Lance Stroll has gone up against some challenging team-mates during his Formula 1 career, in particular Felipe Massa at Williams and Sergio Perez at Racing Point. But this year he is taking on a four-times world champion and 53-times grand prix winner in Sebastian Vettel.
Recently, Aston Martin team owner – and Lance’s father – Lawrence Stroll described the performances of the team’s two drivers as “about even”.
This was in response to a question from The Race about whether Lance Stroll was potentially a weak link in a team that is pulling out all the stops to emerge as a championship winning force. For while Stroll has proved himself to be a capable grand prix driver, he has yet to prove he can be more than that on a consistent basis despite occasional highs.
“Lance has done a extraordinary job – he is all of 22 years of age – whether it was his performance on pole [in Turkey] or on several podiums, or competing this year with Sebastian, I think they’re probably about even,” said Stroll.
“So I don’t have any concerns or feelings that Lance has a lack of performance.
“As he grows, he will get more experience, as he gets more experience he will, like anyone else his age, get stronger. So I have absolutely no concerns.”
So is the claim they are “about even” fair, or simply a father talking up the performance of their son? Fortunately, we can look at the data and setting aside Stroll’s capacity to evolve as a driver now he’s in the middle of his fifth season, we can look at how he has stacked up against Vettel in the first 10 events of the year.
In qualifying, Stroll and Vettel are currently the second-most evenly matched in terms of relative pace after Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso at Alpine. The current gap is 0.150% (based on times taken at the point of elimination) in Vettel’s favour, although the difference was negligible before Silverstone, where Stroll was 0.583s slower than Vettel in Q1 – so that number could easily swing back to well under a tenth of a percent if things are reversed in Hungary.
Both have reached Q3 on four occasions, although Vettel has only fallen in Q1 once compared to Stroll’s three. However, two of those instances for Stroll were in unusual circumstances, the Canadian crashing before setting a time in Baku and having his time deleted for a track limits violation at Paul Ricard then hitting a late-session red flag. While both of those do go down as Stroll’s errors, they aren’t reflective of a fundamental pace problem.
In races, Vettel has outscored Stroll 30 points to 18. But sometimes points tallies can be an unreliable witness. Aside from two points for ninth at Paul Ricard, Vettel’s points have come from his strong drives to fifth in Monaco and second in Azerbaijan.
Stroll has scored more regularly, with six points finishes – four eighth places and two 10ths. He’s also been ahead six out of the nine times when both Aston Martin drivers have been classified. It would be fair to conclude from this that, so far, Stroll has been the more consistent but Vettel’s peaks have been higher. Perhaps that’s something to be expected given Vettel is the newcomer to the team, whereas Stroll has two previous years of experience.
On balance, the evaluation of the pair being about even is a reasonable one. What we don’t know is how it will play out over the rest of the season, and how close Vettel is to his best form. Certainly, he has now settled in and is at one with the car, but on conventional circuits he hasn’t shown the spark he had in Baku and Monaco.
So far, the battle has been inconclusive, especially as it’s unclear whether either driver has reliably got the most out of the car.
Stroll’s high points in F1 – the pole position in Turkey last year chief among them – have shown what he can do on a good day, but these days have yet to become consistent enough. First laps aside, he hasn’t shown the same capacity Vettel demonstrated in Azerbaijan and Monaco for forcing opportunities on a Sunday. As for Vettel, we still can’t be sure what level he is operating at.
Silverstone was an interesting case study. Stroll struggled in qualifying and gave little reason for it other than saying he was slow, and after starting 15th and finishing 14th in the sprint, looked set for a tough afternoon on Sunday. Vettel, meanwhile, made Q3 and looked set for a good result.
But Vettel spun on the first lap of the restart of the grand prix while battling for sixth with Ocon and came away with nothing. Stroll, meanwhile, had two good first laps and salvaged eighth place from a weekend that looked set to produce little.
This followed a pair of races at the Red Bull Ring where Stroll had the edge on underlying pace on the first weekend and Vettel did on the second. So far, a pattern has yet to form decisively.
With only 10 races completed, there’s plenty more time for the battle to play out. So far both drivers have had their moments without ever delivering at a consistently high level.
For both, the season has been a qualified success, but no more than that.