Aston Martin’s Formula One roots drive deep in Canada
Past and current owners of the team were no strangers to this country or its beer.
The Formula One racing team now called Aston Martin Cognizant – that last word is the name of the sponsor – was started in 1991 by Irish businessman Eddie Jordan and incorporated as Jordan Grand Prix. It has changed hands four times since and been owned twice by Canadians.
It is in the news these days because the world championship Grand Prix season will get underway in the Middle East at the end of the month and the team, which is owned by Montreal billionaire Lawrence Stroll, is employing Stroll’s son Lance as one of its two drivers, the other being four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel.
But it’s interesting that of the three Canadians who have owned F1 teams – Walter Wolf being the first back in the 1970s – two have owned the same one.
In 2005, Toronto land developer Alex Schnaider bought the team from Eddie Jordan and renamed it Midland Grand Prix. But almost from the beginning, critics suggested he might not have known what he was getting himself into. I wrote a column saying this and Schnaider suggested I was the one who was over my head. But Midland lasted just 18 months before the owner bailed and Spyker cars, a sports car manufacturer headquartered in the Netherlands, took over.
Spyker lasted about as long as Midland and the team became Force India in 2008. It was under bankruptcy protection in 2018 when Lawrence Stroll bought it, renaming it Racing Point F1. Stroll, in the meantime, put a group of businessmen together, primarily Canadian, and bought 16.7 per cent of the Aston Martin car company. Stroll became executive-chairman and the renaming of the race team from Turning Point to Aston Martin followed.
(I trust you’re all paying attention. There will be a test later.)
So, I’m talking about all this the other day with Otmar Szafnauer, team principal of Aston Martin F1, who said he hadn’t realized the depth of the Canadian connection. Szafnauer was born in Romania, moved to the United States with his parents when he was seven, grew up in Detroit and considers himself “half-Canadian.”
“I have a soft spot for Canada,” he said. “When I was growing up in Detroit, the drinking age in Michigan was 21 and it was 19 in Ontario, so I spent a lot of weekends in Windsor. In fact, a couple of my friends met and married Canadian girls. That’s what happens: you go over to have a couple of Labatt Blues and you wind up marrying a Canadian girl. That didn’t happen to me – but I find it interesting that we’ve had two Canadian owners.”
ƒSzafnauer, while talking about the team – it’ll be the first time since 1960 that the name Aston Martin will be on an F1 grid – said that the main goal of the 2021 season is to end up at the top of the midfield (the first behind Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull Racing) and that means being consistent in point scoring.
I asked him to elaborate.
“Back in the days of (drivers) Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez, they’d periodically get together and we’d sit them down and talk to them about how this sort of thing isn’t beneficial. Then we made sure that the drivers and their engineers shared all their data together so that both cars and the entire team benefitted. We’ll definitely continue doing that,” Szafnauer said.
“I feel very confident that the drivers will work together to optimize their performance and ultimately the team’s. I’ve no doubt that will happen. We’re good at this.”
Szafnauer said he is also bullish about Lance Stroll as a Formula One driver.
“Lance definitely has the raw talent and the car control that’s required in Formula One to race at the very pinnacle and to beat a teammate (Sebastian Vettel) who has won four world championships. He’s got the ability and the car control. That was exemplified by his on-track performance in qualifying in Turkey last year. Conditions weren’t easy – the conditions were the same for everybody, though – when he put a car on pole that wasn’t performing as well as some of the others.
“Often we’re the third quickest car but we’re never the quickest and he was in the third quickest car in Turkey. He went out and it was raining, and he put it on pole. So that kind of shows the skill that he has but to beat Sebastian Vettel you’re going to have to work hard.
“Sabastian has a great work ethic and we’re working hard so that Sebastian feels comfortable at our team and we can get him back up to performing at his best. So, yes, Lance has the talent and the wherewithal to beat his teammate but Sebastian, too, will be working to beat his teammate. It’ll be interesting.”
It sure will.
Norris McDonald is a retired Star editor who continues to write for Wheels under contract. Every Monday, he reviews the weekend’s auto racing at wheels.ca