US Open tennis champ Thiem sets sights on Dubai glory

US Open tennis champ Thiem sets sights on Dubai glory
US Open tennis champ Thiem sets sights on Dubai glory

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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - DUBAI: After a six-decade absence, Aston Martin is back in Formula One and on Wednesday revealed the car that it hopes will deliver success this season with former World Champion Sebastian Vettel and Lance Stroll at the wheel.

The team formerly known as Racing Point is now officially Aston Martin Cognizant Formula One Team, after the British manufacturer was last involved in the competition 61 years ago.

The unveiling of the new AMR21 was described by Aston Martin Executive Chairman Lawrence Stroll as an “important event in automotive history,” with the new contender being the first works Formula One car to carry the famous wings since Maurice Trintignant’s DBR5 crossed the finish line at Silverstone in 1960.

“It’s quite inspirational to get a marque like Aston Martin back on to the Formula One grid after 60-plus years and we’re all honored here at Silverstone to have the opportunity to work really hard at making an extremely competitive car as an Aston Martin for 2021,” said Team Principal Otmar Szafnauer.

The team is only days away from testing the new car with an eye on the start of the 2021 Formula One season at the Bahrain Grand Prix on March 28.

“I’m very excited to take it to our competition and I’m also very excited with the new driver line-up that we will have this year,” said Szafnauer. “We’re really hoping to continue on the same path that we left off last year (as Racing Point). The penultimate race, we won, and we had some very good performances toward the end of last year, and we hope that this year continues on that same path and that we’ll be fighting for podiums from the start of the season.”

Szafnauer admitted that last season the competition was fierce in midfield, with Racing Point finishing fourth in the Constructors standings, only seven points behind McLaren in third, and that there are ambitions to challenge the likes of Red Bull for second place.

“It was very, very competitive in the midfield last year, I see the same thing happening this year,” he said. “Towards the beginning of last year I think we were closer to Red Bull than toward the end. They seem to traditionally develop quicker in the season than the conception and not so much over the winter. So my anticipation is that if we come out as strong as we finished last year and we’ve done a good job over the winter, we should be a little bit closer to Red Bull but I anticipate those teams around us, McLaren, Ferrari, Renault, they’ll all do a good job over the winter.

Szafnauer believes Formula One learnt valuable lessons from last season and that there is a good chance the entire schedule will be completed. New to the calendar will be the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in December and he is sure that Aston Martin will be ready for the street circuit in Jeddah.

“We really look forward to the new venues and we will do our due diligence and homework to make sure that we understand the characteristics of the track and we have a good set up to start with,” he said. “We don’t get as much time to prepare this year. We get an hour less of pre-practice so that will have an impact, especially on road circuits where we go for the first time. So because of that we will run simulations of the circuit, we will understand the layout, we’ll understand what type of set-up we need to have so we are as prepared as we can be.”

“And as far as road circuits goes versus closed circuits like at Silverstone, we do race in some quasi-road circuits and some pure ones” Szafnauer added. “We’ll be at Singapore and at Monaco this year, so we’ll have good understanding of what it takes.”

With the Middle East races in Jeddah and Abu Dhabi scheduled to be the last two of the season, Szafnauer is optimistic that live audiences will be back in time to enjoy the campaign’s finale.

“I do anticipate fans to be back in the second half of the year,” he said. “I think in the first half of the year, I’m not so sure. Even last year we had fans at a couple of the races, not full grandstand but a significant amount of fans, 40,000 plus at some of the venues, and I think there will be more of that this year.”

Szafnauer says the team has changed significantly since his arrival over 10 years ago. “When I first arrived we were 280 people, we are nearly double that now. But since we became Racing Point and now Aston Martin that change has accelerated. Our ambitions have increased, our goals and objectives are loftier now.”

The grander ambitions were made clear with Vettel’s addition to the team, with the four-time champion (2010, 2011, 2012, 2013)) bringing a wealth of experience and the specific know-how of what it takes to win the Formula One title.

That will bring added expectations.

“I think Aston Martin, the name itself, will command on-track performance and I can assure you Sebastian Vettel is only doing this for one reason and that’s to win again; he pushes like mad for on track performance,” Szafnauer said. “That to us isn’t really pressure. Because this team, from the days of Jordan, has always been about that.”

“All we do is work to make sure that car goes faster,” he said. “Every minute of every day, to make sure we make that car go faster and that’s what the Aston Martin name commands and for sure that’s what Sebastian pushes us toward.”

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