he has.
“For me, that is the completely wrong approach. The fish always stinks from the head. I can see the racing team going nowhere. As long Mr Stroll doesn’t see that as Mr Whitmarsh is in charge is staying at home, only setting budgets, letting people work who know their stuff and getting the right people to lead the team, it’s never going to work.
“There have been many investors who have tried to tell me that they know how business works. Then I said that may be all, but I think Formula 1 is a bit different. I used to tell them if you take a million of any currency and throw it on a fire, the money will burn up just as quickly as in Formula 1 if you don’t know what you’re doing.
“And that is the case that is happening at Aston Martin. If someone thinks they’ll get into Formula 1 and be in the front overnight, then it won’t work that quickly. You have to have a plan.
“You could have had the plan that new rules would come in 2022 and work on them. However, Mr Stroll decided a few years ago that it should all be done quickly, no matter what the cost.”
Kolles went on to reference the no expenses spared by Stroll to build a Racing Point for the 202o season
That included funding the copy and building of a car based on the 2019 Mercedes W10. The RP20 was deemed a copycat car and very soon dubbed the Pink Mercedes.
For that ill-advised escapade, after a protest lodged by Renault F1 Team was upheld, Racing Point was fined €400,000 and 15 F1 constructors’ points deducted by the FIA, which ultimately cost them third in the 2020 F1 championship and the extra prize money that goes with that.
“Everything seemed okay,” continued Kolles. “Until you took a closer look at the cars and realised it was;t the right way to go about it. So everything had to be redone. A wrong decision was made.
“In this way, in-house development was compromised because engineers naturally want to develop things themselves. The atmosphere in the team must be really bad if you take plans from somewhere else, means that the owner doesn’t have faith in them.”
Kolles: I don’t think Vettel wants to drive at all
In Sebastian Vettel, Aston Martin have an experienced and wily campaigner, who knows how big teams should be run and win titles. Albeit a driver who has yet to convince, he still has it in him to win titles again.
The jury is out on that one. He has yet to race this year but by all accounts will be back in Melbourne; Vettel’s substitute while he recovered from coronavirus was Nico Hulkenberg. He too could not get any joy with the car. But that was expected.
It was already clear (body language reveals much) during testing that the AMR22 was beautiful but junk out of the box. Between testing and the start of the season, it got worse.
Round 1 in Bahrain was brutal for a team and owner with world title ambitions, Nico Hulkenberg with hardly any experience in the car at the time, qualified 17th which was understandable.
Stroll’s son Lance is a fair driver, in a good car he can be very good, podium good. But in a bad car, he is… bad. So in Bahrain, he was bad, second slowest bad. In the race it got better, he finished 12th with Hulkenberg 17th.
In Saudi it was not much better, with The Hulk stranded in Q1 again and Lance scraping through and ending 15th in qualifying, and a day later the pair were 12th and 13the respectively, last of the classified runners in a race with five DNFs and two drivers who DNS.
Hulkenberg standing-in for Vettel, compared to Kevin Magnussen’s similarly unexpected and short notice return who finished a remarkable fifth place on the night, was in a different league. The difference? A good car versus a very bad car of course.
Thus no surprise Kolles is pessimistic about the four-time F1 World Champion’s state of mind and future in F1: “I don’t think Vettel wants to drive at all. He just doesn’t want to do that to himself. This may be a very daring theory, but I’m sure that he thinks a lot about whether he will quit.”