The worst kept secret in F1 has finally become official. Lance Stroll has been confirmed as Felipe Massa’s replacement at Williams, and will partner Bottas this season. He will become the youngest driver on the Formula 1 grid next season, and already, his appointment has caused a stir. Not so much because of his age, but because of money. Lance Stroll is the son of Canadian billionaire Lawrence Stroll. Lawrence Stroll is also the owner of Prema Powerteam, the team Lance has driven for in F3. This has given Lance the “pay driver” label, and people believe that he is simply in F1 because of his bank balance.
See, as soon as someone is labelled as a pay driver, people instantly take a disliking towards a driver. Why? Because people often think of the worst once a driver is referred to as a pay driver. When fans think of pay drivers, they think of the likes of Maldonado. They think of drivers with not a lot of talent and who cause lots of crashes. Drivers like Maldonado have created a stigma against all pay drivers. However, the shear amount of money Lance brings in should be considered as part of the reason he is the perfect choice for Williams
The first things you need to consider is that Williams are an independent team. They don’t bring in as much money as the big manufacturers do. You also have to consider that Williams will have less income coming in next season. Them finishing 5th this season could see them make £10 million less this season, compared to the last two seasons, where they finished 3rd. This isn’t particularly good news for Williams, who are still serious about winning. While they aren’t in financial trouble, £10 million is quite a bit to lose, and would hurt development of next seasons car. With Stroll brining in a reported £35 million, it would plug the loss Williams could make and help them continue to develop, and start challenging for wins again.
Before you start jumping to the conclusion that he is “just a pay driver”, you should take a look at a superb racing career to date. In 2014, he dominated the Italian F4 championship. He won the championship by 94 points, even though he did not compete at the final round. Along with that, he won seven races, took pole five times, and took 13 podiums in that season. He also put in a very respectable showing in the Florida Winter Series that year.
In 2015, Lance started the season by dominating the Toyota Racing Series. He took four victories and ten podiums on the way to winning the championship by 108 points. He beat the likes of GP2 race winner Artem Markelov, Red Bull young driver Calum Ilott, 2016 Euroformula Open runner up Ferdinand Habsburg and many other talented drivers like James Munro.
2015 also saw Stroll debut in European F3. Stroll put in a very strong showing in his debut season. Sure, he didn’t have the best start to the season, and he had a torrid mid season. He came under criticism for incidents at Spa and Monza. However, he learnt and then proceeded to take 6 podiums (one of them being a win) in the last twelve races. He finished 5th in the championship. This was highly impressive considering the huge grids and the fact he was up against seasoned F3 veterans. He was also the second highest ranked rookie in the championship. Along with that, he had a very decent Macau debut, finishing 8th.
This season though has been Lance’s best to date. In F3, he took 14 victories and 20 podium finishes, in the most dominant display in F3 history. He won the championship by a massive 187 points. He also won all five of the final races of the season. Only time will tell how he gets on at Macau this year, but he has to be one of the favourites heading into the race.
So as you can see, he has had an excellent career so far, but is it too early for him? You could argue yes. The original plan for Stroll was for him to race in GP2 with Prema next season. However you could argue that he is perfectly ready for it. The guy has competed in 109 (soon to be 110) races since 2014, which is more than triple the races Verstappen competed in single seaters before F1, and Max has been very quick in F1. He has had triple the time to mature, and he has come a long way from the reckless driver he started out as in F3 last season. I think he is nearly as ready as he’ll ever be. GP2 is a dead end for most careers, so it makes perfect sense for exciting talents to miss it out all together.
On one final point, Lance was the best option available to Williams. Drivers like King, Lynn, Markelov, Marciello and Sirotkin have failed to really impress in GP2 this season. While Giovinazzi has definitely excelled, I don’t think he has shone as brightly as Stroll did in F3. Even if you compared Stroll to the available drivers currently in F1, guys like Nasr and Ericsson have nowhere near the skill that Stroll has.
Stroll has proven his ability behind the cockpit of every car he has driven, and maybe he will be able to push himself and Bottas to their true potential this season. While a couple of more seasons of junior formula would be nice, he definitely isn’t as inexperienced as some people may think. He’s got the money to seriously help Williams continue making profit and to maybe develop a car that might one day challenge for wins again. He is aggressive but has matured so much from the guy who had a rough mid season in F3, and learnt from mistakes that lead to a lot of criticism. He is the perfect fit for Williams. I personally look forward to seeing what he can do in F1.
Image comes from this article, also saying why Lance Stroll is good enough for F1.