It’s been F1’s worst kept secret. Today, Lance Stroll has been announced as Felipe Massa’s replacement at Williams for 2017 and beyond. The team’s line up will be anchored by Valtteri Bottas who has been retained for a fifth season.
Stroll is young and has money behind him, thanks to millionaire father Lawrence Stroll. However, he is far from your average pay driver!
I’d like to tackle the pay driver argument head-on. Lance Stroll’s career has undoubtedly been aided by his family’s funding. Money is a crucial asset in junior formula and is a springboard to the next stage.
Having backers makes a driver more appealing to almost any team, particularly an independent like Williams. Especially when the team are staring down the barrel of a dip in financial resource as a result of being pipped to fourth in the Constructors’ Championship by Force India.
However, Stroll has enormous resource in the talent department to back up his wallet. This is the 2016 Euro F3 Champion. A series previously won by Esteban Ocon and one in which Max Verstappen could only finish third.
It’s a big deal and achieving that feat in just his second season speaks volumes of his maturity and natural talent. Money has simply fast-tracked the inevitable – Stroll securing a well-deserved shot at F1.
What his appointment means is an elevated status for Valtteri Bottas. With Massa’s experience leaving Grove, the Finn now becomes the team’s lead driver while Stroll finds his rhythm.
At this point, it’s probably fair to say that Williams needs Bottas more than Bottas needs Williams. His performances in 2014 demonstrated that he was ready for race winning machinery and, for a while, it appeared that his current team would be able to deliver this opportunity.
Since then, Williams’ trajectory has taken somewhat of a nose-dive. With the 2017 regulations somewhat negating the ‘leg-up’ provided by the Mercedes powerunit, this trend could be difficult to reverse. Bottas certainly has his work cut out.
As such, the announcement today is hugely exciting for Stroll but less so for Bottas, who potentially faces another season in midfield obscurity. Hopefully I’m wrong with regards to the latter prediction.