Written by Marcus Woodhouse, Edited by Vyas Ponnuri
When people think of Lance Stroll, their mind instantly jumps to his father Lawrence Stroll, and how he has funded his son’s F1 seat year after year. But not many people remember just how good Stroll can be, as evidenced by numerous podiums, a pole position, and plenty of success in the junior formulae. So does Stroll have his seat on merit? Or is he just a pay driver?
Certainly, his ability was clearly visible early in his career, signing with the FDA (Ferrari Driver Academy) four years before he even started racing cars. In 2014, he dominated the Italian F4 Championship, with seven wins, thirteen podiums and five poles. In early 2015, he won the Toyota Racing series in New Zealand, before competing in Formula 3, alongside the likes of Charles Leclerc, George Russell and Alexander Albon, taking one win and six podiums in his debut season. He performed so well that Williams signed him as a test driver, which meant he was no longer a part of the Ferrari Driver Academy.
His success didn’t end there either, finishing fifth in the 2016 24 hours of Daytona, before going on to utterly annihilate the competition in his second F3 season. Stroll won 14 times, claiming the title with four races still to go, and finishing a whopping 187 points clear of his nearest rival. 2017 was the year in which he was called up to the big leagues though, to the very top of motorsport, Formula 1. Now, there is no doubting that his father played a role in this promotion, with a reported cash influx given to Williams. But Stroll’s overwhelming success in the previous year meant his F1 seat wasn’t entirely undeserved either.
Stroll partnered Felipe Massa at Williams for the 2017 season, and had a shaky start to his F1 career. He retired from the first three races: a crash in practice leading to a brake failure in the race, in Australia; a collision with Sergio Perez ending his race in China; and another one with Carlos Sainz meant he was out of the Bahrain Grand Prix too. His first race finish came in Sochi, coming close to a points finish despite a spin early in the race. However, his run of poor results weren’t over yet, being the last of the cars to finish the race in Spain, before retiring again in Monaco, with a brake failure. By this point, his vastly experienced teammate had scored 20 points already, but this gap in points was to be expected between a previous championship contender and a rookie driver. It was the manner in which Stroll hadn’t scored any points that worried fans the most.
Fortunately, there was light at the end of the tunnel for Stroll, as he picked up his first points in his home race in Montreal, finishing ninth, after having started 17th on the grid. Then came a stunning drive, in a chaotic Azerbaijan Grand Prix, in which Stroll had been running second for much of the race before he was pipped to the line by Valtteri Bottas. Still, a podium finish in his rookie season meant he became the second-youngest driver after Max Verstappen to finish on the podium, and the youngest rookie to ever do it. His points streak continued in Austria, but poor showings in Great Britain and Hungary put an end to it. The Italian Grand Prix was another showing that went under the radar, as Stroll recorded the fourth fastest lap time in qualifying, before grid penalties for the Red Bulls meant he became the youngest F1 driver to start on the front row of the grid.
The car’s pace showed in the race, but he still came home in seventh to earn valuable points for himself and the team. Buoyed by that result, he went on to finish eighth in the next two races, before finishing sixth in Mexico to impressively overtake his teammate in the standings for the first time. At the end of the season, Stroll finished in twelfth place in the standings, scoring pretty much half of the team’s points, as he wound up just three points behind Massa. All in all, it was a highly impressive rookie season for the young Canadian.
2018 proved to be a much more challenging year though, as the decline of Williams continued, leading them to be very much the slowest car on the grid. Stroll was paired with Sergey Sirotkin, after Massa’s retirement from the sport, and points were few and far between. Stroll managed an eighth place finish in Baku, after another chaotic race, but that was it up until the Italian Grand Prix, when a post-race disqualification for Romain Grosjean ahead allowed Williams to take their only double points finish of the season, with Stroll ninth and Sirotkin tenth. The team only scored those seven points, and Stroll wanted out.
Midway through the same season, Lawrence Stroll had rescued the struggling Force India team from administration, rebranding it to Racing Point, and he managed to secure his son a seat at the team in return. This meant that Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez had to battle it out to keep their seat, with the former forced to spend a year on the sidelines to make way for Stroll. Fans of the sport weren’t all too happy with this arrangement, but they couldn’t knock the job done by Lawrence to save the team from going bust. Therefore, it was Stroll who partnered Perez for the 2019 season, and he got off to a flyer.
Channelling the frustration of the year before, he scored two points in the season opener in Australia, and kept up his points scoring streak at Baku, finishing ninth, before finishing his home race in the same position too. A crazy race in Germany was soon after, and Stroll capitalised where others made errors, benefitting from a great strategy call by Racing Point to finish fourth, and bring home vital points for the team. A point in Belgium, two points in Japan- when the car was still quite far down the pack but Stroll was doing all he could to keep the points flowing in. But he had been outperformed by Perez, and by some margin. Stroll finished 15th in the standings with 21 points, while his teammate finished tenth with 52 points, more than double that of Stroll’s tally. As had been shown in previous years, the talent was there, but the consistency was lacking.
Onto the 2020 season then, heavily affected by COVID-19, and Stroll’s seventh place in Austria was overshadowed by Perez’s two sixth places in the openers. However, a magnificent drive in Hungary gave Stroll another fourth position to add to his tally, while seventh for Perez cemented the team’s position as one of the top midfield teams, taking inspiration from Mercedes’ 2019 car to enhance their own. A string of four points finishes followed, including ninth and sixth in both rounds at Silverstone and fourth in Catalunya. The streak didn’t end there either, with a highly impressive podium in Monza after a crazy race which saw Pierre Gasly, Sainz, Stroll, and Lando Norris make up the top four. However, two retirements followed, before he was forced to miss the Eifel Grand Prix due to COVID. His return was marred by an eventually race-ending collision with Norris in Portugal, and another blank in Imola, before he shocked the world once again.
The Turkish Grand Prix was a stunner from start to finish, as Lance Stroll showed the world his credentials as a wet-weather specialist, by putting his car in pole position during a crazy qualifying session. Thus, he became the first Canadian driver to take pole since Jacques Villeneuve in 1997. He dropped down to ninth in the race after having incurred damage to his front wing, which in turn had damaged his tyres. Nonetheless, it was still a brilliant showing from the Canadian. Two races later, he scored a podium in the Sakhir Grand Prix, his result overshadowed somewhat by his teammate taking the victory, George Russell’s action-packed Mercedes debut, and a podium for Ocon. Stroll closed off the season with a point in Abu Dhabi, a race in which the team lost out on third in the constructor’s standings to McLaren, and Stroll lost out on tenth in the driver’s standings to Gasly. Still, eleventh place with 75 points was solid, but was overshadowed by his teammate Perez finishing fourth in the standings, and best of the rest, with 125 points to his name.
For the following season, the team managed to sign Sebastian Vettel, who had been let go by Ferrari, but it was Perez told to make way. This meant that, despite his brilliant performance in the 2020 season, he was left without a seat, until Red Bull made a late decision to snap him up in place of Albon. Once again, Stroll’s financial backing had secured his seat when otherwise it surely would have been him that left the team. 2021 was a more difficult year for the team, after a rebrand to Aston Martin F1 team, but a downgrade in car performance relative to the rest of the field. Stroll made it six points finishes in 11 races in the first half of the season, but never higher than eighth place.
The second half of the season didn’t improve team morale either, with Stroll’s only points finishes coming with a seventh place in Italy, a ninth place in Turkey, and a sixth place in Qatar. All in all, it was a poor season for the team and Stroll was once again beaten by his teammate, finishing nine points behind Vettel, and 13th place in the standings. 2022 has been even worse, as the new regulations have sent the team almost to the back of the grid, with Stroll achieving four tenth place finishes in Imola, Miami, Canada, and France, while Vettel has recorded four times that amount of points, meaning the team only has 20 points from the first half of the season. But the take-away from Stroll’s perspective is that he is being outperformed by a teammate once more.
So, Stroll has shown his class on many occasions, taking podiums, front rows, and high-scoring points finishes. But aside from beating Sirotkin in 2018, he has lost out to his teammate each year, with this year looking no different. There are highly talented drivers such as Oscar Piastri and Theo Pourchaire waiting on the sidelines, as all the seats are filled up, arguably having shown more promise than Stroll has done. And not forget, both Ocon and Perez lost their seats to Stroll, the only real reason being his father’s financial backing.
But all in all, I think he deserves an F1 seat on merit. 2017 was impressive, and 2018 wasn’t exactly his fault, so it made sense for him to get a better car for 2019, just ordinarily maybe not one with two probably better drivers in it. And after 2021, or maybe after this year, a normal driver may well have been dropped from the team, but Stroll’s seat has never been under threat. Having weighed up both sides of the argument, it is difficult to say for sure, but Lance Stroll is deserving of his F1 seat.