The winner of this year’s Mundy Award for Engineering is Matthew Becker, chief engineer – vehicle attribute engineering, at Aston Martin Lagonda Ltd. That’s the formal introduction for a man who talks about cars with the sort of casual ease and disarming honesty that sometimes puts public relations people on edge.
It would undersell Becker’s influence to say he has been presented with the Mundy Award only for his work on the new DBX, Aston’s first sports utility vehicle. But there’s no denying that the excellent new 4×4 has broadened Aston’s range like never before, in a fashion that most of the company’s rivals have found crucial to turning a profit. And it’s Becker’s talent and experience that are at the heart of the car.
The challenge, for a company of Aston’s size and which isn’t part of a wider automotive manufacturing group, shouldn’t be underestimated.
“I think any company that thinks doing an SUV is easy is wrong,” Becker tells me, while seated across a table in a meeting room at Aston Martin’s development works beside Silverstone’s Stowe circuit. “When we started on that project, I had worked on SUVs,” he says, “but pretty rudimentary passive ones; easy compared with this thing.”
Prior to joining Aston Martin in 2015, Becker had worked at Lotus, both on its own road cars and in the engineering division, where he helped develop cars he can’t tell us about. Until moving to the Midlands, he’d been at Lotus for his entire career – and what seemed like longer.
As the son of Lotus dynamics guru Roger Becker, Matt grew up around prototype cars. “Every time Dad would pick me up, he’d be in a different development Lotus: Europas, Elites, Excels, Esprits, everything,” he says. “I wasn’t forced to take this direction but it was like a chip being inserted into my brain from an early age. I remember how Dad would drive. I’d ask why he was wiggling the car around and he said he was trying to feel the steering response, axle phasing, roll behaviour, whether the steering gave him all the information he needed. At 12 or 13, I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about, but that started the obsession and realisation that I wanted to go into vehicle dynamics.”
Becker began his apprenticeship at 16, starting on the same day as Gavan Kershaw, now Lotus’s director of attributes and product integrity, and James Key, now McLaren’s F1 technical director.
3 he wishes he’d worked on
Porsche 911 GT3: Most engineers find themselves fans of Porsche’s 911 GT cars.
McLaren 720S: “When I drive McLarens they feel a bit like Lotus, but a modern version. The 720S has a nice balance between comfort, performance and feel.”
Lotus Elan 26R: “I raced one of them at Silverstone and it reminded me of simplicity, connection and fun in a car.”
Becker on Richard Parry-Jones
A mark of Becker’s modesty is that on arriving at Aston Martin, he asked non-executive director Richard Parry-Jones to be his mentor. “I used to see him every other month probably, and we’d just sit down and talk about what I was doing, not just with my career but day-to-day challenges,” says Becker. “He was almost like a counsellor.
“I first met him in 2007, I think. The first thing I noticed was he knew all of the numbers, all of the data, and it prepared me for dealing with people of that level and intellect.”
After test drives with Parry-Jones (not for faint-hearted passengers), “he had this method where he went through the whole car section by section, not just dynamics but any resonances, brake feel, throttle feel. But it’d always start with the steering because he had this ‘50-metre test’, which is valid today and we all still use,” Becker explains. “I’ll miss his mentorship a lot.”