Race Weekend Central

Slipstream Saturdays: Is the Heat Getting to Lance Stroll?

A bad week in an awful year for Lance Stroll became worse after a disastrous qualifying effort put the Canadian all the way back in 17th on Sunday’s grid.

Montreal’s crown prince qualified 1.1 seconds off of teammate Fernando Alonso, in a tight qualifying round that saw Alonso finish third. Stroll qualified behind both Williams drivers and is all but promised not to finish in points in the race.

The normally mild-mannered Stroll, who has usually kept a very cool head out of the car, finally snapped in the direct aftermath. He shoved his personal trainer while said trainer was trying to direct him to the FIA scale to be weighed.

He then gave an interview that seemed less angry and more just done with this year, still way out of character for him.

In order to get proper context on everything swirling around Stroll and Aston Martin, there needs to be a bit of a rewind.

Unlike a lot of people around Formula 1, I gave Stroll a fair amount of credit entering this season. Yes, his dad has bought every ride he’s been in, and he has made plenty of mistakes, but he’s also stayed fairly competitive with his teammates.

In 2022, Stroll and teammate Sebastian Vettel finished 10-10 in race record, going half-and-half. Now, it can be argued that Vettel was largely unmotivated in his Aston Martin days and that he was typically given the less conventional strategies, but Stroll never looked that awful compared to a four-time world champion. That counted for something.

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But then the page is turned to 2023 and things have pretty radically changed.

Alonso has seven podiums to Stroll’s goose egg. He has 174 points to Stroll’s 47. Alonso has beaten Stroll in all but one race, at Catalunya. And in that race, Alonso deliberately did not attempt to pass Stroll in the closing laps to ensure both cars would finish the race.

Alonso has a reputation as a teammate killer. In 20 seasons of F1, the only times he hasn’t thoroughly destroyed his teammates were Jarno Trulli in 2004 (7-7 in races), Lewis Hamilton in 2007 (still managed to beat 9-8) and Esteban Ocon in 2021 and 2022. Outside of those four seasons, he’s easily dispatched names like Felipe Massa (65-11 in four years), Jenson Button (21-6 in two years), Jacques Villenueve (3-0 in 2004) and Kimi Raikkonen (17-1 in 2014).

Ocon’s relative success against Alonso — the Frenchman is the only Alonso teammate to ever beat him in overall race record at 23-21 — might have been a bit of hope for the team that Stroll could be competitive against the Spaniard. But the proof is in the pudding: Stroll is nowhere in Alonso’s league as a driver.

What’s more is that Stroll’s underperformance is actively hurting the team now in constructor standings. Since finishing sixth in Spain, Stroll has not finished higher than ninth and has only scored a grand total of 12 points. In four months.

The team began the season with arguably the second-best car, and still has one driver who can push the current car into the points every race. And yet, it seems like the team falling behind McLaren to finish fifth in the constructors championship is all but guaranteed. If Stroll were able to have even just 100 points instead of 47, the team would be within 21 points of second-place Mercedes.

The only bright spot Stroll had the entire summer was finishing fourth in the Austria Grand Prix Sprint. Then the next day, in the feature race, he finished 29 seconds down on Alonso.

Fast-forward a few months to this week. After a month in which he did not finish at the Japanese Grand Prix and couldn’t even start the Singapore Grand Prix after a bad qualifying crash, there are some news reports that the Strolls might be looking to exit, stage left.

F1 Insider, a German website, outright reported that Mr. Stroll is looking at selling the team for quite a huge chunk of change. The reason is almost entirely due to both how much F1 teams have blown up since he bought the old Force India team for pennies on the dollar, and for his son’s own reported disinterest after being thoroughly dominated by Alonso this year.

As per Google translate, the article includes this passage:

“The attitude of Stroll junior (24) himself is to blame for this. The teammate of Spain’s superstar Fernando Alonso (42) is said to no longer have any desire for Formula 1 because the double world champion has shown him the limits of his potential. In addition, Stroll’s mother Claire-Anne in particular is putting pressure – according to sources in the paddock – for her son to end his motorsport career after a few accidents this year. Most recently, the Canadian crashed so badly in qualifying in Singapore that he had to skip the race.”

The article does note that Aston Martin (and Mr. Stroll in particular) gave them a statement that they are not looking to sell. Still, considering the ROI the Strolls would get for selling a team they no longer have any emotional connection to if Lance retires from F1, it could be a very appetizing option for them — especially if a Saudi Arabia fund that already owns title sponsor Aramco is the eventual buyer.

So here we are now. It has become very clear that Stroll’s underperformance can no longer be excused, especially now that there has been a shoving match in the garage.

Felipe Drugovich, the reigning F2 champion and current Aston Martin reserve driver, would be fairly easy to slot into that seat. He would be going up against Alonso, but nobody in that seat needs to beat Alonso. They just need somebody to perform enough to assist the team to get the best possible position in constructor standings.

This is at least the second straight year that Stroll has proven directly unable to do that. I wrote the F1 Awards article for this site last year, which gave Stroll the Cucumber Award for costing his team millions of dollars last year as well:

“At the United States Grand Prix in October, Stroll made a bonehead move on lap 22 trying to block Alonso down the long COTA back straight, causing him to DNF from his seventh-place running position.

“Then, in the Brazil Sprint, Stroll blocked his teammate all the way to the grass while fighting outside of the points, costing Vettel time he needed as he finished just one-and-a-half seconds off Kevin Magnussen, who scored the final point in the sprint.

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“Aston Martin ended up tied for sixth in points with Alfa Romeo, with Alfa Romeo taking sixth outright on countback. Had Stroll not made just one of those mistakes, let alone both of them, the Aston Martin team would have finished sixth instead of seventh in points and would have millions of more dollars in prize money awarded to it.”

Sell the team, don’t sell the team, whatever. It’s time to make Formula 1 a cucumber-free zone, and finally bidding adieu to Stroll would go a long way to doing that.

About the author

Michael has watched NASCAR for 20 years and regularly covered the sport from 2013-2021. He moved on to Formula 1, IndyCar, and SRX coverage for the site, while still putting a toe in the water from time-to-time back into the NASCAR pool.

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