Lance Stroll declared ‘the greatest pay driver of all time’ in F1

Oliver Harden
Aston Martin driver Lance Stroll looks thrilled as he makes his way through the paddock at the Monaco Grand Prix. Monte Carlo, 2023.

Aston Martin driver Lance Stroll shoved his trainer in Qatar.

F1 analyst Peter Windsor has described Lance Stroll as “the greatest pay driver of all time” for bringing the Aston Martin name back to the sport and creating jobs at the team.

Despite having three podium finishes and a pole position to his name, Stroll has been frequently dismissed as a pay driver since making his grand prix debut with Williams in 2017.

The Canadian switched teams in 2019 after his father, Lawrence, rescued the former Force India operation from administration, with the team rebranded as Aston Martin from the beginning of 2021.

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The team have made no secret of their ambition to emerge as a title-winning force in the near future and recently made the move into a new state-of-the-art factory close to the Silverstone circuit.

Stroll’s struggles alongside two-time World Champion Fernando Alonso in 2023 have reopened the debate about pay drivers with Stroll 94 points behind his team-mate after the first 11 races.

However, former title-winning Williams team manager Windsor has leapt to the defence of Stroll, claiming that even the best drivers in F1 history have been forced to seek funding during their rise to the top.

Appearing via a recent YouTube stream, he said: “You could argue that Lance Stroll is the greatest pay driver of all time because, yes, he’s there because his dad is paying all the bills, but at least his dad has gone out and created a new team out of an old one, Aston Martin.

“The payment for Lance to be in Formula 1 has been a very constructive thing and it’s given a lot of jobs to a lot of people and it’s a whole new thing, so in that sense you’ve got to say: ‘Wow, that’s the perfect use of being a pay driver – and he’s got a reasonable amount of talent as well.’

“If you go through the grid, quite a lot of drivers at some point would have had to have begged and borrowed money to get to the next level of motor racing. And does that make them a paying driver?

“[Look at] Nigel Mansell mortgaging his house to do five Formula 3 races with March in 1978: does that make him a paying driver? It kind of does, doesn’t it? If he hadn’t paid that money to March, he wouldn’t have raced in ’78 and probably would never have made Formula 1.

“Niki Lauda [got] a bank loan to get the BRM deal. Michael [Schumacher], I guess, at some point [was a pay driver].

“Everybody who’s an Aston Martin fan should be very grateful that Lance Stroll is a Formula 1 driver, because if he wasn’t his father wouldn’t have bought the team and it wouldn’t be Aston Martin.

“The whole thing is hinged around Lance Stroll. Without him, there wouldn’t be an Aston Martin Formula 1 team because his dad wouldn’t be doing it.

“Without Stroll there would be no Aston Martin, so there’s no point even thinking: ‘They need a better driver than Stroll’ – anybody who thinks that doesn’t understand the genesis of the team.

“I don’t think they think in terms of [winning] the Constructors’ Championship, I think they just want to go out and do was well as they can in every race. Obviously there are budgetary controls now that were not around before but, equally, they’ve got much more money as a team than they’ve ever had before and they’re going into that great new factory with all those facilities, they’ve got very good people there still.

“So they will be hoping that, on the back of all that, they can be up there with Red Bull. That’s what they’re hoping.

“And I think the old man thinks, as long as they’ve got Lance in one car, they’re 90 per cent of the way there. All they need is another driver that Lance can match himself against and can maybe win some races if Lance isn’t winning races.

“I’m sure that’s how he thinks. I’m sure he thinks if that car is capable of winning a World Championship, Lance Stroll is quite capable of being World Champion.

“And I don’t think Lawrence Stroll would be in Formula 1 if he didn’t think that – any more than any driver would be in Formula 1 if they didn’t think they could win a grand prix, and therefore the World Championship. There’s a massive amount of ambition there.” recommends

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Windsor pinned the blame for the rise in pay drivers on ex-F1 chief executive Bernie Ecclestone and former Renault team principal Flavio Briatore, who forced teams in junior categories to rely on pay drivers.

“Formula 1 revolves around money and when Flavio and Bernie, with Bruno Michel, decided how to take control of Formula 2 and Formula 3, they basically said: ‘Let’s take over Formula 2 and Formula 3 and make it Championships that we make money from. Don’t give the Formula 2 and Formula 3 categories any television or exposure to speak of, because we want all that for Formula 1.

“‘We don’t want them in the Formula 1 paddock apart from the odd pass or two, because there’s going to be enough rich daddies around to pay all the bills.’

“And that’s what’s happened. They’re obviously not all rich daddies, but there’s certainly a lot of rich benefactors and families. Some drivers are there on merit, but most drivers have had to go out and raise money, get money – whatever – to get into Formula 2 and Formula 3.

“The amounts of money you require are ridiculous at that level for the return you can give anyone. Television? Yeah, it’s covered – but who watches it, in terms of real numbers?

“That’s always been the problem and it wasn’t helped by the Bernie/Bruno/Flavio approach to Formula 2 and Formula 3. If, by contrast, they had [made sure] the Formula 2 and Formula 3 categories would benefit from everything that’s going on in Formula 1 and young drivers could benefit from the sponsorship that’s come into Formula 1 and we got the Formula 1 teams to put a certain percentage of their budgets to help young drivers and give access to the F2/F3 teams to the F1 paddock for hospitality, it would have been a different story.

“But we don’t have that, so a lot of the drivers in those categories are there because they’ve got the money to do it. And a lot of the drivers who haven’t got the money never even make it to Formula 3, let alone Formula 2.

“I can think of several young drivers who are never going to make it to FIA Formula 3 even though, in my opinion, they’re quite capable of winning a Formula 1 race. They have the talent of that level.

“That’s the sad thing about motor racing: there’s always going to be great drivers who will never be given the opportunity.”

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