When Dan Fallows isn’t working to make Aston Martin’s car as fast as possible, he likes to make music. “I mostly do electronic things. Dance music,” says the technical director of the Silverstone team. “I kind of have a home studio where I make stuff. I think it’s quite important when you get to the end of the day to have something completely different.
Fallow smiled. “Someone told me that engineers or mathematicians have a great affinity for dance music because it’s very mathematical and repetitive. Or maybe it’s hypnotic. I do not know. Whatever it is, I find it quite relaxing.
Whatever it is, it seems to be working. Aston Martin has been the surprise of the season so far. Ahead of this weekend’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix, the Silverstone-based team sit second in the constructors’ championship, with new signing Fernando Alonso finishing on the podium in all three races.
Fallows has been credited with playing a big part in that leap up the grid – Aston Martin finished seventh late last year, secrets he brought with him from Red Bull when he joined Aston Martin this time around last year yielded immediate results.
Fallows seems a little embarrassed by that suggestion.
“It gives the impression that I am in some way responsible for the design of the car, which is definitely not true,” he says. “I mean, we’ve made some direction changes… the way we approach car development [after he joined]. And it has paid off in a very rewarding way this year. But it’s not up to me. It depends on the approximately 700 people who work here”.
As pivotal as his role is, something big seems to be happening at Aston Martin. Last but not least, the new plant that is about to open. The team will move at some point during the next week or two, between races, and Fallows believes it will be a “game changer”.
Not only is the new factory a huge, state-of-the-art, open-plan, “smart” facility, dwarfing the old Eddie Jordan Building (which will be demolished in the coming months to make way for the new cafeteria), but it’s also a new wind tunnel under construction on site. Journalists were taken on tour last December and it was clear then that this was more than a few extra steps for a team that has traditionally punched above its weight.
“It was designed for a modern F1 team,” says Fallows. “I think it’s the first brand new factory in the sport for nearly 20 years, so we’ve been able to work with what was essentially a blank canvas. Having everything under one roof will make a big difference.”
Will he be the best in Formula One? “I think so. Lawrence was very clear about that. That’s what he asked for every step of the way. Because he believes, like us, that having a structure like that is incredibly motivating.”
Fallows is referring to Lawrence Stroll, billionaire owner of Aston Martin, in whose office at Silverstone we are currently sitting. There are photos of Stroll’s family, including son Lance racing for the team, scattered about the place. And a couple of miniature models of James Bond’s Aston Martins from Specter and Casino Royale. The Canadian has a reputation, which Netflix likes to fuel, for being something of a Bond villain himself, with his white hair, thick eyebrows and hostile manner. Fallows insists he’s not the ogre he’s supposed to be.
“Not at all,” he says. “He’s demanding, as you would imagine anyone in that position. But not in a bad way. He has high expectations for this team. But it’s great. His ambition and vision is what really attracted me to this project. He wants this to be the best team in F1. And he will do everything possible to achieve this.
Fallows says Stroll is at the factory “about once a week,” but constantly on the phone, asking for updates, asking what he can do. “He even called me this week from his island in Mustique. He said: “I’d like to be at Silverstone talking about the results in the wind tunnel.” I said: ‘I am happy to exchange!’ But he absolutely loves it. He provides a huge amount of energy. He is the cornerstone of the team. That was his vision and we all agree”.
It will be interesting to see Aston Martin try to make it big over the next few years. For now, though, it’s a matter of trying to keep second place behind Red Bull. Will they be able to resist the power of Mercedes and Ferrari? Would he even expect them to last over the course of a season?
“That’s a good question,” he says. “The honest answer is that I don’t know. We have shown that we can make a really good pace in the off-season. The key thing now is whether we can compete in the development race in the season. It is certainly a challenge for us. But it’s one we need to embrace.
“If it turns out that we’re lacking the ingredients, then we need to look into that…how we’re developing, how we’re structured, how we’re organised…and then adjust that for next year to make sure it can compete in season as well as off-season.” season.
In the long run, however, Fallows has no doubts that Aston Martin can break into the top flight and win championships. “Even with the logs as they are,” he says. “Yes, the budget constraint makes it more difficult for incoming teams. We don’t yet have the capabilities in terms of simulation tools and design tools that some of the larger teams have. But we are not far off. We will definitely get there.”
A new state-of-the-art factory, a new wind tunnel, an evergreen Alonso, a billionaire owner, a technical director who learned alongside Adrian Newey… Aston Martin could make a lot of noise in the coming years. By the way, any chance to hear one of his dance tracks? Fallows laughs. “Absolutely not,” he says. “None of this is for public consumption. There’s no way I’m telling you my SoundCloud number.