With arguably little experience racing cars under his belt, Lance Stroll already looks to be Canada’s next Formula One driver after signing as a Williams development driver late last year.
Yes, Stroll found success in his short career so far, racking up many wins in karts and open wheel. Last season in the Formula 3 European Championship, Stroll took one win and six podiums but also sparked the ire of his competitors through some questionable driving and outright dangerous on track actions.
Although the 17-year-old seems to be attracting the attention of grand prix teams, it remains to be seen whether or not he’s a bona fide F1 talent.
One thing that is clear happens to be his father’s bottomless financial resources that have ensured Stroll always had access to the best equipment, engineers and teams ever since he first drove a kart. For example, the Prema Powerteam he drove for in 2015 saw one of its racers take the driver’s crown in the past six seasons took the past six driver’s titles and has won five of the last six F3 team titles.
Dad’s cash and connections to the Scuderia undoubtedly played a role in Stroll being named to the Ferrari Driver Academy before he ever stepped into an open wheel car. While it has not been released, the development seat at Williams may simply be part of an investment deal by Stroll’s father where he bought Toto Wolff’s remaining five per cent share in the team. Or perhaps it’s just coincidence that Wolff’s wife Susie was dropped from the role by Williams immediately before Stroll was announced.
NEW: Stroll told Motorsport.com that he left the Ferrari program because it was more than just a physical and mental training programme.
“Williams does that as well, but at the same time I get a lot more time to be closer to the Formula 1 team: more simulator time, more involved at the Grands Prix themselves with the engineers,” Stroll said.
“I feel like we can be closer right now with Williams, and I’m working with them rather than just being part of a training camp like at Ferrari. For the future, it’s the right move.”
While it has helped Stroll open doors, it can be argued that his family money has undermined his ability to develop racecraft, something that became evident as he battled with top European drivers in F3.
There are stories about Lawrence Stroll buying up 30 Rotax kart powerplants at a time and sending them to England to have the engine builder put together him five mega motors using all the best parts.
The fact is that in karting an average driver you can buy championships and the result is that the richest kids will have karts that almost always put them at the head of the field and they never learn how to race. And then there’s the simple fact that dad’s like Lawrence Stroll and his ilk price many talented kids out of the market, and their wallets and not skill behind the wheel decide who moves up the ladder.
A few years ago, I spoke to Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters driver Robert Wickens about karting today. One of the most talented racers this country has even produced — Wickens is not in F1 today because of his lack of money — said that if he would never have made it anywhere if he were starting out as a young karter today because his family simply did not have the kind of resources needed to keep up with the budgets now seen in junior ranks. But that’s a topic for another day.
The by-product of using money to ensure your kid has superior resources, engineers, endless supplies of fresh tires, and a kart that’s so much better than the rest is that the youngsters never learn how to battle wheel-to-wheel or to pass another drivers. In the end, the money works counter to preparing your driver properly to compete.
Many observers feel this was Lance’s problem when he arrived in Europe to race in F3. The young Stroll got into a series filled will well-heeled kids who spent their formative years in karts battling other well-heeled kids. Think of it as a level playing field for ultra-rich kids where they actually learn racecraft because everybody throws huge wads of cash into their programs.
All of a sudden, Lance didn’t have the best equipment and didn’t have the advantages his bankroll brought and he faltered. Not only did he cause several accidents with questionable moves and blocking, he was banned for one race at Spa-Francorchamps after causing an accident involving three cars. Much to his credit, Lance learned from his mistakes and kept his nose clean for the rest of the season while putting up some good results.
On the other hand, there’s nothing Lance can do when there’s plain old bad decision making by the kid’s handlers.
This was never more apparent than during the run-up to the 2016 Rolex 24 where Stroll’s dad essentially bought a Ford EcoBoost prototype at Ganassi and chose his teammates, Brendon Hartley, Alex Wurz and Andy Priaulx.
The scuttlebutt on the Rolex 24 is that the elder Stroll wanted Lance to get experience racing with drivers who have lots of endurance events under their belts because he will put his son in a World Endurance Championship car at some point this year.
You heard it here first: Do not be shocked if Lance Stroll is named as a driver for a top 24 Hours of Le Mans outfit.
Anyway, back to the Rolex 24, specifically the Roar Before the 24.
Lance crashed on his outlap the first time he got behind the wheel of the Ganassi Ford EcoBoost prototype in the Roar.
All I could think was: Had Lance’s handlers used their heads, this never would have happened. With money to burn, why in the world didn’t dad rent a racetrack somewhere and give his kid a test in the Ford Prototype before the Roar?
The kid is going from a high downforce car with a 2.0-litre engine that puts out 200 horsepower to a lower downforce closed cockpit car with 600 horsepower. Not giving Lance some seat time in that car in advance of the Roar in a car that’s easily the most powerful and difficult thing he’s ever driven is simply dumb management.
On top of it all, the public relations firm hired by the Strolls to promote Lance didn’t even mention the accident. This make him look arrogant (which I don’t know because he rarely speaks to the media) because even Formula One drivers explain their accidents.
Unfortunately, when you’re the rich kid, anger gets directed toward the wrong person. Lance is only doing what he’s been taught and what he is told.
Bottom line is that he’s certainly not the one making the decisions, so don’t take it out on the kid.