Aston Martin's Lance Stroll Is No Longer Just One of Those F1 Pay Drivers
Formula 1 is in a great place, with a grid populated by both young stars on the rise and veteran champions who still have talent to spare.
Somewhere in between is Lance Stroll, the son of Canadian business magnate Lawrence Stroll. If the name Lawrence Stroll sounds vaguely familiar, that would be from his ownership of both the Aston Martin F1 team and a significant chunk of the Aston Martin road car operation. It makes Stroll the effective face of pay drivers in modern auto racing.
This is the eleventh installment of our driver-by-driver preview of the 2022 Formula 1 season. This weekend, we will be covering Aston Martin Racing. You can find the rest of our previews here.
Stroll is more than his father's name and checkbook, though. He has three podiums, a pole and five seasons of competent F1 racing under his belt. It makes him one of the most unique stories on the grid: A driver here entirely for his funding that also happens to be very qualified for his role.
How He Got Here
The larger answer to this question is no mystery: Lance Stroll got to Formula 1 because his dad is a reported billionaire who owns a significant portion of an entire car company. His actual resume is a little bit more compelling, however.
Stroll spent just three years in cars before joining F1, bypassing two rungs of the ladder to join the series after a successful Formula 3 Europe season in 2016. It was a notably strong season, though; Stroll won a title in convincing fashion over a field that happened to include current Mercedes driver George Russell on his way up the ladder. It got him to Williams in 2017, where he recovered from retiring in his first three career F1 races to eventually grab a podium at Baku.
He continued with Williams in 2018, a far less successful campaign that saw him score points just twice. At the same time, his father was looking for other opportunities for his son. That evaluation process ultimately ended with Stroll buying what was then Force India, beating out Nikita Mazepin's similarly-wealthy father for the honor. Not one single Formula 1 fan was surprised when Stroll joined the team newly re-named Racing Point in 2019.
Stroll made no serious splash at the better team in 2019, but the program seemed to catch fire in 2020 and he excelled in the faster car. He scored his second and third career podiums and two more top five finishes, but the more prestigious highlight was his pole in an odd race at a slick and unpredictable Istanbul Park Circuit.
How 2021 Went
Unfortunately for Stroll, the once-again-renamed Aston Martin Racing completely lost that form in 2021. A slight downforce adjustment that also cost Mercedes their dominant form led Aston Martin to fall from fourth in the constructor's standings to a distant seventh, clear last of the modern mid-pack. By finishing 13th in the driver's standings, Stroll found himself second-to-last among mid-pack drivers.
The bright spot is that he finished close to teammate Sebastian Vettel in the standings, just nine points and one position back, but he struggled to match the single-race highs that Vettel recorded (three top-five finishes, including a season-high second at Baku) in the same car.
Goals For 2022
Vettel provides an incredibly useful barometer for Stroll. The four-time world champion may have struggled through his last few years at Ferrari, but he showed some serious speed in a struggling car at points last year and has proven he remains an F1 driver. He is, with all due respect to Sergio Perez, the best teammate that Stroll has ever had and a great comparison point for how good Stroll actually is.
Through one year, Stroll has not yet passed the Vettel test. That does not mean he cannot eventually match the former champion. Stroll's surprisingly strong record as a rookie and in 2020 show a little more upside than he was expected to have when he joined the series; if he can ever beat Vettel, it would go a long way toward making competitors take him seriously as more than just a team owner's son.
A Successful Season Looks Like ...
But Stroll's success will depend in no small part on whether or not Aston Martin can be competitive with the other mid-pack teams, maybe even the teams at the front of the grid, next season. This is a team that has now outperformed its budget under multiple names, team owners, and driver pairings. It makes 2021 an uncharacteristically poor year and leaves some real hope that the team will improve in 2022.
Even with two podiums in 2020, Stroll has never finished in the top half of the driver's standings. It is a manageable goal for a good driver at a good Aston Martin team. Beating Vettel may be an unrealistic goal for now, but a season finish of tenth or better is a manageable mark for Stroll to chase next year.