"There are a few little things we've got up our sleeve."
A twinkle in the eye and the faintest of smiles belie Deputy Technical Director Eric Blandin's composure when asked about the 2023 Aston Martin Aramco Cognizant Formula One™ Team (AMF1) challenger.
Understandably, he's not prepared to give any secrets away about the first Aston Martin F1 car designed under his watchful eye and that of Technical Director Dan Fallows, but he's keen to stress that these 'little things' are just that: little things. They are, as he puts it, 'the icing on the cake', and what matters is getting the basics right.
In the latest instalment of our groundbreaking interview series, UNDERCUT, we dive deep into the AMR23. Before the covers have even come off the car, Eric provides a refreshingly open and honest assessment of the progress made with our latest F1 racer and why he thinks the concept of the car is the right one – and what will happen if it's not.
The car we reveal at our new factory in Silverstone on 13 February will be the real AMR23. We're not going to disappoint fans.
It's less than a month until the launch of the AMR23. Will it be ready, and what are you working on at the moment?
The AMR23 is on target. From an aerodynamic point of view, the launch-spec car is complete. All the aerodynamic surfaces have been passed on to the drawing office which has finalised the last drawings for car build.
80 per cent of my time is currently focused on the aero department – on delivering an ambitious programme of updates for the season. Launch is important but it's only a stepping stone; we need to develop the car throughout the campaign.
The rest of my time is currently spent ensuring everything is progressing well in the drawing office and that they've got everything they need.
Will we unveil the actual car on launch day – not a showcar like many teams did last year?
We will unveil the actual car, just as we did last year. The car we reveal at our new factory in Silverstone on 13 February will be the real AMR23. We're not going to disappoint fans.
Have we got the car concept right this year?
We brought a lot of updates to the AMR22 and the progress we made confirmed we're on the right trajectory with the AMR23 which builds on the learnings from last year's car.
The performance of the AMR22 was hampered by porpoising. Will the bouncing be a thing of the past with the AMR23?
It won't disappear completely. It's something that's inherent within this set of regulations. You've got big tunnels channelling air underneath a car that is running very close to the ground and effectively has a skirt created by the floor edge that's sealing the air in – this combination is what makes the car susceptible to porpoising.
Every F1 car experiences some degree of oscillation, but with the current regulations, due to the aerodynamic load and the variation in that aerodynamic load, this oscillation is more pronounced.
So much of the AMR23 is new, it's completely different from the AMR22. We've changed more than 90 per cent of the parts.
There was talk last year of how our simulation tools misled us with our initial concept for the AMR22. If our tools misled us, why are we using the same ones for this year's car?
You use the same tools – wind tunnel, CFD cluster, software – but it's all about how you extract the data and how you use it.
Simulating the problem is complicated. There aren't many tools that can do that. On a computational side, you can't predict it with normal software.
It's not simply a case of running the car in the wind tunnel to see whether it will porpoise: it doesn't work like that because it's a dynamic problem – the aerodynamic loads are constantly changing.
Throughout the 2022 campaign, we advanced our understanding of this new generation of F1 car in several areas, and this enabled us to identify what was causing the bouncing.
How do you know these tools are not going to mislead us again?
The AMR22 became a laboratory. We tested so many things on the track to further our understanding and that growth in understanding was underlined by our improved performance towards the end of last season.
We were able to push the performance envelope with how we were running the car. This would not have been possible with the initial concept we had at the start of the season.
We have focused on making changes to this year's car that will prevent porpoising, but we can't guarantee they've worked until we test the car on the track. If we do suffer from porpoising, we've got several tools in our armoury to combat it.
How different is the AMR23 from its predecessor?
We took all our learnings from last year's car and applied them to this year's car. So much of the AMR23 is new, it's completely different from the AMR22. We've changed more than 90 per cent of the parts and more than 95 per cent of the aerodynamic surfaces are different.
It's great when you find a small loophole and can use it to your advantage, but it's not often you can base an entire car around it.
Given the limitations of our concept last year, do we have a greater chance of making significant progress than our rivals?
It's wide open. Every team has an opportunity to make significant progress with their new car. We want to make a big step forward with the AMR23. But it's all relative, how much of a step have the others made? We don't know yet, but I'm confident we have a good package.
Will we see a convergence in design philosophies, with teams opting for a concept akin to last year's championship-winning car?
There will still be differences between the cars. There were two very different philosophies in 2022 and I imagine this will still be the case in '23.
Have you already got an eye on the 2024 car?
'24 is already on the radar. We've started thinking about it.
It never stops, does it?
It never stops. At the end of the season, when you've finished with one car, you've already been working on the next car for some time.
Are there any loopholes in this year's regulations? The AMR22 had several innovative design features, such as the bib wing and radical rear wing endplates.
We've implemented a few clever innovations on the new car – they're the icing on the cake. They're a nice-to-have, but not a must-have.
It's great when you find a small loophole and can use it to your advantage, but it's not often you can base an entire car around it. Instead, it's essential to get the basics right, and then you can add things.
When you start a new car project, you identify what your limitations were the previous year – and how you can overcome them with the new design – and you define the architecture that will give you the most potential for the future.
If you pursue the wrong concept, you can end up boxing yourself in – you run out of road for development – and that's a very difficult situation to get out of.
Is there even more pressure to deliver a car that's quick and reliable out of the box with only one week between pre-season testing and the first race this year?
If you need to resolve an aerodynamic problem, it's very difficult. A week doesn't give you enough time to react.
And if you've got a significant reliability issue that requires a lot of changes to parts, your cooling or braking system doesn't work or you've got suspension problems, then you're going to be up against it this year with such a short gap between testing and the first Grand Prix.
Hopefully, the early information we get through from testing will give us a good read on how the car is behaving and confirm that everything is working as it should – then we can focus on going fast.
Every team has very clever and experienced people, who are all working extremely hard. You constantly ask yourself, 'Have we done a better job than them?'
What's going through your mind when you launch a new car? Are you nervous, excited, worried…?
It's a bit of everything. You're excited because you can't wait to see the car on track. You can't wait to see the car against the opposition to find out where you are in the competitive order.
You're nervous because you're wondering whether you've done a good enough job. Every team has very clever and experienced people, who are all working extremely hard. You constantly ask yourself, 'Have we done a better job than them?'
We won't know the answer until qualifying in Bahrain.
How do you deal with the pressure? A lot has been made of the talent the team has recruited, with your name touted in the media as a key signing – does that only add to the pressure?
The pressure comes from inside rather than externally. I want the team to do well – that is what drives me.
I view this pressure as a positive force. It means I'm working on something that matters to me – something I'm passionate about and therefore want to succeed in.
I want this team to succeed. I joined AMF1 because I think it's one of the few teams that can join the group of teams at the front of the grid and l will do everything I can to help the team achieve that objective.
Only two teams have won a championship since 2010, Red Bull and Mercedes, and you've worked at both. What's their secret?
Both Red Bull and Mercedes have very talented people, but so do we. They've been so successful because the core group of people leading them has been very stable and consistent through the years. The stability enables experience, ways of working and trust to build between various members of the team – throughout the entire organisation – and this is very powerful.
In your time at Mercedes, the team won eight Constructors' Championships and seven Drivers' Championships. Why did you leave? Does winning get boring?
Winning never gets boring, but I joined AMF1 because I needed a new challenge. It's the most exciting challenge: turning a team into a championship contender – a team that isn't performing at the level it wants to but has massive investment and growth potential and an owner in Lawrence Stroll who is determined to take the Aston Martin name to the front of the F1 grid.
It's inspiring – everything Lawrence has achieved, his passion, his commitment. When you have a leader like him, you want to follow them into battle.
Was Lawrence's determination and vision a motivating factor in your decision to join the team?
Having an owner who wants to succeed is vital. Lawrence wants to succeed, just as he has done with his other businesses. Even after everything he's accomplished, he's still got that motivation to achieve even more – it's remarkable.
It's inspiring – everything he's achieved, his passion, his commitment. When you have a leader like Lawrence, you want to follow them into battle.
And what about the new factory?
The new factory is going to be outstanding. The drawing office is probably the biggest I've ever seen. Having everyone working together in the same location is massive for us, it will unlock performance and so will having our own wind tunnel. It's game changing.
You had a 14-month spell at Ferrari where you worked with Fernando Alonso. What will he bring to the team?
Fernando is an outstanding driver. There aren't many drivers of his calibre on the grid – you can count them on one hand. He's so passionate, so driven… extremely driven. After everything he's achieved, he still has that restless hunger to win.
Signing Fernando was massive for the team. He's going to push us a lot and help take us to the next level.
He'll push Lance, too. They'll complement each other and he'll bring out the best in him. We have a very strong driver pairing, and it's up to us to give them a competitive car.
We can have the best driver pairing on the grid, but it won't count for much if we don't give them a fast car. We need to deliver.
Fernando was quickly able to compare the two cars and say, 'This is clearly better, this is clearly worse, and this is what we should focus on.'
Fernando drove the AMR22 in the post-season Abu Dhabi test. What did you learn from having him in the car?
Fernando's feedback is extremely precise. He clearly communicated what he wants from the car and immediately identified a few things that we've been able to feed into the design of the AMR23.
Last season, Fernando drove a car that was quite different from ours – and more competitive. After driving the AMR22, he was quickly able to compare the two cars and say, 'This is clearly better, this is clearly worse, and this is what we should focus on.'
What happens if things don't go to plan – if the AMR23 doesn't deliver the step forward anticipated?
If we get it wrong and the car doesn't perform the way we want, we have to be honest about it and work together to find the solutions.
First, we need to understand why the car isn't performing – where the issues are – and, based on what we have learned, then we need to find and implement the solutions to the problems.
There's nothing we can't overcome. As a team, we can overcome any challenge we face.
If you don't push the boundaries then you will leave performance on the table, but if you do push the boundaries there's an increased risk that you might get it wrong. How do you tread that fine line?
There is always this risk. An F1 car is extremely complex, it's a puzzle. But you have to trust the information you've got, your experience and also your instinct – your gut feeling.
Naturally, you still question things – you have to, no one is capable of knowing everything – but you must believe in yourself. You have to believe that you're on the right path.
There's a real belief building inside the team right now, isn't there?
It's coming together: the car, the people, the resources. You can feel the energy. Even if we don't get it right this year or next year, or don't make the step forward we're aiming for, we will eventually.
There's a strong feeling, a belief, that we're on the right path. It's going to take a few years to become championship contenders, but soon we will have everything we need to be successful.
There will be no excuses.
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