2022 AM Wings_Mono Negative
Feature

Enjoying the ride: Mike reflects on a positive season and the challenge ahead

Team Principal Mike Krack on the season just gone, his admiration for our drivers Lance Stroll and Fernando Alonso, and why we're on the right track with our 2024 car.

Aston Martin F1

Our best season to date as Aston Martin F1 Team. 280 points scored and a jump from seventh to fifth in the Constructors' Championship. Eight podium finishes. The arrival of double World Champion Fernando Alonso. The opening of the AMR Technology Campus. The announcement of a works partnership with Honda. And more green shirts and caps at every race and in every grandstand than ever before.

2023 has been a memorable year for the team, but what does Team Principal Mike Krack make of it all? At the close of a groundbreaking season, he gave his honest assessment of the year and what's to come in 2024.

An unbelievable high at the start, a dip in the middle of the year, and a return to form at the end. How do you reflect on the campaign, Mike?

The first six races were incredible – but I knew there would be difficult moments that would follow. We were realistic and tried to manage expectations. Competition in F1 is fierce; very good teams that didn't start the season so well would inevitably get on top of their problems and bring the fight to us. We knew it would get harder.

The middle of the year was difficult for us, but perhaps it appeared more so because of the start we had. Expectations levels rose dramatically. Imagine if our season hadn't started with six podiums from the first eight Grands Prix, but instead started with one? Had that been the case, then what happened at rounds nine, 10, 11 and 12 isn't quite such a contrast. Score 23 points in the first race, understandably the expectation level rises.

Aston Martin F1
We know what we want to do for 2024 and the direction we need to go in with next year's car – but that doesn't necessarily mean we're going to turn up at the season-opener in Bahrain next year and be fighting for the race win.

Just how tough was the middle part of the season?

For me, that period was challenging because there's a need to understand what's happening. You have to zoom out and look at the bigger picture. Are others improving massively? Are we not progressing enough? You have to be honest in your assessments, ask yourself tough questions, form an understanding and then make sure everybody in the team also understands the situation, sticks together, and works through it.

I said a few times, the goal for the rest of the season was to understand the car and reverse the trend. I thought if we could get back on the podium in the second half of the year, that would be a fantastic achievement. We did that twice – but everyone still wants more!

And did we understand the car in the end?

We did understand the car by the end of the season – but it would wrong to say we understood absolutely everything about the AMR23. We understood a great deal, we know what we want to do for 2024 and the direction we need to go in with next year's car – but that doesn't necessarily mean we're going to turn up at the season-opener in Bahrain next year and be fighting for the race win.

Aston Martin F1

Are we on the right path with our 2024 car?

We're up against formidable competitors, and the big question mark over the winter is always what kind of job other teams have done. There's a lot of nail-biting. You're always asking yourself: 'Have we done enough?'

Whatever happens, it always results in the same loop: if the cars roll out and we haven't done enough, then we have to work hard to improve. If we have done enough, then we have to work hard to improve further. That's the only recipe that works in Formula One.

Is there a chance that the difficulties we encountered with the AMR23 could carry over into the 2024 car?

We are not heading into 2024 with a hangover from 2023. Quite the opposite, in fact. This season – and especially the races at the end of the season – have been very positive for us, with some really valuable learning that will carry over into the '24 car. We're not wrestling with any doubts.

How do you assess Lance's and Fernando's seasons?

I am full of admiration for the drivers this year. They've made us a better team. I think you find out more about their character in the tough races. Mexico was a good example. After that race, they were constructive in the briefings and stuck by us when talking to the media. They could have been really negative in the press – and we would have deserved it for failing to give them a competitive car that weekend – but neither did. Instead, both expressed their faith in the long-term goals and journey we're on. For me, that stands out.

In other teams, you often see drivers going to the media to shift blame for poor results onto the team. Lance and Fernando haven't adopted that mentality. It isn't the drivers and the team here; the drivers are part of the team. I think in this regard, we're perhaps a little bit different from our competitors.

Aston Martin F1
He showed real grit and determination to get back behind the wheel as quickly as possible. And, despite all he had been through, he was still very fast.

Lance had a mixed year but finished strongly. What does he need to do now?

Lance is in a great place. He's relaxed and self-confident. You can see it in his body language. It's very impressive how he has developed as a driver this year.

He had the injury pre-season, which put him on the back foot, but he showed real grit and determination to get back behind the wheel as quickly as possible. And, despite all he had been through, he was still very fast.

Then, later in the season, he came back fighting after a tough phase. He had a lot of pressure to deal with and handled it with a lot of assurance.

I wish the season would have been a bit longer for him because he's been really fast in the final rounds. We can build on that. That's what needs to happen now, he just needs to pick up where he left off this season. He's overcome many challenges this year and now he's very much on the up.

What has Fernando brought to the team and is there more to come from him?

What Fernando has brought us is just outstanding. He drives us on and makes us better – it's that simple really. He is hugely ambitious and wants to be fighting for podiums every weekend.

The experience he brings is invaluable, but also the commitment. He isn't one of these drivers who turn up on a race weekend, does their thing and then disappears. There's always another question, another WhatsApp message pinging in, constantly looking for things we could improve.

Having him prowling around behind you provides all the motivation anyone could need. I'm looking forward to what he can do in 2024 now that he's had a year to fully bed into Aston Martin.

This time last year, we were working on a building site. The team has now moved into its new home. How much of a change is that?

Huge. Phase one of the AMR Technology Campus was completed earlier this year and we moved into our new home during the European triple-header at the end of spring. We have a lot more open space, a lot fewer doors and it's made it much easier for everyone to communicate – and this is a business where communication is vital – because we are all in the same place now, rather than spread out across a sprawling mess of building that had grown organically over the last 30 years and wasn't really fit for purpose anymore.

People who previously would have needed to make a deliberate journey to talk to each other are now talking at the coffee bar, for example, and that sparks something. It's much easier to see and meet people now and share ideas. The new campus is a massive step for us. It is state-of-the-art in every way and will help us move forwards.

And there's more to come. Phases two and three of the build are progressing well. The new wind tunnel will be ready next year, which will be another crucial building block in our development.

Aston Martin F1
We've launched a leadership programme for young students that is bringing them into our world and providing them with the guidance, knowledge and mentorship to help them succeed.

The new campus has been designed around an ambitious set of environmental standards. How else is the team driving sustainable transformative change?

Formula One is very much future-facing in its environmental, social and governance objectives, and we've had this at the forefront of our planning since Aston Martin returned to the sport in 2021. Our new campus, of course, sets benchmarks for sustainability, and we have the FIA's maximum Three Star Environmental Accreditation – but we've gone a lot deeper than this in what we want to achieve.

Rather than looking at this in a piecemeal way, our Make A Mark strategy revolves around three core pillars – sustainability, community and inclusion – which we've set out in our recently published Make A Mark manifesto. Our progress is tracked and reported, to ensure we're making a positive impact and contributing to the UN's sustainability development goals.

This is serious stuff – but it's important to remember it's also a lot of fun. When we had a campus full of school students, just before the British Grand Prix, to promote STEM career opportunities in motorsport, it was a reminder to everyone in the team that we're all contributing to something bigger here and we have the power to break down barriers and inspire. This has been the case with all the STEM workshops we've done at our campus and when we've gone out into local schools and universities as we've raced around the world.

Aston Martin F1

Our partnership with The Aleto Foundation Foundation – a leading charitable organisation dedicated to promoting social mobility among young people from underrepresented communities – is also very rewarding. We've launched a leadership programme for young students that is bringing them into our world and providing them with the guidance, knowledge and mentorship to help them succeed.

This is not a box-ticking exercise – but nor is it altruism: things like this are important for our internal culture. Ultimately, having a diverse, equal and inclusive team, where everyone feels empowered and able to be their authentic selves, is what will enable us to recruit and retain the very best talent and unlock the full potential of the team.

The team has the fastest-growing fanbase in F1. Eight podiums, a competitive car, and a fan-first mindset tend to attract a lot of interest…

Definitely! There's a lot of green at the racetracks now, a lot of banners in the grandstands facing the pitlane. And I've never known anything like it: the number of people who stop for a chat in an airport, or at breakfast in a hotel is just phenomenal. At times it's a little overwhelming – but this is part of the excitement of becoming a big team: it's not just about what happens on track, it's also what you do beyond it and how you engage with fans.

The team has pulled out all the stops this year to keep pace. We've made a deliberate effort to shift the focus from the team to the fans by launching I / AM A FAN, which has shone a light on the passion and loyalty of fans and, in keeping with our I / AM ethos, brought them closer to the sport than ever before.

Aston Martin F1

We've been running events throughout the season, from pop-up stores and AMR Technology Campus visits to static car displays and driver appearances. And we're always trying to think up new ways to bring I / AM members even closer to the team, such as the I / AM A FAN LIVE press conferences on TikTok and my pre-race 'Mike on…' columns.

It gives everyone in the garage a big lift to know this support is all around us and we're hugely grateful for it – but I'm also aware it's a responsibility. Our fanbase has grown enormously, we expect that upward spiral to continue, and everyone wants us to do well. It's up to us to deliver.

Finally, what message have you been delivering to the team as 2023 draws to a close?

That I want everyone to be thinking positive thoughts as they go into their holidays. What everyone – and I really do mean everyone – has achieved this year has been exceptional, and they should be proud of their contribution. There have been a lot of high points this year – a couple of lows too, but mostly highs – and we should not forget what we have achieved: where we are now, compared to where we were. It has been a significant step in our journey but there is still a lot to be done.

We are not yet an established front-runner but that is the direction in which we are headed. We are fully focused on achieving our long-term ambitions – on fighting for regular points, podiums and our first win in green.

This is a special time for the team. Being part of a journey like this is not something that happens very often across a career, and it's important to take it in and enjoy the ride. I can't wait for 2024.

YOU. US. TOGETHER.

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