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Will Teenage Rookie Lance Stroll Show His Talent is Worth More Than His Money in F1?

There is no denying the financial backing from his family has made things easier for Lance Stroll during his career leading to securing an F1 driver with Williams. Now it's time to show he deserves to be there.

by Adam Cooper, Motorsport.com
Jan 4 2017, 2:50pm

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Rarely has the arrival of an F1 rookie prompted as much debate as that of European F3 Champion Lance Stroll, who turned 18 in October. Why the rush to put him straight into a Williams race seat? And how good is he?

Such questions are an inevitable result of the way he's been fast-tracked to the top rung by his businessman father Lawrence, whose "no expense spared" approach has not gone down well with everybody.

By definition, many racing drivers come from comfortable backgrounds, their early careers supported by family money. It's hardly a new concept – there's a sound reason why early motor racing history features so many aristocratic names.

In the modern era the cost of competing has become so great that just paying for the karting years is already a stretch, and many a promising career flounders unless someone like Red Bull or McLaren steps in to smooth the way into car racing.

Few have been lucky enough to enjoy family support that has taken them all the way to F1.

Max Chilton was one example, but he graduated with a back-of-the-grid team in Manor, and had also done an apprenticeship in GP2. Stroll, in contrast, has made the jump straight from F3, to a much higher profile team, and at a younger age.

It's impossible to say how much Lawrence Stroll has spent to get Lance to F1, and Williams is in no hurry to confirm what his contribution to the team's 2017 budget is. Given that Stroll Sr is said by Forbes Magazine to be worth $2.5bn it's fair to say funding has not been an issue from the day Lance first sat in a kart.

He's always had the best of everything: the best machinery, the best teams, the best preparation, the maximum possible testing mileage. Since he became associated with Williams that's included support for his F3 programme from the Grove team and its engineers, something that clearly didn't hurt his chances in a category where small gains can make the difference.

Solid Credentials

What can't be denied is that he's got the results on the track. He won the Italian F4 title in 2014, and the winter Toyota Racing Series in 2015. After a messy rookie F3 season that year he bounced back in 2016 to win the title by a comfortable margin. And that earned him enough points to guarantee himself an FIA Superlicence, without having to pass through GP3 or GP2.

In moving straight from F3 he follows in a line that includes the likes of Alain Prost, Nelson Piquet, Ayrton Senna, Jenson Button and most recently of course Max Verstappen – an impressive list of high achievers.

There have been others of course, and a random pick could include Jarno Trulli, Takuma Sato, Christian Klien and Adrian Sutil.

It's still relatively rare for someone to make the jump without either racing more powerful single-seaters or diverting into the DTM or sportscar racing before F1, as was the case with the likes of Michael Schumacher, Paul di Resta and more recently Pascal Wehrlein.

READ MORE: Felipe Massa's Return Highlights F1's Young Driver Malaise

As European F3 champion, and a holder of a Superlicence, Stroll is clearly qualified to be on the grid next year. What happens next will be up to him. Will he sink or swim?

"When it comes to Lance I think we, out of a courtesy, should reserve judgement," says deputy team principal Claire Williams.

"I think that considering his age he's achieved a huge amount. He's won every championship he's taken part in, particularly this year in the F3 championship.

"As everybody knows, Williams isn't a team that would put their stake into a driver that they didn't believe could deliver.

"We're a serious team with serious ambitions, and I am not going to put a driver in a car that I don't believe will deliver. I believe that Lance will. Yes, he's going to be a rookie next year, yes, he's going to make mistakes.

"But from everything we've seen in his test programme, he's a really fast learner."

Financial Backing

Perhaps not surprisingly Williams is sensitive when it comes to Stroll's position as a driver who brings funding.

"There are commercial considerations for any team principal when they put a driver in," she says. "Alonso comes with financial backing, maybe not personal, but he attracts sponsors. Santander is there because of him. I don't understand why in this sport that is such a business there is such negative connotation around a driver that brings backing.

"And not only in F1. Motorsport as a whole is such an expensive business, you don't get into the upper echelons of motor sport unless you can find significant budgets to go racing.

"I don't know why people criticise drivers when they have financial backing, because if they didn't then so many teams in this sport wouldn't necessarily survive, and then this sport wouldn't survive."

READ MORE: The Young and the Brave – In Conversation With Max Verstappen

Stroll himself is resigned to questions about the financial support that he's enjoyed.

"There's two ways it works," he said in Abu Dhabi. "So one way is you need to have a sponsor or a family member, someone who helps you from eight years old 'til whatever age you arrive to F1, if you arrive to F1. Without that I wouldn't have been able to move from Canada to Europe and pursue my dream.

"And then after that, no matter how much money you have and where you come from, if you don't turn the steering wheel left and right and go as quick as possible around the track, you don't win races. And money can't buy wins.

"Money can buy the opportunity, it can buy a seat in F4 and go-karts and F3. If you don't have the Superlicence points now, which requires winning championships like F4, F3, maybe GP2 if you don't win F3 – you need to get those 40 points, which I've done – you can't get into F1."

"Money Doesn't Get Wins"

He rightly points out that it's not his fault if other youngsters haven't had the same opportunities

"Money doesn't get wins, it just allows you to race, which is true. You can't deny that. It's a very expensive sport we're in, and there are plenty of drivers who haven't had that opportunity and are very talented.

"Which is really unfortunate. That's just the sport we're in. But I worked really hard, and without winning those championships, I wouldn't be here. I could have all the money in the world and finish last, and that wouldn't put me where I am today."

Many observers question the need to miss GP2, especially when a prime seat was waiting for him at Prema, the team that dominated the 2016 season.

READ MORE: Schumacher, Rosberg, and the Question of Legacy in F1

"I think it was multiple things. I know we were just taking it year by year, and that's what we've always done ever since we even started go-karts. And we never try to look too far ahead in the future, and really just focus at the task at hand. This year F3 was obviously the goal and we achieved it, not only by a little margin, but by a big margin.

"I think without that big margin and the way we did it, and without some of the tests in the 2014 car, and the way it's gone and the way Williams have evaluated me, with all those things together I don't think I'd be here.

"There's multiple reasons why we're here today, and why we're not doing the step in between, why we're not doing GP2, and that's the way it is."

The cynical view is that in missing GP2 he avoids the risk of being beaten and losing the momentum that he now has. He'd still have the budget to make it, but it would be much harder for Williams to justify his graduation in 2018 after a mediocre season in GP2.

The other argument is that the best way to learn about F1 is by doing it, which is what Helmut Marko pursued with Verstappen.

"Well, I think first of all when you have an opportunity to go into F1 there's nothing that quite prepares you for F1 other than doing F1," said Stroll. "I think GP2 is definitely the step in between, but I think it doesn't prepare as well as actually competing in F1.

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