Aston Martin is taking the job of supplying an F1 safety car rather seriously. Rather than take an existing model, slap a light bar on the top and chuck in all of Bernd Maylander and Richard Darker’s communication gear, the British company made a new model for the job. And ex-Mercedes-AMG man Tobias Moers, the new boss, had a personal hand in making some of the tweaks.
The result is the Vantage F1 Edition, which straight away looks unlike any other version of Aston’s Porsche 911 rival thanks to its massive rear wing. Also featuring a new front splitter and under-body vanes, the new aero package adds 200kg of downforce at the F1 Ed’s 195mph top speed, and that’s just the start.
You also get an extra 25bhp from the AMG-sourced twin-turbo V8, giving a new figure of 528bhp, and a tweaked eight-speed automatic gearbox for shorter shift times. On the chassis front, there are vast new 21-inch wheels wearing bespoke Pirelli P Zeroes, a stiffer front structure, fresh damper internals and increased spring rates at the rear. Crucially, you can have it daubed in Aston Martin Racing Green paint to make it look just like the safety car. Well, flashing lights aside - you can’t have those. Sorry.
It’s certainly striking in the metal, but I’m not sure it’s the best-looking Vantage we’ve yet seen. The F1 Edition is fitted with the new (normally optional) vaned grille whether you like it or not, and I find myself in the ‘not’ camp. I’m not sure 21s suit it, either - visually, the standard 20-inch rims are a better fit.
Behind the wheel and on the move, though, you really do appreciate the rear wing endplates looming in your wing mirror views. This adds a decent sense of occasion, as does the neat and very shiny F1 plaque, which brightens up the messy button-fest of a dashboard.
The first moment of full throttle is deliciously good. I reckon Aston Martin has gotten a better din out of this V8 than Mercedes-AMG, and from the cabin at least, it doesn’t sound like the recently added particulate filters have done the soundtrack much harm. There’s a lovely gargle at lower revs, shifting to an angry bark as the revs rise.
Given that this is a 1570kg (dry) car, an increase of 25bhp isn’t something that’s noticeable. The up and downshifts do seem a little snappier, though - the usual lusting after a proper dual-clutch gearbox instead of a torque converter auto isn’t as strong when driving this thing. A DCT would be better, though. At least the big, column-mounted shifters remain as awesome as ever.
From the off, the Vantage F1 feels firmer than the standard car, both because of the bigger wheels and the fettled suspension. It’s not unacceptably stiff, but the car’s at its best on the road in the base ‘Sport’ mode for the adaptive dampers. Weirdly, for the powertrain, you’re better off in ‘Race’ than ‘Sport+’ even when away from a track. In the latter mode, the throttle has an oddly artificial sharpness to it. I’ll take the more relaxed pedal feel in Race, thanks.
Show the F1 Ed a bend, and all of that chassis fiddling makes sense. There’s more darty, alert sense to both the steering and the front end, along with a decent amount of feedback from the road. We’re not talking about a night and day difference, but it’s a definite dynamic improvement.
It’s a feisty, pointy kind of car that’s keen to move around at the rear even in dry conditions. A 911 is much more tied down than this - whether that’s a good or bad thing depends entirely upon what you’re after from a sports car.
Although this is clearly a car that demands your utmost attention, on a circuit it inspires more than enough confidence for you to quickly turn off the ESP and have a play. You’ll want to be doing this - even in its ‘half off’ ESP Sport mode, the electronics curtail the slidey fun surprisingly early.
Although the looks won’t be to everyone’s tastes, this is clearly the best version of the Vantage we’ve yet seen. However like the Vantage AMR we tried a couple of years ago, this comes at quite a cost. That cost being a cool £142,000.
Foisting the 911 back into the conversation, it’s worth pointing you could take that kind of money to a Porsche dealership, come away with a new Carrera GTS plus thirty-three grand in change. You could add a bunch of options and it’d still be many thousands less.
For all its dynamic advances, a Vantage still isn’t quite as good to drive as a 911. The Porsche is also better built and isn’t hamstrung by previous-generation infotainment gear borrowed from another manufacturer (in Aston’s case, Mercedes). As ever, that Aston Martin badge is having to do a fair bit of heavy lifting, although the burden on its shoulders (or should that be wings?) is getting lighter all the time.
In any case, for those who don’t want to stretch to the F1 Edition’s asking price, don’t be surprised if some of the car’s very welcome tweaks end up on the boggo Vantage eventually. Aston would be silly not to.