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Time to say goodbye? Why the 2023 F1 season should be Stroll’s last

The 2023 season has been tumultuous from start to finish for Lance Stroll, but will that turbulence bring an end to his F1 career sooner than anticipated?

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Lance Stroll has always been a polarising figure in the Formula 1 paddock. But is he finally proving the haters right in 2023?

Lance Stroll could be punished for breaking Formula 1 protocol during Qatar Grand Prix qualifying | talkSPORT
Stroll cuts a despondent figure after getting knocked out in the first phase of Qualifying for the Qatar Grand Prix. (Image Credit: Getty Images)

I have always been the first to defend Stroll in his seven seasons in the sport. After all, one cannot deny that he has shown impressive pace and displayed several standout performances in an F1 seat since his debut outing for Williams in 2017.

Stroll had a remarkable junior career, winning the 2014 Italian F4 Championship, 2015 Toyota Racing Series and 2016 FIA Formula 3 European Championship. Notably, the 24-year-old beat rivals including George Russell and Guanyu Zhou on his way to these titles. Despite skipping F2, people were right to be excited for his entry into F1 at just 18 years of age.

Let’s remind ourselves of some of the Canadian driver’s greatest drives; given the torrid year he has endured so far, it is important to remember what we know he is capable of. Also considering this could very well be his final year of racing in F1, take this as a memorial of his best moments.

First of all, flashback to his debut year for Williams. The then-18-year-old became the second-youngest podium sitter in the history of the sport when he crossed the line in third for the 2017 Azerbaijan Grand Prix. While he had P2 snatched away by mere milliseconds from the Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas, all eyes were on the young Canadian. The only other teenager to ever make it to the rostrum? A certain Max Verstappen…

Pole position for the 2020 Turkish Grand Prix also stands out. Stroll mastered the wet conditions to muscle his Racing Point into P1 on the Saturday. He maintained the lead for the first half of the race, but his efforts were curtailed when damage to his front wing limited his pace. He fell to ninth by the chequered flag.

That was perhaps the high point of Stroll’s career thus far. Since then, he has not come anywhere near fighting for a race victory, let alone a sniff at a podium finish. We can dismiss 2021 and 2022; he didn’t have the car beneath him to challenge for any sort of memorable result. Not even then-teammate Sebastian Vettel could achieve miracles in the early days of the nascent Aston Martin outfit.

2023: A season Stroll wishes he could forget

But fast forward to 2023, and things get a little more… critical. The AMR23 is perhaps the best car that Stroll has had the opportunity to drive; to prove his admittedly numerous haters wrong, those who cry “Daddy Cash” and “Nepo Baby” due to the financial influence of his father, billionaire businessman Lawrence Stroll, in securing his status as a regular on the F1 grid.

He started the year strong enough. He miraculously scored a brilliant P6 finish at the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix while suffering from a painful wrist injury which required surgery. But it all went downhill from there.

This season has definitely been the worst in Stroll’s career. While teammate Fernando Alonso currently holds fourth in the Drivers’ Championship with seven podiums to his name, Stroll hasn’t appeared in the rostrum all year and has only 47 points to Alonso’s 183, as of the Qatar Grand Prix. While Alonso has surprised fans with his relaxed and laid-back character this year, Stroll has looked tense and unhappy all season long. To be fair, the Canadian has never painted a picture of happiness, but we’ll get into that a little later.

Speaking of the Qatar Grand Prix, it seemed as though emotions finally boiled over for Stroll after Qualifying for the main race. After a fourth successive Q1 knockout, he threw his steering wheel out of his car in frustration and lashed out at his personal trainer. Some say pushed, some say punched, I say it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that Stroll has since apologised for his actions and has discussed his unruly behaviour with the FIA.

This, along with his hefty crash qualifying for the Singapore Grand Prix, which ruled him out for the race, suggests that something is up with Stroll. Let’s look into some of the reasons why matters have taken a downward turn this year for the 24-year-old.

Alonso as an insurmountable benchmark
Bahrain GP podium is just unreal' declares Alonso
Fernando Alonso has secured seven podiums in 2023, compared to Stroll’s zero (Image Credit: XPB Images)

Alonso is one of the best drivers on the F1 grid right now, and is commonly regarded as one of the greatest drivers of all time. He’s a two-time World Champion, having beaten the one and only Michael Schumacher two years in a row in 2005 and 2006.

He is also a master at extracting the maximum from the package beneath him, as demonstrated by his title challenge in 2012 in a markedly average Ferrari, which was at most the fourth fastest car that year. Some will argue that the Spaniard is performing similar feats in the AMR23 this year, while others will say Stroll is simply not performing up to the standard expected of an experienced F1 driver.

Admittedly, it must be not easy mentally to try to match Alonso in the same machinery. In his over 20 years in the pinnacle of open-wheel motorsport, he has only scored fewer points than his teammate on two occasions over the course of a full season.

Stroll has stated to media that the dynamic with his teammate is good, and that they work together really well. But behind the scenes, he may be struggling with the realisation that he is worlds apart from Alonso, as the gulf in Championship points suggests.

No one has ever made the Canadian look as poor and out of form in his F1 career; he matched Felipe Massa in 2017, beat Sergey Sirotkin the year after and kept close company to four-time World Champion Vettel in their two years together as teammates. But the points difference doesn’t lie, and thus there is nowhere for Stroll to hide – certainly not behind his potential – this time round. He couldn’t even hide his frustrations from the camera at the most recent grand prix.

The weight of public opinion and a lack of drive

Ask yourself this: would you stay on a career path if you feel like you are never really appreciated for the work that you do? Add onto that the fact that you have never had a passion for your career; is there any reason to remain?

This is what Stroll is most likely grappling with at this present moment. While he has never publicly admitted it himself, respected figures in the paddock believe that Stroll doesn’t have his heart in F1.

Speaking on the Chequered Flag podcast, journalist Andrew Benson believes that Stroll never reached his true potential because he doesn’t have the desire to. He said: “He’s got talent, Lance Stroll, there’s no question about that.”

“But he’s not consistent and people who know him say he doesn’t work hard enough.”

Rumours suggest that Stroll is even considering a career in tennis. And why not, he has every right to pursue his dreams and do what he actually loves and enjoys doing, instead of pandering to his father’s wishes for his son to be a world champion.

Furthermore, Stroll has been the target of online abuse for much of his F1 career, primarily stemming from his background as the son of an affluent business owner, who pretty much paid for his son’s seat in the sport long before buying an F1 team.

Sky Sports F1’s Ted Kravitz spoke to Stroll in the mountains of Revelstoke in Canada, with the latter weighing in on the hate that he receives as a pay driver. He said:

“Naturally, there’s a big group of people that because of my background, where I come from, kind of don’t support me or don’t always give me the credit that I’m due.

“I’ve recognised that over the years and try not to pay so much attention to that because it’s negative energy and I like to surround myself with positive energy.”

That positive energy, by virtue of his previous strong performances and hunger to beat his rivals, has dwindled over the years and is possibly non-existent in a 2023 which has been nothing short of a disappointment for the Canadian.

Before, his pole positions, his top-three finishes, his consistent points-scoring was something he could stand on and tell himself that he was doing a good enough job. With all of that evidently missing from his 2023 campaign, perhaps Stroll is starting to see truth in the criticisms he so regularly receives from F1 fans around the world.

Why this year could be his last
Formula 1: Lawrence Stroll a major hypocrite for Andretti comments
Lawrence Stroll, Lance Stroll’s billionaire father (Image Credit: Getty Images)

Aston Martin sit P4 in the Constructors’ Championship standings, clinging on by just 11 points from a resurgent McLaren team. The truth remains, however, that if Stroll could hold a candle to teammate Alonso over a season, Aston Martin would be battling for P2 in the Championship, rather than P4.

The 24-year-old has a rolling contract with the Silverstone-based outfit. His father rather handily owns the team that he races for, which means no one really knows when or if his contract has an expiry date.

But the flipside to having such a contract is that his dad could snap his fingers at any moment and swap Stroll for another driver. While Lawrence has high ambitions for his son, calls for the team owner to make the “right call” are becoming ever louder and stronger as the season draws to an end.

At the end of the day, Stroll Sr. has stated that he wishes for Aston Martin to win races and Championships. In that case, he can’t avoid the fact that Lance is preventing his team from doing just that.

There are plenty of capable drivers waiting in the wings to pounce on an empty Aston Martin seat should Stroll leave F1. The most obvious candidates are the team’s reserve drivers, Felipe Drugovich and Stoffel Vandoorne. Either way, many believe that Stroll should make way for younger talents that have a chance to improve, which the Canadian hasn’t done for the last several years.

However, another thing that Stroll hasn’t done is give up. His antics at the Qatar Grand Prix suggest that although he may envision a future where his father replaces him, he isn’t ready to let that happen just yet. He will be hoping that he can redeem himself and prove to himself and fans alike that he deserves to stay in the sport for the foreseeable future.

Feature Image Credit: Zak Mauger

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