Lance Stroll entered Formula 1 in 2017, partnering Felipe Massa at Williams. Since then there are many who have formed the opinion that Stroll is in the sport predominantly due to his father’s wealth, and with his father having bought the remains of the Force India team, Lance Stroll seemingly has a guaranteed place on the Formula 1 grid.
Look a little deeper however, and Stroll does have enough talent to justify his place on the grid. Evidence for this mainly consists looking at his short junior single seater career and the fact that he was for a time part of the Ferrari Driver Academy (FDA).
Even after being let go by the FDA, Stroll managed to go on and win the FIA Formula 3 European Championship, a series that more highly rated young Formula 1 drivers have also won with Esteban Ocon claiming the championship in 2014 and Lando Norris becoming the series 2017 champion.
What perhaps doesn’t help Lance Stroll’s case is that after his 2016 Formula 3 European triumph he went straight into Formula 1, therefore there is no FIA Formula 2 season that can be used to reaffirm his talent, making his junior career look sparse and therefore making it difficult to justify that he is in Formula 1 on merit, not just because of the family backing he receives. The only other notable junior championship performances Stroll has is winning the 2014 Italian F4 Championship and finishing his Macau Grand Prix debut in eighth in 2015.
To expand on his career from 2014 to the start of 2017 a little further he became Italian F4 champion, going on to finish fifth in his first season in the FIA Formula 3 European Championship, staying in the series for 2016 where he would go on to become champion before graduating into Formula One in 2017. That’s two junior titles (three if you include his 2015 Toyota Racing Series triumph) in three seasons which is impressive.
What is also worth remembering is that Stroll is the second youngest driver to have ever started a Formula 1 Grand Prix making his debut in the sport at eighteen years of age, with Max Verstappen the youngest and Lando Norris the third youngest. It’s important to remember that Verstappen and Norris ‘hit the ground running’ in Formula 1, but that is often the exception rather than the rule as it can take time for drivers to acclimatise to the sport.
It is interesting to extend the comparison of Stroll against Verstappen or Norris, especially when you decide to compare Stroll’s career against that of Verstappen’s. Like Stroll, Verstappen had a very short junior formula career, contesting one season in the FIA European Formula 3 Championship before moving into Formula 1 the following season. It helps that Verstappen was picked up by Red Bull who have a programme that has a clear place, Scuderia Toro Rosso, to allow younger drivers to get to grips with Formula 1 and also serves as a good place for young drivers to make an impression, which Verstappen did, in order to earn a promotion into the ‘senior’ Red Bull team, as the ‘junior’ team is often a solid midfield runner.
Stroll didn’t have this, instead entering the sport with a Williams Racing team that were on the beginning of a decline, making it difficult for Stroll to make an impression in 2017 and especially in 2018. His move to the Racing Point team for 2019 was perhaps not at the best time with the team feeling the effects of its lack of funds in 2018 throughout the 2019 season. It has meant there hasn’t been as firm a platform for Stroll to build upon.
All of this shouldn’t hide the fact that there are areas that Stroll needs to improve, like any driver. Two of the most notable are his feedback over the radio with various clips in Formula 1’s YouTube radio videos showing Stroll not giving detailed feedback, with his engineer asking for the Canadian to provide more information. Perhaps a bigger fault is his qualifying performances, with the Canadian being knocked out in Q1 more often than not, this means that he requires a mega opening lap in order to salvage anything from a race weekend.
Yet with his qualifying issues in mind, that is the main weakness that once fixed could help better show his talent as he would be closer to fighting for points more consistently and therefore be more ‘front and centre’.
It is worth remembering that Lance Stroll is the second youngest driver in the sport’s history to score a podium finish, having finished third at the 2017 Azerbaijan Grand Prix. This may be seen by some as a fortunate podium finish, yet so to a certain extent was Max Verstappen’s maiden podium (and win) at the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix.Embed from Getty Images
He was also the driver to score the most points for the Williams team in the 2018 season, although it is a ‘small win’. Add to this is his abilities in wet conditions, most notably qualifying fourth during a wet qualifying for the 2017 Italian Grand Prix and his highest finish of the 2019 season coming in mixed conditions at the German Grand Prix where he eventually finished fourth.
Like any driver, Stroll has his weaknesses, however there are strengths in there which have been difficult to see not helped with two uncompetitive seasons at Williams and at times an under performing Racing Point in 2019.
However Racing Point will hopefully be back to their Force India best in 2020 having finally shaken off the legacy of the issues that plagued the Silverstone based team during the middle to late part of the 2018 season. This means that Lance Stroll has a better chance than any he has had to date in Formula 1 to show and prove to his detractors why he should be viewed as being in the sport more for his talent as a driver than his backing. What would help his case is if he’s able to improve his qualifying performances during the 2020 season.
He may not ultimately reach the heights of the likes of Max Verstappen or Charles Leclerc, but that is fine as just having staying power in Formula 1 can be an achievement, Stroll needs to use 2020 to dispel the idea that he has staying power due to his backing, and more because he has the talent to be worthy of a place on the Formula 1 grid.