Canadian will be joined by four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel on Aston Martin
By Yuri Coghe
People were quick to dismiss Lance Stroll when he joined F1 back in 2017.
Having your career heavily backed by a billionaire father is not a good look in the motorsport community. Regardless if you’ve won three titles in three years, collecting honours in the 2014 Italian F4, 2015 Toyota Racing Series and the 2016 European Formula 3.
For those who believed money was the reason the Canadian got his Williams seat, it only took him eight races to prove otherwise.
The Montreal native became the youngest rookie to clinch a podium at the 2017 Azerbaijan Grand Prix, leaving doubters with less to question.
In the process, the then 19-year-old also became the third Canadian to score a podium finish, after Gilles and Jacques Villeneuve.
Four years later, how is his mission to prove that he belongs going? Did last season, his second driving for Racing Point, help or hurt his argument? What are the challenges he’ll face in 2021?
After the detailed analysis of his Canadian peer Nicholas Latifi’s 2020 debut season, it’s time to focus on Lance Stroll.
One of the biggest points of discussion in the 2020 pre-season was the car Racing Point developed.
Both for its good performance on tests and for its huge similarity with Mercedes, the constructor who won every drivers’ and constructor’s titles since 2014.
Not only did the “pink Mercedes” nickname eventually catch on, but the team was also fined €400,000 by the FIA (International Automobile Federation) after multiple protests by Renault, who claimed the car’s brake ducts were directly copied from Mercedes.
The sanction came after the fourth race, deducting 15 points from Racing Point. Nonetheless, they were able to keep using the controversial part.
Despite the drama, expectations were high, with the team considered to have the third-best car on the grid. Stroll and teammate Sergio Perez would have good machinery to work with.
A tale of two parts
All that excitement fell short for Stroll at the Austrian Grand Prix once he had to retire from the first race of the season due to a power loss.
Following the letdown, he went on a streak of seven finishes in the points. To put it in context, the best he had done in his career so far was a sequence of three points-finishes in 2017.
Three of these seven races were personal highlights. Stroll qualified third in Hungary, only behind both Mercedes, finishing fourth. He would repeat the season-high finish at that point at the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona, where he started fifth and gained one position in the race.
In Monza, he topped those performances to tie his best career-finish. However, Stroll felt like he could have done better than third place at the Italian Grand Prix.
Stroll was second on lap 23, having not pitted under a safety car. The only driver in front of him, Lewis Hamilton had just been handed a stop and go penalty. What could have been a clear path to victory, however, quickly turned into a bit of a comeback.
On the restart, Stroll went wide and dropped to fifth, eventually fighting back into third place.
“It’s a bit of a bummer, I think it was kind of mine to lose starting from second,” Stroll said to the F1 website after the race. “I think there was an opportunity to win the race today with our pace, after the red flag. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out. We finished third, so it’s not so bad.”
The streak put the Canadian in fourth at the driver’s standings with 57 points, only behind Mercedes’ Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen. Stroll and McLaren’s Lando Norris, who were tied, therefore led what fans refer to as “F1 B”.
It was difficult to imagine the Canadian would remain stuck with those same 57 points for the next five races. But that’s exactly what happened.
Two collisions, one caused by a puncture and the other by Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, meant Stroll was out of the Tuscan and Russian Grand Prixes. Then, a positive COVID-19 test took him out of the Eifel Grand Prix.
On the following four opportunities, Stroll had a P13 finish, two retirements and a ninth-place. If the P9 at the Turkish Grand Prix wasn’t exactly impressive, what he did that Saturday could not be overlooked.
He scored his first career pole position, a major milestone for any F1 driver, doing it in torrential rain conditions. It was perhaps his most impressive performance on F1 to date.
Still, when it comes to points, the Canadian only added two to his name on the seven races from round 9 to 15, a tremendous difference from the 57 achieved in the same number of Grande Prixes earlier in the season.
Fortunately for him, Stroll got his second podium of the year and third overall at the Sakhir GP, a race won by his teammate Sergio Perez. The P3 finish offered a strong result to ease off a difficult second part of the season.
The Canadian then added a solo point in the last race of 2020, at Abu Dhabi, to finish the year at 11th in the driver’s standings with 75 points.
“After my puncture in Mugello it was a bumpy ride in terms of points,” he said to Motorsport.com in January 2021. “A part of me is a little bit frustrated that in so many races, we kind of just had a bumpy ride, and it ran a little bit downhill since my previous podium in Monza.”
“So I do see some missed opportunity in the season in total. But, all in all, it was a very fun year as well. It was a good year and it was a fun year – just competing in a car that has been up at the front for most of the season. That’s been awesome.”
While Stroll’s 2020 season was his best in F1, a comparison to his teammate tells another story.
Red Bull-bound Sergio Perez placed fourth in the driver’s standings, occupying the position Stroll once held after his first podium of 2020.
The Mexican finished the season seven places ahead of his Racing Point garage-mate in the championship, clinching 50 more points and getting his first F1 win.
With that in the past, the new year brings a new challenge for Stroll. One that includes a much tougher teammate.
Four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel is coming to Aston Martin, the rebranded-version of Racing Point after Lawrence Stroll, Lance’s father, acquired shares on the luxury sports cars manufacturer.
The 33-year-old German driver is now past his prime and has underperformed in his last few seasons with Ferrari. However, on the flip side, he is looking hungry to start afresh with his new team.
One of Stroll’s goals for 2021 must be to finish the season closer to his teammate. Even if the mission should be somewhat harder now with one of the best drivers of the century replacing Perez.
On the other hand, this is a massive learning opportunity for Stroll. If the Canadian can continue to improve and can grow as a driver from watching Vettel so closely, it can pay dividends in the long-run.
Other than the head-to-head improvement, he will have the opportunity to add on his three-podiums and get his first win. If not in 2021, then in the years to come. Aston Martin is here to stay – and eventually contend for the championship. Especially after the new rules kick in next year.
The ball has always been on Stroll’s court to show what he’s capable of. During his four-year career, all F1 fans saw him produce good moments here and there. Now, it’s time to make it undeniable.