Aston Martin will return to the Formula 1 grid in 2021, ending a 61-year absence for the British luxury automaker. But how did it get there?
Friday’s announcement that Racing Point will become Aston Martin from the 2021 season in a £ 182 million deal led by Canadian billionaire tycoon Lawrence Stroll signals Aston Martin’s first full-time involvement in F1 since his short foray at the end of the years ’50.
It also marks the second time that the Silverstone team will be renamed within three years, after moving from Force India to Racing Point before its transition to Aston Martin.
The change is not new for the team currently known as Racing Point, after having undergone a series of identifying changes over the years.
The origins and involvement of the team in F1 date back to 1991, when he entered the championship for the first time and competed under the pretext of Jordan, named after the founder Eddie Jordan.
Jordan gave young Michael Schumacher his debut at the 1991 Belgian Grand Prix for the first time and scored four victories and 19 podiums throughout his tenure with the moniker until 2005, achieving the best third place in the championship manufacturers during a 1999 campaign in which Heinz -Harald Frentzen took third place in the drivers’ standings.
Financial difficulties in the early 2000s led the team to be sold to the Midland group in early 2005 for $ 60 million. While the Jordan name remained for 2005, it soon changed to Midland MF1 Racing for 2006.
A change of ownership and identity could not prevent the collapse since Midland finished tenth in the 2006 constructors’ championship with zero points to his name, ahead of Super Aguri only.
It was a case of another year and another change of name when the Dutch company Spyker bought the team in late 2006, leading to the orange-inspired liveries seen in late 2006 and 2007.
Money problems continued despite a title sponsorship deal with Etihad Airways. Christijan Albers lost his leadership and was released from his contract due to lack of sponsorship money, while car development also stalled and the team subsequently closed the manufacturers’ championship fund.
Enter the stage on the left, Vijay Mallya. In October 2007, the Indian businessman saved the team from his financial troubles by leading a consortium to buy the Spyker F1 team for € 88 million, coining the birth of Force India for 2008.
The team moved on to compete with an Indian license but maintained the Silverstone headquarters that had served its predecessors. After a tough inaugural season in F1 and having undergone a series of 29 races without scoring points, Force India has finally made its mark thanks to the memorable performance of the expert Giancarlo Fisichella (who scored the last victory of the Jordanian Grand Prix in Brazil in 2003) at the Belgian Grand Prix 2009.
Fisichella stunned the field by conquering an unlikely pole position on Saturday at Spa-Francorchamps, before finishing second on the podium behind Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen while he made three new feats for Force India within 24 hours.
That’s right, and just like the original Jordan team before it, Force India had established itself as a sort of beloved underdog team among F1 fans.
Continuous improvements continued from 2010 to 2013, before things really started when the V6 hybrid era began in 2014. A formidable driver pairing led by Sergio Perez helped Force India claim sixth, fifth, fourth and fourth place in the following four seasons, with 2017 it shows the team’s most successful season to date. The top 10 milestones were expected regularly, while Force India had now become a podium contender.
Success may have been found on the track, but the problems seemed to go away from the circuit when Mallya’s presence became increasingly fleeting. The murmurs of possible financial problems became serious when it emerged that Mallya was facing extradition and fraud charges with his defaulting commercial empire over debt.
With Mallya no longer able to afford to manage Force India, the team was finally put into administration by the London High Court in July 2018, on the eve of the Hungarian Grand Prix.
This is where Stroll intervened. The father of the then Williams driver, Lance Stroll, and a consortium of investors saved the Force India entity by purchasing the assists to create a new item called Racing Point Force India.
Ensuring the future of the outfit meant that the brand new team could complete the rest of the season while the new entry started from scratch and managed to recover seventh place in the championship.
The Force India name – which had always been on the F1 grid since 2008 – ceased to exist heading for the 2019 season when the team changed its builder voice on Racing Point, completely dropping the Force India banner while Stroll made the switch from Williams to connect with his father’s new team.
After saving the F1 team, Stroll didn’t wait long to make his next move. According to a RaceFans report in the back end of last year, Stroll was observing a potential buy-in of the struggling Aston Martin company in its recent financial struggles.
Stroll’s investment and 20% stake in Aston Martin is the first step towards acquiring a stake in the company in difficulty. Part of Aston Martin’s plans to raise £ 500 million in emergency funds has led to the link with Racing Point, which will see the team’s latest brand.
The collaboration is significant for both Racing Point and Aston Martin, with the sponsorship lasting for four years starting in 2021. In the meantime, Aston Martin will see the current sponsorship of the Red Bull team title, which will lead to a conclusion at the end of this season following an agreement to free the British manufacturer from its exclusivity clause.
The news could mean 2020 is the last year of the “Pink Panthers” – with Force India / Racing Point cars boasting an eye-catching pink livery since 2017 – before Aston Martin’s presence was felt in 2021.
The deal is a breeze for both parties and serves as Stroll’s declaration of intent of his vision for Racing Point. After years of fighting in midfield, the team has great ambitions to challenge the top three finishers of Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull and fight for race wins and championships.
While the goal of returning to the highest levels of midfield order is perhaps a more realistic short-term goal, the imminent revision of the sporting, technical and financial regulations in 2021 could offer Racing Point the best opportunity to take steps from giant the pecking order while embarking on his new journey with Aston Martin.