It may well be the most eagerly-anticipated 2021 Formula 1 launch of them all – Aston Martin arriving on the F1 grid, with four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel at the wheel.
The team won a race in its previous incarnation as Racing Point last year and benefits from strong Mercedes ties.
Vettel might be revitalised in its environment and his team-mate Lance Stroll has progressed to the point where he led the Turkish Grand Prix from pole.
So there are plenty of reasons for excitement and optimism – but also some significant question marks.
Our writers give their thoughts on what to expect from Aston in 2021.
Exciting – but shaky
Aston Martin and Vettel have climbed into bed together with a lot to prove. They are heavily reliant on each other to deliver.
But if both parties access their full potential, this could be a special season for them.
Both team and driver are still carrying their separate controversies from last year – the team from the stir it caused by so blatantly copying the Mercedes, Vettel by his form completely collapsing in his final Ferrari season.
If the team can use its knowledge of the car from last season to squeeze even more from it this time around and Vettel can take what is hopefully a much more stable car than his Ferrari to again access his best stuff, then that’s a potent combination.
It’s bit of a wobbly prospect, but an exciting one.
Aston will make more enemies
It’s dog-eat-dog in the tightly congested F1 midfield, and last year this team made its rivals angry.
The other teams felt it wasn’t doing things by the book – they didn’t like the extent of the Mercedes copy, they had suspicions about how that concept had been achieved, and they also perceived the team to be reckless around COVID-19 rules too.
But above all else, what made the others angry is that Racing Point was so competitive. That trumps all other reasons or excuses.
Everyone in the midfield hated Haas a few years ago, but how many complained about its Ferrari tie-up last year? Competitiveness is everything.
Running an F1 team, taking a consortium to Aston Martin, and rebranding the F1 team in Aston’s image – Lawrence Stroll isn’t doing any of these things to make friends with his competitors. He’s doing it all to win.
Aston should be more competitive this year, too. So if it does its job properly, it will make more enemies.
The team just needs to make sure that’s for the right reasons.
2022 development work is the key
Regardless of what Aston Martin does this season on grand prix weekends, the really important work will be done at its Silverstone base.
While this year’s performance should more or less take care of itself once the season gets going with the car in the hands of a very effective team trackside, next year’s massive technical regulations overhaul presents Aston Martin with the opportunity to take a leap forward.
And it needs to if it is to become a consistent challenger for race wins given last year’s deficit to the pace was still, on average, 1.2%.
The key will be to hit the ground running with this year’s car and get good results, which will also confirm the underlying car understanding is good.
If that happens, the team can plough the maximum resource into 2022 development.
This will allow the very strong technical team under Andrew Green, which is getting stronger all the time, to do the work needed to take a significant step in performance next year.
For Aston Martin, 2021 is just a stop along the way to a much more important destination.
And the 2022 car will have a huge impact on how quickly it gets there – and, indeed, if it gets there at all.
HIGHER PEAKS, LOWER CHAMPIONSHIP POSITION?
There’s a very high chance Aston Martin will have higher peaks than it did as Racing Point last year, while also slipping back in the championship.
The AMR21 is going to be a step on from version one of the copycat Mercedes design from 2020, and the team will have a better understanding of how to get the most out of the car concept.
Hopefully Vettel’s awful 2020 was a freak occurrence. A four-time world champion doesn’t become a bad F1 driver overnight. If he’s back on form this year, he’ll regularly take the… ‘Green Mercedes?’ to excellent results.
Stroll is capable of doing that too. But he needs to do it more regularly than we’ve seen from him so far in F1.
He will be in the mix for excellent grid positions and podium finishes on his day, but if he continues to lack consistency, Aston is going to find itself punished by Ferrari and McLaren in particular.
Ferrari should be back to a respectable level in 2021, and McLaren is adding Daniel Ricciardo and the best engine on the grid to a potent mix that beat Racing Point last season.
Those two teams alone leave Aston Martin with no room to have off days – and that’s before we consider the gains Alpine and AlphaTauri could have made over the winter.
The fairytale might not come true
There’s so much to like about the prospect of a happy Vettel being back to his best, Aston succeeding in F1 and maybe the greatest era yet for the team with Jordan roots.
But I’m on the sceptical side of cautious. The team’s handling of controversies such as the ‘Mercedes copy’ row last year was not always very elegant, the decline in Vettel’s form over his Ferrari seasons was absolutely drastic, and Stroll’s impressive peaks are still rarely strung together.
There might be a big gap between the dream vision of ‘green Jordan’ winning with 2008-spec happy underdog Vettel, and the reality.
Did Racing Point achieve everything it could and should with a pink Mercedes last year? I’m not at all convinced.
F1’s ‘best of the rest’ space is crowded and what’s now Aston has a fair bit to prove.