Fernando Alonso will be a “challenge” for Aston Martin when he joins them next year, says team principal Mike Krack.
He is a two-time champion Joining Aston Martin Alpine, which did not offer him the terms he wanted.
Krack said: “He can finish us off, more so than a driver not of that calibre. Maybe it will be a lot harder than it is now.
“We discussed it. We said, ‘What are the pros and cons?’ And we concluded that it is the right step.”
Alonso is a legendary figure in Formula 1, and at 41 is still considered one of the best drivers in the sport.
But he is also known to be someone who demands a lot from his teams.
The Spaniard will represent the four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel, who will retire from F1 at the end of the season, in a team that is ninth out of 10 in the constructors’ championship. Alpine is fourth, with six races remaining in the 2022 season.
In an exclusive interview, Krack told BBC Sport that Alonso was Aston Martin’s first choice to replace Vettel because of his “speed – you know where the car is, that’s the first thing”.
But he admitted: “It will be a challenge for us.”
Krack said, “Usually, drivers with this experience don’t have that desire to win. Usually, that desire goes down, especially if they’ve already won.
“Fernando has a unique combination of speed, hunger, motivation and experience. He is the perfect candidate for us.
“The downside can be if the car we deliver is not good enough, we know it’s difficult. But with all drivers it becomes difficult if the car is not fast enough.
“We believe that having someone like Fernando is very, very important for us to take the next step as a team.
“You have to learn to manage champions, which we already did with Sebastian. These drivers are very strict, so they are quite difficult to manage. I wouldn’t say that Sebastian is that difficult to manage if you are transparent, honest and fair. And I think the same is true with Fernando.
“Difficulties arise when the expectation doesn’t match the deliverables, or the verbality doesn’t.
“He knows very well that when he comes here we probably won’t win the first race together.
“But you can be sure that we give everything and that we will listen to what has to be said. And if we can’t fulfill something, we have to tell him, openly and transparently: ‘Look, we can’t do this. With all the options,'” this is what we can do next time.’
“I think if we have this kind of conversation, it won’t be a problem.”
Misconceptions and growing pains
Aston Martin has had a disappointing season.
At the start of the 2021 season, team owner Lawrence Stroll – a Canadian millionaire – set a goal of winning by 2025.
But after finishing fourth as Racing Point in 2020, they have dropped to seventh and now ninth in the last two seasons.
Stroll has financed a new factory, which will be operational early next year, and launched a recruitment drive, among other things. Signing former Red Bull head of aerodynamics Dan Fallows as technical director.
The 2023 car will be the first Aston Martin designed under Fallows’ leadership.
Krack, who joined as team principal in February, said Aston Martin’s growth plan along with this season’s massive overhaul of the technical regulations was “perhaps a bit more than we could have digested at the time”.
He said Aston Martin’s performance this year was the result of a combination of factors.
These were the keys: this year they started with an aerodynamic concept, and they could not maximize it because it suffered from the instability called porpoising – a phenomenon that has affected many teams -; and Aston Martin tried to grow too fast after Stroll increased the team’s budget.
“We have a small structure that was based on a few people, where you put a lot of financial resources and you grow very quickly. And if you grow very quickly, the whole structure can’t adapt as quickly,” Krack said.
“Usually you reduce efficiency if you grow too fast and that’s something that happened.
“The [car] The concept that was decided upon was ultimately a direction that offered a very high aerodynamic potential, but due to porpoising it could never be exploited.”
This forced Aston Martin to abandon its first aerodynamic concept and switch to another, similar to that chosen by runaway championship leaders Red Bull.
Since then, Aston Martin has thrived – their car was on an upward performance trend until it suffered a concussion at the last race in Italy.
“The reason we’re improving is that we’ve identified the technical weaknesses of the car and we’ve worked hard to eliminate them one after the other, some in parallel,” said Krack.
“One is the weight of the car, the other is the feedback from the drivers, and the other is the aerodynamic performance and all areas we have improved and continue to improve.
“The pace of change and the evolution we have taken so far gives me good confidence that we can continue until the end of the season.”
Owner Stroll ‘is realistic’
Krack admitted that Stroll was “very strict” and that his investment caused him “pressure”.
But he said: “The financial resources he has put into this team give him the right to be demanding. But he doesn’t put too much pressure on us.
“It’s once a week or something like that, and he wants to know what’s going on, what are the next steps, why did we do it the way we did it, what do we do next and what’s our strategy? And then after two hours he’s got other things to do. It’s not that he comes in and decides every single thing, not at all.
“You are justified in updating your president at least weekly. There are also phone calls in between, but they are like catch-up.
“But at the end of the day, I admire his patience, honestly. Because success hasn’t come the way he wanted from the beginning, and the patience he’s shown shows that he’s realistic and understands what he’s doing.”
Krack, who spent successful periods with Aston Martin in the motorsport divisions of BMW and Porsche, said his job so far had been to guide the team to adapt to its new circumstances.
He said: “When you have an injection of money, it’s about thinking, ‘We want to do more and more and more.’ It is not difficult to say: “Yes we do”.
“There’s always this saying: I throw you three balls, how many will you catch? Probably not. But if I throw one, there’s a good chance you’ll catch it. And here’s the thing – focus on one item and catch it. When you’ve finished one, move on to the next item.
“We have to make improvements. And if at the end of year four, or in the middle of year five, you see clear progress, it doesn’t matter if you’ve won three races or two races or 10.
“The most important thing is to see the way and then you have to adjust along the way.”