The Curious case of Lance Stroll
Formula 1 is full of enigmas, the drivers are under constant scrutiny of their talents and they always had to prove their worth. There are some who have solidified their caliber, the likes of Sir Lewis Hamilton, Kimi Raikkonen, Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel.The latter who had a dismal 2020 campaign but has maintained the faith motorsport fans placed in him.There are others who are not of that league, there are drivers whose abilities are constantly brought into question and emerge as polarising figures. One such driver is the Canadian Lance Stroll.
Written By Andrew Lwanga, Edited By Tanishka Vashee
Towards the end of 2018 Lance’s father, billionaire Lawrence Stroll led a consortium of investors to purchase the financially struggling Force India team. This in turn meant that Stroll would join the newly rebranded BWT Racing Point, at the expense of Frenchman Esteban Ocon who would be left without a seat for the 2019 season.Stroll who had already attained the undesirable tag of pay-driver gained further notoriety as it had seemed that his father had simply bought a team for his son to race in, helping him progress to a more competitive team in the sport without his merit.
As expected, the media, fans and critics went after Lance. Some of whom already were including Jacques Villeneuve. The fellow Canadian and former world champion has been highly critical of Stroll from day one, others even arguing that the Canadian isn’t qualified to be in the sport.
But what is it that makes a driver good enough to be in Formula 1?
A common answer would be their career in junior categories and Lance’s junior racing career wasn’t anything short of stellar; Winning the Italian F4 Championship in 2014 in a field that featured Mahaveer Ragunathan,in 2015 he competed in and won the Toyota Racing Series before progressing to Formula 3. That year,he finished fifth in the standings in a cutthroat competition that included Felix Rosenqvist, Antonio Giovanazzi, Charles Leclerc, Jake Dennis, Alexander Albon, George Russell among many others.
He remained in F3 for the 2016 season,he absolutely dominated taking a total of 14 race wins in the 30 rounds and standing on the podium 20 times.His dominance was such that he had scored more points than the second placed team in the Team’s Championship.His achievement must not be dismissed as luck or not having to face a tough crowd as he was still competing with terrific drivers like George Russell, Maxmillian Gunther, Anthoine Hubert, Callum Illot, Nick Cassidy, Guanyu Zhou among others.
Looking at a record like that Stroll’s talent becomes abundantly clear and that his place in Formula 1 is earned however, what is also abundantly clear is that he has failed to replicate any capacity of that success in Formula 1. In his 4 years he’s only beaten a teammate once, something his critics point to as an indicator of Stroll’s lack of capability.
So how good (or how bad) is Lance Stroll?
According to Jacques Villeneuve he was the worst rookie in the history of the sport, coincidentally he is the youngest rookie to ever score a podium and to this day remains Williams last podium. Although he was outqualified by teammate Felipe Massa 17 times,in the wet weather qualifying session at Monza of that year,Stroll was able to qualify in second place; Williams best qualifying position since 2014. By the end of the season he was only 3 points off the Brazilian veteran. In his next year, he beat Sergey Sirotkin in his last season at Williams before moving to Racing Point.
At Racing Point, teammate Sergio Perez was ahead of the Canadian for the most part, scoring twice as many points as Stroll. In 2020 however Stroll did have five DNFs in the season, four of which came through no fault of his own. 2020 was also Stroll’s standout season as it showed how good he can be, in the season he managed to score two podiums. The highlight of his season remains the qualifying session of the Turkish Grand Prix, where a combination of wet weather and a resurfaced tarmac meant there was little to no grip on offer. On these tricky conditions, claimed to be the worst conditions of the season, Stroll rose above everyone to claim pole position, becoming the first Canadian since Jacques Villeneuve (ironically) to claim pole position.
This is where Lance Stroll becomes a subject of curiosity, throughout his Formula 1 career he has lost to teammates that are considerably better than him. However on occasion he produces some of the best performances of anyone on the grid, his third place finish at Baku in 2017 was Williams only top 5 finish of the entire season. His pole position at Turkey in 2020 was the team’s first pole position in its many incarnations since 2009 but at the same time he’s had low point scores over a season’s length.
Moving into 2021 he will have a new teammate, 4 time world champion Sebastian Vettel. Vettel is far more accomplished than any other teammate Stroll has ever had, on the other hand 2021 is also a new chapter in Formula 1. Whilst the regulations and cars will not change dramatically, the teams have and so will the entire landscape of the sport. Performance levels are expected to differ, if Stroll manages to find consistency we’ll truly know how good he can be.