The arrival of Aston Martin’s Valkyrie into the World Endurance Championship may give Lawrence Stroll the chance to shuffle his son out of the F1 team…
On Wednesday, Aston Martin confirmed that they will enter the World Endurance Championship and the IMSA championship with ‘at least one’ prototype Valkyrie as the British manufacturer enters the Hypercar class of the highest level of sportscar racing.
Aside from being a continuation of the aggressive approach to motorsport and marketing that Lawrence Stroll has embarked upon since buying into Aston Martin Lagonda, the move may also give the businessman an easy way to save face when it comes to his son, Lance.
Lance Stroll’s underperformance a headache for Aston Martin
There are only so many ways that the performance of Lance Stroll in 2023 can be sugarcoated or explained away due to extraneous circumstances – regardless of the heroics he performed to make sure he actually took part in the full season following his pre-season injuries, the Canadian driver has been something of a lead weight around his team’s neck.
It’s not through lack of trying or perseverance – Stroll’s efforts to race and improve command respect and kudos, particularly in light of the surgeries he went through in order to race, blinking through the pain, in Bahrain.
But, paired with one of the sport’s all-time greats, Stroll’s level as a solid but unspectacular driver has been directly exposed and, faced with such a realisation, the Canadian driver has struggled to cope in a way he didn’t when paired with a mentally retired Sebastian Vettel.
Looking at the facts, Fernando Alonso has scored 174 points for Aston Martin as a newcomer to the team with seven podiums from 16 races. He is fourth in the Drivers’ Championship and, in the early stages of the year, looked capable of fighting for the runner-up spot before the AMR23 was out-developed.
In contrast, Stroll has scored just 47 points in the same 16 race weekends, just over a quarter of Alonso’s points tally. That’s despite him having plenty of experience with the team, and with the characteristics of their car design. His best result remains fourth place in Australia, in what was actually a pretty strong start to the season for the Canadian alongside Alonso.
But Stroll has assumed the same relative position in the midfield that he always has, despite Alonso showing the AMR23 is – or, at least, was – a much more competitive beast than the team’s last couple of cars.
It’s led to an incredibly one-sided effort from the team in the Constructors’ Championship, with Alonso having done his best to keep the Silverstone-based squad in the running for second overall. But, between the team’s slide in performance, and the fact only one car has consistently scored points, Aston Martin have been overcome by Mercedes and Ferrari, and will likely fall to McLaren over the remaining six races as well.
With two Lance Strolls, Aston Martin would be sixth in the championship with 94 points, and just 10 points clear of Alpine – the Enstone team themselves going through something of an annus horribilis.
With two Fernando Alonsos, Aston Martin would be second in the Constructors’ and 43 points clear of Mercedes – a hugely significant result that would underline the genuine step forward the team made this year.
Ast0n Martin WEC programme gives Lawrence and Lance Stroll the ideal out
At any other team, Stroll’s performance would be torn apart, their future bleak, with plenty of finger-pointing. Can you imagine Red Bull, McLaren, or Mercedes accepting such a state of affairs? But grin and bear it Aston Martin must, with team boss Mike Krack and performance director Tom McCullough frequently pointing to sheer bad luck as being Stroll’s deficit, and not just a lack of speed.
It’s a truly awkward position to be in, given their obvious desire to improve but having that tempered by having to put up with a nepotistic appointment that is now actively holding the team back. An appointment that shows no sign of ending, given the contract of indefinite duration Lance has with his father’s team.
The performance levels of his son won’t have been lost on Lawrence, and it’s truly fascinating to observe from an external viewpoint how such a ruthlessly successful businessman has been willing to throw money at a very serious F1 effort, only to actively hinder the project through hiring a competent-if-underwhelming family member and then have that shortcoming so painfully exposed.
But, if Stroll has been waiting to see if Lance can pull up his socks to start matching Fernando more closely, setting up another high-profile project that will need an exemplary – if not F1-level – driver may give the Stroll family exactly the out they need to change things up without losing face.
For now, the sportscar project – which will see Aston Martin represented by IMSA entrants Heart of Racing as they step up to the plate in WEC and IMSA – remains on course to begin the racing programme in 2025. Just enough time to either give Lance another chance in another car in 2024, or even pull the plug and make a change over the coming winter.
Given that it can all be handled internally under Lawrence, what’s to stop Aston Martin from creating the one big driver market move over the winter by simply announcing Lance is withdrawing from F1 with immediate effect in order to concentrate on the WEC programme? It’s the perfect opportunity to save face for all involved.
Make no mistake, while Lance may not be an F1 elite, he is more than capable of being a top-drawer endurance sportscar driver and switching discipline to be the face of the WEC programme would be seen as a side-step rather than a demotion. Aston Martin gets a top-level driver, Lawrence doesn’t have to admit his mistake as well as keep his son employed, and the F1 team shareholders will be happy about the fact there’s the chance to hire someone more fitting alongside Alonso.
For now, it’s just pie-in-the-sky thinking, but just salivate at the thoughts of Aston Martin coaxing an increasingly antsy Sebastian Vettel back to the car he walked away from just as it came good. Or 2023 sensation Liam Lawson being loaned out by Red Bull to get some proper racing experience, or 2022 F2 champion Felipe Drugovich finally getting an opportunity to impress in the big leagues.
Of course, the announcement of the WEC programme does raise a pertinent question, given Lance’s position. Was the entry of the Valkyrie always going to happen under Lawrence, or has it been created specifically to give Lance a seat and out of the way in F1?