There's no doubt that the sudden surge in performance for Aston Martin since Fernando Alonso joined the squad has been one of the major talking points of the 2023 season to date.
Aston was pipped to seventh place in last year's championship by Alfa Romeo, although that masked a definite improvement in the team's performance over the second half of 2022.
But no one expected their success in the first three races of the new season, which has seen Alonso finish on the podium in three consecutive races in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Australia.
“I was hoping ’23 to be a learning season and in ’24 maybe to be challenging Ferraris and Mercedes and things like that,” Alonso told The Race website last week.
“But we challenged them in Bahrain in race one, so obviously now everything looks more optimistic," he acknowledged, adding that the expectation within the team now was for "second or third or whatever" every week.
Aston Martin performance director Tom McCullough agreed that the sudden rise of Aston had not been part of the plan, but was no less welcome for it.
“Did we expect to be here straight away? No. Is it nice to be fighting there? Yes. Is it going to be easy to stay there? No," he explained. “We’ve got to develop the car, understand as much as we can, and just seize this opportunity.”
McCullough quipped that the team had actually done very little over the winter and that the sudden success was in large part thanks to one man. "This is actually last year’s car, we’ve just got Fernando driving!”
While quickly adding that in fact “you need a better car to go faster," he still praised Alonso for “his motivation, his desire, his experience and his knowledge – he’s pushing us all really hard”.
In reality, McCullough is keenly aware that Aston has also benefitted from poor starts to the season from some of their key rivals including Ferrari, Mercedes and McLaren.
"“It’s all to do with pace versus position," he commented. "[It would be a very different situation] if the Ferrari and the Mercedes were two or three tenths faster than they are.
“Our distance from the front is what we’re really focused on," he said. "There’s some teams which may be similar to us, which means that we’re roughly second or third-ish at the moment.
“We’ve had many seasons fighting for fourths and thirds in the championships and podiums,” McCullough pointed out. “The difference now is the actual pace of the car is closer to the cars in front."
He added that having a more competitive car this year made it easier all round to achieve the success they've been seeking.
"If you have a more competitive car and you arrive understanding the track, the tyres, the car, then it’s actually a more straightforward weekend. You’re not messing around with the car too much.
“Doing the job in some ways is easier, but obviously the pressure is always higher," he acknowledged.
"The last few years it’s been just as hard in its own way, you just don’t get the reward," he explained. “When the car’s not competitive you end up searching for performance more during a weekend and nearly cause yourself more problems."
The big question now is whether Aston can continue their run of high flying success, or whether their rivals will quickly catch up and overtake them as the season gets into its stride.
“Now we have to deliver,” Alonso acknowledged. “This is something that we will see very soon from Baku, Imola, Barcelona.
“The teams will start to bring upgrades to the car and we need to be also a top team in that regard," he admitted. “On-track but also off-track we need to learn many things throughout this season to be a contender in ’24, hopefully.”
And that can't come soon enough for team owner Lawrence Stroll, who has already been on to Aston Martin principal Mike Krack about their prospects.
"Lawrence’s mission statement is very clear," krack said this week. "He has not been having any delay in telling us ‘when are we going to win the next one?"
They might be a year ahead of schedule, but that's still not soon enough for the Canadian billionaire!