The driver working hard to remove his “pay driver” label
From the outset Lance Stroll arrived in Formula 1 with the unwanted “pay driver” label.
Son of billionaire Lawrence, Stroll jumped into a Williams straight from winning the European Formula 3 championship, following in the footsteps of Max Verstappen.
In contrast to Verstappen, Stroll was not seen to have arrived in Formula 1 purely on talent, with his father paying Williams millions of pounds to have a seat next to Felipe Massa.
Stroll didn’t exactly help himself when it came to his “pay driver” label either. He has regularly struggled in qualifying and didn’t score a point until his first home race at Montreal, seven rounds in to the 2017 season.
Qualifying has been a continual problem for Stroll throughout his F1 career and it still exists today. This season at Racing Point, Stroll has only made it out of Q1 once – at last weekend’s German Grand Prix – and he had failed to reach Q2 on the 14 previous attempts.
Stroll moved to Racing Point for the start of this season and whilst to some who may be unfamiliar with the sport, that would be a reasonable move, but the reality is it only happened because his father purchased the team when it fell into administration last year.
Once again, people criticised the situation and argued that Stroll had only retained his seat in Formula 1 because his Dad purchased a team for him and that had it been left to talent alone, he would no longer be there.
Stroll’s time in Formula 1 has a striking resemblance to Pedro Diniz. The Brazilian driver entered Formula 1 in 1995, racing for Forti despite having limited success in F3000 and was the King of “pay drivers” back in the 90’s.
Diniz got his drive in 1995 because his family injected large amounts of money into the team and he didn’t have the best season, ending it unclassified with zero points and only nine finishes from 17 races.
The Brazilian swiftly left Forti for Ligier in 1996 and scored two points before switching to Arrows for 1997. After two difficult seasons there, he then moved on to Swiss team Sauber, racing against the highly respected and veteran driver, Jean Alesi.
On each occasion Diniz only got these seats because he brought tens of millions of pounds with him and although his 1999 season with Sauber would be a turning point and see him beat a teammate over the course of the season for the first time, his career never took off.
He had planned to race for the Prost team in 2000 – with his family purchasing a stake in the outfit – it never happened due to contract negotiation failures with Alain Prost.
Diniz ended up taking on a management role for the Prost team but he and his family left a year later in 2001 after contract disputes. As a result, Diniz left Formula 1 without any real success and became the definition of a “pay driver”.
Stroll has a future
Comparing Diniz’s story to Stroll portrays a poor outlook for the rest of Stroll’s career but whilst there are some similarities, Stroll does have the tools to turn the tables and carve out a successful future.
While Diniz was outperformed almost every year by his teammate, Stroll’s performances have been better.
In his maiden season he was beaten by his vastly more experienced teammate, Felipe Massa, but only by three points. Last year he beat Russian teammate Sergey Sirotkin and after last weekend’s race in Germany, he is now ahead of Sergio Perez at Racing Point in the Driver’s standings.
But it goes further than that. While Stroll has been dreadful at qualifying throughout his career, he has shown flashes of brilliance and real talent.
Let’s not forget that he got his first ever podium in only his eighth Grand Prix in 2017 at Baku, and he was only just pipped to second place by Valterri Bottas in the recovering Mercedes.
That same year, he also qualified an incredible fourth place at the Italian Grand Prix in changeable conditions and was later promoted to second on the grid as both Red Bulls ahead of him received penalties.
Again, last weekend, he put on an impressive display under changing weather conditions at Hockenheim and finished fourth having started the race 15th. He would have also been in contention for a podium were it not for a small mistake that allowed Kvyat to overtake him.
These flashes of brilliance show that there is a decent driver in Stroll and that he has potential to be a dependable, fast racer. Unfortunately, his qualifying antics have consistently prevented him from showing off what he really has to offer.
Sundays are Stroll days
Sunday is where Stroll shines, regularly making up positions at the start of a race and he is good at managing long stints to over-cut his rivals.
Stroll has only retired from one Grand Prix this year – in Spain – and in every other race he has finished either ahead or in the same place of where he started.
In fact, across the 10 races he has completed in 2019, Stroll has, on average, finished 4.8 places ahead of his starting position.
These figures demonstrate that Stroll is more than a simple “pay driver”. It is easy to buy your way in to Formula 1 when you have the money but money will not buy you results.
Only the driver can earn those and Stroll is getting his fair share right now.
At the end of the day, he is still only 20 years old and has plenty of years ahead of him and more importantly, has plenty of time to improve and he has now brought in eight time Grand Prix winner, Juan Pablo Montoya, to coach him and help him get the most out of his car.
If Montoya can help him get his act together on a Saturday then who knows how far up the grid Stroll could finish on race day given the right car. Racing Point are usually able to race high in the midfield so that leaves the potential for plenty of points.
If he can master that he will put himself in a great position to wipe away the Diniz comparisons and perhaps more importantly, his “pay driver” label.