Mike Krack sat at one of the high-top tables in Aston Martin’s motorhome, engaging with each person who would filter in across from him.
True to form, the team principal was upbeat, actively engaging with each question or comment that came his way. And even with Aston Martin’s latest form, it’s understandable why he usually is seen smiling, particularly this season.
Aston Martin snagged six podiums in the first eight races, contending early in 2023 for second in the constructor standings. They essentially leapfrogged their immediate rivals after a seventh-place finish last season. But the team’s performance has regressed recently as others took steps forward in development. With summer break underway, Aston Martin sits third in the standings at 196 points, just five ahead of Ferrari, but Krack is still confident in his team.
Ahead of the Belgian Grand Prix, the longtime engineer sat down with The Athletic to answer your questions for our first F1 guest mailbag.
Questions have been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.
Who is the next great driver not currently in F1? – Levente B.
We have one: Felipe. Felipe Drugovich is a very, very strong driver. I would like to see him on the grid. Formula One is a bit of a special environment, you know – commercial experience, technical. Sometimes great drivers slip a bit through the ranks. I hope that this is not happening. I’m quite confident because he’s (a) really great driver. He won last year’s F2 championship. And there are some good drivers in the junior categories coming up, and I hope that they get a chance.
On which of the remaining tracks this year is the Aston Martin most comfortable on? – Calwin T.
It’s difficult to say. Listen, we try to be good on all the tracks. We like the street circuits. Singapore is one where we really like to be, where I think we can be also quite competitive. But then you also have your highlights where everybody just loves to go, like Texas, like Suzuka, Brazil. They’re just fantastic circuits. Also the whole atmosphere around it and all that so the whole team is always enjoying to go there. And then this year with Las Vegas, it is a completely new venue that we are all curious to see how that will go.
What, in your eyes, are Fernando and Lance’s greatest strengths on the track? How do you tailor setups and strategies week to week to suit them for different circuits? – Nathan L.
I think Lance’s main strength is the high speed. I’ve not often seen drivers with that level of trust, commitment and also courage in high speed. Unfortunately, with the way today’s tires are, you have to save your tires in high speed. So as a driver, it’s also very difficult to excel in high-speed corners because there’s so much protection of the tires that you have to do. So, unfortunately, we don’t often see that strength. But then also, Lance (has) a great fighting spirit. We have seen after he had a broken wrist how he managed his way back into the car with a lot of pain. It tells you the commitment and fighting spirit Lance is having.
Fernando, I would say the greatest thing is how he can read races, how much brain power he has available while driving at absolute limits to analyze the strategy, to analyze, “what’s going on around here?” Sometimes, he’s challenging us during a race (and) you think, “Is he sitting on the sofa somewhere or driving a race car?” So I think this is one of Fernando’s key strengths.
Lance Stroll’s 2-week trip from a hospital bed to a gutsy win over Mercedes
Will Aston Martin stick to its original schedule for developing this year’s car and then begin to focus more on next year’s car? – Andrew E.
We are focusing on this year’s car because the regulations are stable for next year, as well. So everything that you learned this year, you can also carry it over, or 90% of it you can carry over, so we are massively focused on this year’s car.
In your experience, which is more important to race success: the man or the machine? – Collin K.
I think both are important, especially also the 700-plus behind. You cannot really say one is more important than the other. If one element is missing, then the whole system is collapsing. So it is really like a gearbox. Every wheel has to go along to have the great performance that we have. There’s people at home, there’s people at the racetrack, there’s people at the pit wall, there’s people in the garage doing the pitstop. So you really need everybody, and that is also what is so nice about it, that it is such a big team sport.
How much strategy is calculation, and how much is gut feeling? – Liam O.
The percentage is difficult, but there is always an element of both. I would say the data or objective side of it is a large chunk in preparation (and) in also execution. But then, sometimes, you look at the sky, and do you have something appearing that you do not even see on the radar? And then you have to be maybe more intuitive. Or “How quickly is this going to dry?” You know, these kinds of things where you need to mix, I would say, experience, intuition, with your objective side, the pure data. Every information that you have is being factored in. So I think it’s largely data-driven, information-driven, objective-driven, but there is always an element of intuition and experience. Now, in percentages, it can be difficult to say. Depends on where you are.
Why are team principals typically so involved and visible trackside, and even on team radio, given how large F1 teams are? Does it make the job harder? – Matt B.
The teams are organized differently. Some teams are organized where the team principal has a more vocal role, and some are not, so I think we cannot generalize that. You are right, there are large teams, and in your large team, you have to structure in a way that you have the right communication lines. And then, each team has to decide for itself who talks to the driver, who talks to whom at what time in the whole process, and who is on the radio – because people are talking, obviously, but who uses which channel on (the) radio?
Some teams are structured in a way that the team principal is talking more or sits somewhere else. Some sit on the pit wall, some sit in the back of the garage, and (at) some teams, the team principal speaks less on the radio. So it’s really something that we didn’t think about so much, to be honest. It’s something that is just evolving the way it has, so I’m quite happy with the way we are handling it.
Of all the cities you’ve traveled to during your career, what is your absolute favorite restaurant? — Tjett G.
We don’t have so much time to go to restaurants, but we have a very good restaurant here (in the motorhome). So this is my favorite restaurant.
What is one track or race you’d like to see added or return to the calendar? – Tjett G.
That’s an easy one. The old Nürburgring, the Nordschleife part, is a fantastic circuit, 20 kilometers long. Formula One raced there until, I think, the late 70s, but that would be a great addition. Not very realistic, though! (Ed. note: The last F1 race at the Nordschleife section was, indeed, in 1976.)
Can you describe to the fans the impact that opening your new factory and state-of-the-art wind tunnel will have on Aston Martin? What advantages are conferred to teams that have their own wind tunnels? – Kyle D.
For us, the new campus, the new design office, the new facilities downstairs plus the wind tunnel, which will be next year, it will change everything for us because now we are in different locations. We are renting wind tunnel time somewhere else, so we bring everything on-site, which is much better for logistics. And again, the human beings working together. Despite all the technology that we have with teams, with remote working, it is still a people sport, a people business. To bring everyone together will have a big impact over the years to come in competitiveness, efficiency, and hopefully, this helps us win.
What is the biggest part of your job that the average fan knows nothing about? – Ryan H.
It is maybe more the interaction with the people, the team dynamics, the soft part of it. Like, outside of meetings, how you interact with people? Who needs a good word, or who needs to maybe be told that he needs to take (it) a bit more serious? It is this kind of things that you spend time on, which the fan doesn’t see.
What is the thought process when it comes to strategy and tire use? What makes strategy so difficult that the common f1 fan doesn’t understand? – Wilson T.
Strategy is made by a lot of factors. You see how your tires are behaving, you try to have a mathematical model of the tire behavior. How is lap time going lap by lap? Then how is the car going quickly because the fuel goes down? Then you have, how is the track improving? Because you put rubber on every lap. So you try to understand the tire behavior, and then how much time are you losing in the pit lane when you come in and you change tires? So this time lost, you have to factor in.
You have a software (that) we put all this information in. And then you have to say, can I overtake? Can I not overtake? Is it better I stopped one time more and have fresh tires? These kinds of things. It’s a very mathematical process. It’s not so shiny as it might sound, but this is what the other team is doing. And then you add elements of the random, like safety car, incidents. What do we do with (a) safety car if it is the beginning of the race? Middle of the race? End of the race?
So the whole strategy process is quite a complicated one, but we have good people doing that. I did strategy for a while. It’s quite a tough job.
What are the goals for a team in your position? Are you just aiming for third place this year, second next? How big do your goals jump for next year compared to this year? How soon do you normally start to prepare for next season? – Craig R.
The whole thing is very elective. You depend a lot on how other teams are performing. Even if you do a very good job, it could be that another team does slightly better job. Year by year, we try to do as best as we can without really setting a specific target and position. But I think it is important that year by year, you see an improvement in the way you operate, in the way you set up your car, in the way you produce your car, in the way your car performs. There will be ups and downs over these years, but the main one has to go to the front, and this is our target.
(Top photo of Mike Krack: Gongora/NurPhoto via Getty Images)