Lance Stroll’s tough Formula 1 season has ensured that the long-existing questions regarding his spot on the grid are continuing.
Since joining the grid as an 18-year-old rookie with Williams, Stroll’s worth and value to F1 have been stripped apart and analysed and usually, a common answer is found among his critics - he only holds one of the 20 seats because of his father.
Lawrence Stroll, who currently owns the Aston Martin team that Lance drives for, has invested heavily in his son’s racing career and has helped him guide him up the racing ladder to F1.
The jump from F3 to F1 was always going to be a tricky one for Stroll to navigate in 2017, but he had a series of private tests on the build-up to his debut, funded, of course, by Lawrence.
He predictably was unable to match the pace of veteran team-mate Felipe Massa in the opening races of the year after the Brazilian was called out of retirement to return to the team amid Valtteri Bottas’ venture to Mercedes.
But Stroll’s first real flash of growth came at his first home race in Montreal when he rose from 17th on the grid to ninth and scored his first points. At the following race in Baku, a chaotic race saw him finish third to become the second-youngest podium finisher in F1 history, after Max Verstappen.
It would serve to be a recurring theme throughout Stroll’s career - a flash of pace here, a slump in performance there.
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Stroll's troubled year
Stroll was hailed in the early stages of the current campaign for navigating a pre-season injury he picked up in a cycling accident. After missing winter testing while he recovered, he jumped into the car at the first round in Bahrain and, under difficult circumstances, delivered an adequate performance.
There was a spark of potential to change the narrative that has followed his career to date but as the season ha progressed, Stroll has continued to have a large deficit to team-mate Fernando Alonso.
Alonso bagged six podiums in the opening eight races, totalling 117 points. In the same period, Stroll took 37. In the nine races that have followed and amid Aston Martin’s dip in the pecking order, the two-time champion has scored a further 66 points while Stroll has added just 10 to his tally.
Although Aston Martin’s pace has steadily been declining, things have been getting even worse for Stroll as the season has progressed. His Q1 exit last time out in Qatar was the fourth time in a row that the Canadian failed to move past the first stage of qualifying, while Alonso has moved into Q3 on each occasion this year.
Matters seemed to come to a boil when he threw his steering wheel out of the cockpit after the session before he pushed his performance engineer as they exited the rear of the garage.
2016 World Champion Nico Rosberg argued that “if it was any other driver he’d be out for next year with the way that it’s going at the moment”.
Rosberg is likely right - Stroll is protected by his father’s ownership of the Aston Martin team but it doesn’t take away from the disappointing streak that he is enduring.
The Silverstone-based squad had a competitive car in the opening half of the year and Stroll didn’t capitalise, leaving the team vulnerable to McLaren who now sits just 11 points behind for fourth in the Constructors’ Championship.
There is the argument that McLaren’s recovery has been so seismic that even an on-form Stroll wouldn’t have been enough to hold back the Woking-based squad’s late-season charge but regardless, he has had ample opportunity in the seven seasons he’s been in F1 to showcase his growth.
With 140 entries under his belt, the fact that questions are still being asked about his worthiness in the series speaks volumes.
The next step
Where does Stroll go from here? The 24-year-old stated that his struggles have been a bit more challenging recently, suggesting the development direction of the AMR23 has gone against his comfort zone behind the wheel.
Only extensive teamwork and a deep dive into the root of his problems can provide guidance for Stroll. Then, it will be purely down to him to ensure that he can extract the potential from the car and pull himself out of his spiral.
Ultimately, his future largely depends on the decisions made by the team owner. With the close family ties, it is unlikely that he will be axed - but perhaps if it is serious about competing for World Championships, it will be forced to move Stroll aside in the hunt for more stability.
It’s already been argued that the Hypercar programme that Aston Martin will undertake in WEC and IMSA from 2025 will be a soft landing spot for Stroll, should the team opt to move him out of the F1 team, despite that stable already playing down the chances of moves for either the Canadian or Alonso.
But Stroll is not simply in F1 for the glamour. Despite his shortcomings, he has a ferocious passion for motorsport and wants to prove himself at the very height of competition. However, with so much experience already under his belt, who knows how much longer Stroll has to prove he can be the driver the team wants him to be?
He has shown flashes of distinction before - if the tools are available, the responsibility of extracting performance will rest squarely on his shoulders to showcase that he can deliver consistently on the promise he has been at odds with throughout his career.
After all, you don't win a championship at junior level if you aren't a strong driver.