Whether You Like It Or Not, Lance Stroll Is In F1

Fred Smith
·5 min read
Photo credit: Mark Thompson - Getty Images
Photo credit: Mark Thompson - Getty Images

From Road & Track

It is no secret that the majority of the Formula 1 grid is made up of the wealthy sons of wealthy men. For some of these drivers, that generational wealth was simply a path into the sport. For others, that wealth is what keeps them in an F1 car every year.

This is the eleventh installment of our driver-by-driver preview of the 2021 Formula 1 season. This weekend, we will be covering Aston Martin Racing. You can find the rest of our previews here.

Lance Stroll, son of Canadian billionaire and partial Aston Martin owner Lawrence Stroll, may end up becoming the patron saint of wealthy sons of wealthy men. Stroll's first F1 ride with Williams reportedly came at a serious cost, but he became headline news when he joined Racing Point F1 a few months after his father bought the team outright.

The elder Stroll has since become a major figure in the future of Aston Martin, and, as a direct result, the Aston Martin Racing name now adorns the younger Stroll's team. Lance Stroll is a key cog in the family business, and it just so happens that this family business is buying things so Lance Stroll can drive them.

Photo credit: Hoch Zwei - Getty Images
Photo credit: Hoch Zwei - Getty Images

HOW HE GOT HERE

Lance Stroll's path to Formula 1 may be well-funded, but it was a long time in the making. Stroll entered Ferrari's junior program in 2010, at just 11 years old. His debut in cars came four years later, in the Florida Winter Series for Formula 4 cars. He won the Italian domestic championship for Formula 4 cars later that year.

In 2015 and 2016, he ran in the now-defunct Formula 3 Europe championship. He won that title in 2016, beating out very real prospects like Mercedes-affiliated Williams star George Russell and current BMW Formula E race winner Maximillian Guenther. The success came quickly, so he skipped two full levels of the developmental ladder to jump into F1.

He landed at Williams, where he scored a podium as a rookie before being narrowly outscored by outgoing veteran teammate Felipe Massa. The Williams team took a major step back in 2018, and, after completing a disappointing season behind the wheel of a car that was far from competitive, Stroll shocked absolutely nobody when he announced he would be joining Lawrence Stroll's new Racing Point F1 operation.

Stroll has been comfortably outscored by teammate Sergio Perez over the past two seasons, but he scored two podiums last year to bring his career total to three. He is expected to again be outpaced by his new teammate, Sebastian Vettel, in 2021. However, he has proven that he is more than the result of his father's checkbook, and he has strung together four consecutive seasons of doing about what a second driver at the teams he has raced for would be expected to do.

Photo credit: Joe Portlock - Formula 1 - Getty Images
Photo credit: Joe Portlock - Formula 1 - Getty Images

GOALS FOR 2021

Perhaps more than any other driver on the grid, Lance Stroll does not really have to prove anything. He has already proven he can be competitive at an F1 level, and, more than anything else, he is driving for a team owned by his father. If Stroll wants to be a respectable second driver at this team for the next fifteen years, gradually improving with the program but generally finishing behind the respected professional in the other car, he can probably do that.

But, if he has higher ambitions, Stroll will need to get better.

Unlike his in-race results, Stroll's pace was comparable to teammate Sergio Perez last season. He was narrowly outqualified by Perez, 7-5, and tied with temporary teammate Nico Hulkenburg, 1-1, in two other sessions. However, he actually scored the team's biggest-ever qualifying success, grabbing the first-ever pole for Racing Point and second pole since the team became Midland F1 in the 2006 season. His one-lap pace is far from astounding, but it is genuinely competitive, and a combination of respectable qualifying performance and a strong Aston Martin could keep Stroll in conversation for top five finishes and even podiums next season.

Photo credit: Bryn Lennon - Getty Images
Photo credit: Bryn Lennon - Getty Images

WHERE TO IMPROVE

Stroll's in-race pace, unfortunately, is less impressive.

Lance Stroll actually began the 2020 season consistently out-racing Perez. After a podium at the Italian Grand Prix, however, Stroll did not beat Perez in a single race that Perez finished. Part of that is about Perez, an exceptional in-race driver who has an expertise in tire management, but a more significant part of that is Stroll, who has been prone to both on-track mistakes and simply being caught and passed by opponents over the course of races.

Stroll has competitive, F1-level speed, but he has struggled to translate that into consistency or in-race results. His three career podiums in four seasons with Williams and Racing Point are not unimpressive, but better in-race performance could have turned at least one of those podiums into a win.

This is the next step he needs to take. If Stroll wants to be more than a Formula 1 participant, he needs to put up more of a fight on race day.

Photo credit: Rudy Carezzevoli - Getty Images
Photo credit: Rudy Carezzevoli - Getty Images

WHAT A SUCCESSFUL SEASON WOULD LOOK LIKE

Aston Martin Racing will certainly be headlined by Sebastian Vettel, the four-time World Champion that will be replacing Perez. However, the team's exceptional performance last season and minimal changes between cars before this season mean that Stroll should still have a very competitive car.

Vettel is the more likely of the two to win what would be this long-suffering team's second race since the end of Jordan Grand Prix, but a truly successful season for Lance Stroll would be one where he is also fighting for that honor. Even if that results in podiums rather than wins, a great season for Stroll will be one where he raises the bar of expectation to a point where not winning a race is a disappointment. Stroll is capable of this, and, if he can accomplish it, he can prove that he is more to the team than the team owner's son.

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