At twenty years of age and with two top-tier racing seasons behind the shoulders, Lance Stroll finds himself locked in one of the toughest intra-team battles in contemporary F1: alongside the Canadian at his father’s own team will be Sergio Perez, notoriously one of the very best competitors in the midfield, one who has never been outscored by a teammate since Nico Hülkenberg in 2014 and will be the leader at Racing Point, as he very recently confirmed to the German Auto Bild: “I think experience helps you lead a team, building it around you, and understand how much progress you can make with the car and the setup”.
Stroll’s progress through the past year should not be overlooked: despite spending the majority of the season fighting against a faltering Williams at the bottom of the order, the Canadian reduced the usual number of crashes and managed to be competitive with the midfield in Baku, Barcelona, Silverstone, Monza and Mexico City, grabbing points in two of these five occasions (Baku and Monza) while teammate Sirotkin was out of the contention.
However, this will hardly be enough to sustain the jump to the ex-Force India team, which will be aiming to retrieve a prestigious fourth place in the next Constructors’ championship. Additionally, Stroll came out of last year’s qualifying duel with a 12-8 loss to Sirotkin and an average deficit of hundredths of a second, but it will be a lot tougher to keep up with Perez, who in turn needs to redeem himself in terms of Saturday performance, coming from a gap of nearly half a second to Ocon.
The basic question is: will Stroll be able to keep pace with his teammate and carry an ambitious team forward or will he end up holding the team back in its project for a rise up the ranks of the championship?
One thing Stroll will not have at his disposal will be more excuses for disappointing showings, which he did have in 2017 (lack of experience) and 2018. “I do believe that I’m a more complete driver than I was one year ago,” Stroll asserted at the end of the 2018 campaign.
“I just haven’t been able to demonstrate that due to the package, which is the nature of the sport. Some years it goes like that and you have to accept that as a driver.”
All of this and the fact that other midfield competitors are looking in interesting shape to put up a serious fight for “best of the rest” – see the likes of Renault, Alfa Romeo and maybe a surprising McLaren – signal a steep path ahead for Lance Stroll, who will be up against several other glory-seeking youngsters after having never properly shone in F1 so far. And the first rival will be next to his garage. But the Canadian will equally be hungry for success in his first (and maybe last) proper taste of top-level competition.