As one of Formula 1’s official safety cars, this Aston Martin was designed to hold up traffic. You’ll see it on Sunday afternoons, orange lights ablaze, leading Messrs Hamilton, Verstappen and Bottas in steady single file while an incident is cleared. It seems apt, then, to be driving at Silverstone, acting as a rolling roadblock for something far faster. Once again, the Vantage F1 Edition is the slowest car on the track.
In fairness, even a pukka F1 car might struggle to gain ground on a Valkyrie. Wrapped in red and black camouflage, Aston Martin’s £2.2 million hypercar is undergoing final shakedown tests on the Stowe circuit. With 1,176hp to shift just 1,030kg, it looms large in my mirrors, then slingshots past, the scream of its 11,000rpm Cosworth V12 slicing the atmosphere clean in half. A few laps later, it’s back behind me again. Just… wow.
Back in the real world, though, the 535hp Vantage F1 Edition is a serious supercar, a rival for the Audi R8 and Porsche 911 Turbo. It’s also a landmark Aston Martin, the first launched under new CEO Tobias Moers. Where this car leads, others will follow.
You can’t blame Aston for leveraging its F1 investment, particularly after 61 years absent from the sport. And the flagship Vantage – which shares safety car duties with the Mercedes-AMG GT R, covering 12 of this year’s 23 grands prix – provides a tangible link from racetrack to the road.
Sadly, there’s no light bar on the roof, but the (optional) satin green paint and matt black stripe echo the livery of the Aston Martin Cognizant racer. You’ll also find plaques bearing the Formula 1 logo on the front wings and centre console, just to hammer the point home.
Other external changes are more functional. The upswept front splitter, carbon fibre canards and fixed rear wing might look a tad ‘Halfords’, but they contribute 200kg of downforce at Vmax of 195mph. Enlarged 21-inch alloys also help towards a Nurburgring lap time of 7min 30sec – 15 seconds quicker than a standard Vantage.
Interestingly, Moers was adamant that “gains in performance came via genuine improvements in the car’s dynamics, and not by fitting track-optimised tyres”, so the F1 Edition wears jack-of-all-trades Pirelli P Zeros. I suspect F1 safety car driver Bernd Mayländer uses something a little stickier.
Under the skin, spring rates are near-identical, but stiffer damping, stronger bump stops, a reinforced undertray and a smidge more negative camber all sharpen the chassis. Aston Martin has even deleted a rubber bush to remove slack from the steering column.
The AMG-derived 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 gets a gentle massage, too: up 25hp to 535hp at 6,000rpm. Driving the rear wheels via an eight-speed automatic gearbox – now with a torque-cut function for sharper upshifts – it propels the Vantage to 62mph in 3.6 seconds.
The one area left more-or-less untouched is the cabin. On the plus side, that means a snug, low-slung driving position and a roomy 350-litre boot (on par with a mid-size hatchback). But it also means a cluttered dashboard, plastic shift paddles and dated media system with blocky graphics. Together, they put a real dent in the Vantage’s showroom appeal.
Speaking of showrooms, the F1 Edition is offered as a coupe (seen here) or Volante convertible. Prices start from £142,000, some £17,600 more than a regular Vantage. Time to discover if that’s money well-spent.
Exiting the pit lane, I click the steering wheel toggles through Sport and Sport+ modes into Track, then accelerate hard up the main straight. The Vantage instantly feels on it. There’s a pleasing heft to its steering and turn-in feels swift and alert, remarkably so for a front-engined car. Yep, this is fun.
So much fun. The ZF transmission isn’t as razor-sharp as a twin-clutch ’box, but it’s well worth taking control with the paddles, enjoying the thump of full-bore upshifts as the V8 howls towards the redline. Traction out of corners feels mighty, while the optional carbon-ceramic brakes are progressive and utterly tireless.
If anything, the lower limits of the P Zeros feel like a bonus here, making the car slower but ultimately more malleable. You can keep things neat and accurate like Mayländer, or keep your foot pinned and throw more shapes than a Strictly contestant. Before long I’m coaxing the Vantage into long, smoky slides, then holding it there, feeling like a hero, until the car pulls itself straight. And until the Valkyrie arrives to show me who’s boss.
Ultimately, the Vantage F1 Edition isn’t a dagger-between-the-teeth track warrior like a McLaren 620R or Porsche 911 GT3; it’s a road car at heart. So I leave Silverstone behind and dive into deepest Northamptonshire, taking the long route to famous petrolhead pub Caffeine & Machine.
Away from the racetrack, the first thing I notice is the ride. It feels taut and tightly controlled, but never abrupt or skittish – an ideal balance for broken B-roads. Cocooned in the hip-hugging seat, I quickly find a flow, blatting between bends as the Vantage hunkers into the tarmac.
The ‘hot vee’ V8 (so-called because the turbochargers nestle between the cylinders) really comes into its own here, too. Brawny and effortless low-down, then increasingly feral as the revs rise, it provides every journey with a sense of occasion. The Vantage feels over-engined like a classic muscle car.
It also sounds spectacular: throbbing menacingly at idle, then puffing out its chest with a stentorian roar. When it comes to aural excitement, only a handful of naturally aspirated supercars can compete.
Arriving at Caffeine & Machine, the Vantage draws visitors away from their lunchtime lattes. Whatever your thoughts on that spoiler, it clearly has presence. Besides, driving an Aston Martin guarantees you an extra large helping of goodwill – quite unlike a Ferrari or Lamborghini, in fact.
That said, under Tobias Moers, the company is moving in a different direction, its emphasis shifting from front-engined GTs to mid-engined supercars. The Valkyrie and newly revealed Valhalla represent the exotic new breed. The Vantage F1 Edition takes a step in this direction, but retains its old-school charm.
Many small changes add up to the best Vantage yet. This is still a flawed car in some respects, particularly its interior and infotainment, but it has so much character – backed up by real dynamic talent – that you probably won’t care. Race on Sunday, sell on Monday? Something like that.
Tim Pitt writes for Motoring Research
0-62MPH: 3.6 seconds
TOP SPEED: 199mph
WEIGHT: 1,570kg (dry)
CO2 emissions: 264g/km