It's Time for Lance Stroll's F1 Experiment to End

It's Time for Lance Stroll's F1 Experiment to End photo
It's Time for Lance Stroll's F1 Experiment to End photo

The 2024 Chinese Grand Prix revived the Shanghai circuit as a regular part of Formula 1's calendar after a long five-year absence, and the action-packed weekend delivered on the hope that this reintroduction would be a memorable one. Most memorable, though, was a disastrous restart that saw Aston Martin driver Lance Stroll plow into the back of Daniel Ricciardo, then double down on his insistence that it was Ricciardo being an "idiot." The ridiculous maneuver and the response after the fact is proof that it's time for Lance Stroll's Formula 1 experiment to end.

As the field restarted the Chinese Grand Prix on Lap 27, several cars bunched up at Shanghai's hairpin. It was a frustrating move, but for the drivers paying attention, it was pretty simple to slow down and avoid disaster. Lance Stroll found that more difficult, and he plowed into the back of Ricciardo's Visa Cash App RB machine so hard that its rear wheels lifted into the air.

On the broadcast, Stroll was reported as saying "This idiot just slammed on the brake" in the aftermath of the crash (though it should also be noted that it's not fully clear that he was talking about just one person and not "these idiots").

Ricciardo's race was forced to an abrupt end thanks to the damage sustained in the accident, so he was understandably annoyed in the post-race media pen to discover that Stroll had shifted the blame onto an "idiot" other than himself.

"That made my blood boil, because it's clear as day, and it's also behind a safety car," Ricciardo said of Stroll's response to the crash. "The only thing you've got to do is watch the car in front. We can't predict what the leader is going to do. We can't assume that we're going to go into Turn 14. The race doesn't start until the control line.

"I'm doing my best not to say what I want to say, but fuck that guy—and I'm being nice still. But if that's what he thinks, I'm like… yeah."

He also added to The Race, "All you have to do is worry about me in that situation, and he clearly wasn't. [...] It's not like he just tapped me and gave me a puncture or something. He went underneath my car. He hit me so fast, it's not an unlucky thing where he just tapped me." The Australian also pointed out the fact that, from onboard footage, it appeared as if Stroll was looking somewhere other than at Ricciardo's VCARB.

Ricciardo did offer Stroll some grace, saying he'd hold back any further criticism to see if "[Stroll] might take some accountability."

<em>Getty Images</em>
Getty Images

Just a few minutes later, Lance Stroll appeared in the press pen, and his perception of the event—and the subsequent 10-second penalty he received for it—remained unchanged.

"I got a penalty because of the end result that I hit Ricciardo, but it's not like everything was normal and I just slammed into the back of him," Stroll told "There was a really odd concertina effect that I would have liked to see the stewards take into consideration maybe a little bit more. Someone braked at the front of the pack and then everyone stops. The car in front of me just stopped from like 60 to zero. It was one of those stupid incidents. I was in his gearbox and ready for the restart, and just very unlucky. We were having a good race [until] then so it's a shame."

Stroll clarified to The Race that he didn't intend to blame Ricciardo specifically; he just happened to be the car in front of Stroll at the time. Meanwhile, the verdict issued by the FIA made it clear that Stroll was at fault, saying that he "ought to have anticipated the pace of the cars in front" and "should have been prepared to brake accordingly." After all, the concertinaed drivers in front of him all had time to slow.

Since his Formula 1 debut in the 2017 Australian Grand Prix, Lance Stroll has drawn ample amounts of criticism for being a "pay driver," or some guy who is Mostly OK at racing but who has the money to be an attractive prospect for down-on-their-luck teams. Stroll started at Williams, then moved to Racing Point before his father purchased the Aston Martin car company and introduced it to Formula 1. Since then, Stroll's best finish has been a handful of third places, while his best finish in the World Drivers' Championship came last year, when he took home 10th.

While many motorsport commentators are harsh on pay drivers right from the get-go, I've always been willing to give them a chance to figure things out on their own merits; after all, legends of the sport like Niki Lauda were once pay drivers who needed to write big checks to make themselves seem attractive to team owners. Plus, taking a podium in his first season hinted that there could be some substance there.

The problem, though, is that—aside from those few podiums—Stroll has never done all that much to set himself above the competition. In 2018, Stroll outperformed rookie teammate Sergey Sirotkin, but for two drivers that finished in 18th and 20th, it wasn't much to write home about. That's the only time that has happened.

<em>Getty Images</em>
Getty Images

Again, this can seem like an unfair comparison when Stroll's teammates have almost exclusively been experienced and/or World Championship-caliber drivers like Felipe Massa, Sebastian Vettel, and Fernando Alonso. But shouldn't Stroll have learned more by now? Shouldn't his talent be visible? If his family can afford to buy a legacy car brand and enter that brand in F1, shouldn't it also be able to afford Stroll the very best training and coaching that money can buy?

If there has been an investment in that part of Stroll's career, we haven't seen it. Instead, we've seen a long string of bad behavior from the Canadian driver, often followed by him avoiding any blame.

At the 2023 Qatar Grand Prix, for example, Lance Stroll threw his steering wheel, shoved his trainer, and was rude to a Sky Sports journalist speaking with him after the event—something that former World Champion Jenson Button criticized for displaying a lack of respect. Stroll has shown time and again that he possesses talent, but to call him one of the 20 best drivers in the world would be a stretch. It's even more challenging to defend him when his behavior can be reckless at best, and dangerous for himself and his competitors at worst.

There could very well be hope on the horizon, as rumors have persisted for months that Lawrence Stroll is always open to selling Aston Martin to the highest bidder, which could nix his son from the Formula 1 driver pool and open up a seat to a genuinely talented racer. However, the Stroll money can afford a seat on plenty of lower-tier F1 teams. The only way we see the Canadian truly out of the sport is if he or his father definitively decide that Lance's F1 experiment has failed—a decision that can't come soon enough.