Suddenly, Aston Martin is doing well in Formula 1. Sebastian Vettel's ex-team could challenge top team Red Bull. Now they accuse the competitor of being more than just strongly inspired by the world champion car. The background is a quite explosive change of personnel.
"We had three Red Bulls on the podium, only the last one had a different engine": The statement by Red Bull motorsport consultant Helmut Marko may come as a surprise, because in Max Verstappen and Sergio Pérez only two drivers from the Milton Keynes team were there first Formula 1 race of the season on the podium. Only behind did old master Fernando Alonso complete the podium.
The Spaniard, who switched to Aston Martin in the summer, wrote the history of the F1 opener in Bahrain. The 41-year-old surprisingly took third place, because his company car had improved by almost two and a half seconds per lap compared to last year. And so Alonso was able to leave Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton and Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz behind in exciting duels.
But there is actually one question: Alonso's new team was seventh in the constructors' classification last season. How can it suddenly keep up with the front runners? RB advisor Marko made a guess. The accusation: The new aerodynamic design of the AMR23, which in some respects is based on the previous year's Red Bull RB18 and the only slightly modified new RB19, may not comply with the regulations that exclude direct copying from the competitor.
A possible explanation for this could be a quite spicy change of personnel. Aston Martin launched a major recruitment campaign after Lawrence Stroll took over the former Force India team. They had poached top engineer and aerodynamicist Dan Fallows and other important names from Red Bull Racing. When asked about it, Marko said, "It's true, what Fallows had in his head can't be erased." A rough copy is not forbidden, said the motorsport consultant. "But is it possible to copy in such detail without having documentation about our car?" he asked.
Fallows switched from Red Bull to Sebastian Vettel's team in the middle of last season, whose cockpit has now been taken over by Alonso. He started the season opener in Bahrain in fifth place and then fought his way onto the podium. "I said it before the race: Alonso will be third," said Marko. "His fight with Hamilton was incredible. It was a tough duel, but fair. Really old school. If Fernando had started further up, he would certainly have been a threat to us," continued the 79-year-old.
Red Bull team boss Christian Horner remained relaxed about the copy issue - at least superficially. "They say imitation is the greatest form of flattery and it's nice to see the old car doing so well," said the Brit. The similarity between the two cars has also long been a topic among the drivers. At the post-race press conference, a journalist addressed "Fernando Alonso and the two Red Bull drivers", whereupon Pérez interrupted him and said with a smirk: "We are all Red Bull drivers".
Meanwhile, Aston Martin team boss Mike Krack declined to comment further on these discussions. "We've always said we're not going to engage in a war of words," Krack said. "So let's leave it at that."