A game of family fortunes for Stroll
Lance Stroll has long been accused of only being in Formula 1 because of his father''s billions. This year, those criticisms have come to a head and Stroll looks to be on borrowed time before Aston Martin has to decide whether it is serious about fielding two strong drivets, or just catering to Lawrence Stroll's nepotism.
Stroll has often been painted as the quintessential 'pay driver' in Formula 1, but that's simply not fair: he's a perfectly decent driver who succeeded in winning several junior championships in his early rise in motorsport, including FIA F3 Euro and F4 Italy. That is certainly not the work of a mere 'pay driver'.
But Stroll was always a driver in a hurry, perhaps fatally so. There was no time to dally in the usual support series like F3 and F2 to properly hone his skills and develop his racing instincts. In his early days he had been part of the Ferrari Driver Academy, but in 2016 he became a development driver for Williams when his father invested in the team - and sure enough it led to Lance's Grand Prix debut with the squad in Australia in the first race of 2017.
He spent two years at Grove and competed in 41 races. By then, Stroll Sr had moved on and was part of the consortium that bought the failing Force India team, renaming it Racing Point. From the start of 2021 it became Aston Martin as Stroll Sr's automotive ambitions grew bigger and bolder. Sure enough, at every step young Lance was there in the racing line-up, adding to the unfortunate perception that he was only able to hold on to a seat with the help of the family's fortunes.
For the first two seasons at Aston, Stroll was paired with former world champion Sebastian Vettel, and cynics were sure that the Canadian's shortcomings in the cockpit would finally be 'found out'. But in fact that wasn't the case, at least not to start with: in their first year together, Vettel finished just one place and a mere nine points ahead of Stroll in the final drivers standings. Far from being blown away by his illustrious team mate, Stroll had held his own. But the following season, Vettel pulled away from Stroll (despite taking fewer points than the previous year as a whole) - only to be given his marching orders and head into premature retirement.
Stroll was retained despite dropping a long way behind Vettel. You could argue that Vettel was being paid much, much more than Stroll because of his pedigree and that consequently more was expected from him, so that when he failed to deliver up to expectations it was simply straightforward economic sense to oust him and keep the much cheaper Stroll, not just a matter of his father making him untouchable. But it did mean that in 2023, Stroll would be up against Fernando Alonso.