Lance Stroll remains the key to the remaining seats left on the 2019 grid, with the 19-year-old set to switch to Racing Point Force India now owned by a consortium led by his father, Lawrence.
It’s a near-certain move for the Canadian, not only with his family’s money in the squad, but with his current team Williams on its knees competitively with its failed aggressive concept, the FW41.
A car the squad had hoped would take it back to the head of the midfield.
SOUNDBITE (English) PADDY LOWE,
CHIEF TECHNICAL OFFICER, WILLIAMS:
“You’ll notice a lot of changes in the shape, particularly around the sidepods, and various other noticeable differences to last year’s car. It’s being called aggressive. I think we’ll see whether that translates into performance.”
And it’s been a baptism of fire for Stroll, who came to F1 in 2017 with a stunning record in the junior categories, jumping from European Formula 3, where he won the title in his second season.
His first year in that category, 2015, marked by a massive crash at Monza with his Prema teammate, Danish racer Mikkel Jensen.
Stroll’s junior record shows strength, with the Italian F4, Toyota Racing Series and Euro F3 titles, and a career-best fifth place scored at the 2016 Daytona 24 Hours with Chip Ganassi Racing.
And while his father Lawrence is a billionaire, Williams focused on his 2016 Euro F3 results prior to his Grand Prix debut, Stroll taking 14 wins from 30 races, and finishing 185 points ahead of nearest rival, Maximilian Günther.
SOUNDBITE (English) CLAIRE WILLIAMS,
DEPUTY TEAM PRINCIPAL, WILLIAMS:
“Lance has really proved that he has the credentials to have earnt his seat in Formula 1 next year. We’re so pleased to be bringing a bright, new talent into Formula 1, someone that this year has annihilated the Formula 3 championship.”
He was also F1’s best prepared rookie since Lewis Hamilton at McLaren in 2007, with an extensive private testing program carried out at tracks all over the world in the team’s 2014 car.
In that maiden season, then teammate Felipe Massa led him 16-3 in qualifying, and 8-4 in races when they could be compared. Stroll finished just three points behind, though, and took the team’s only podium that year - in Baku.
He also gained 36 places on the opening laps throughout the 2017 season, the most of any other driver.
SOUNDBITE (English) LANCE STROLL,
F1 DRIVER, WILLIAMS:
“I think a combination of myself being able to put myself in the right position and also the team has done a really good job with the starts and getting the clutch bite point to where it has to be, and getting off the line well. I think that’s been one of our strengths.”
But the FW41’s aerodynamic issues have destroyed the team’s chance to improve this year, with Stroll scoring just six points to teammate Sergey Sirotkin’s one. This season the team’s worst since 2013.
Following a likely switch to Force India next year, Stroll should have a better car. But he’ll need to up his game not only to score maximum points…
But, also for a favourable teammate comparison, likely with Sergio Perez, to rise above the “pay driver” stigma that still haunts him.
And with the Mexican in near peak form, he’ll need everything right to beat him as his Force India teammate Esteban Ocon has this year.
For Stroll, though, given the difficulty of his current car, 2019 cannot come soon enough… even if his father Lawrence will need to buy out his Williams contract, handing the British team a financial lifeline.
AUDIO QUOTE (English) LANCE STROLL,
F1 DRIVER, WILLIAMS:
“I’m excited to see what the future holds. I’m sure it’s full of surprises.”