How Lawrence Stroll turned a formula for success into a weaker team

How Lawrence Stroll turned a formula for success into a weaker team

05-04-2022 08:26 Last update: 19:27

Lawrence Stroll has been in charge of the Aston Martin team for almost four years now, and despite biggest plans, the team is really only going downhill. We list the team's progress since the takeover.

Force India

Vijay Mallya has been extremely successful as the owner of Force India. The man from India took over the Spyker team in late 2007 for 88 million euros and gave the Silverstone-based team the national license of India. 2008 was the first year for the team, with zero points and a tenth place finish. However, under the leadership of Mallya, the team would grow.

In all areas, the team rose above itself. There were fewer financial resources available than any other team, but by working smartly the team even climbed up to fourth place among the constructors in 2016 and 2017. Under the leadership of team boss Otmar Szafnauer and technical boss Andrew Green, they performed optimally with the available resources.

In 2018, the team fared slightly less on all fronts. Renault and Haas had started the season slightly better, leaving the team in sixth place among the constructors (after the Hungary GP). However, the biggest concerns were around Mallya, who was accused of fraud and fabricating loans. He could no longer lead Force India and the team was placed under receivership.

The acquisition of Stroll

The racing stable for which Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez were active at the time almost went under, but was saved by Lawrence Stroll and his consortium. Under the name of Racing Point Force India, the season was completed, after which the team used the name Racing Point in 2019 and also resumed racing under the British nationality.

The team would eventually finish seventh in the championship as the points from before the summer break no longer counted, but the combined number showed that the team was still among the subtop. Indeed, with a combined number of 111 points, the team would have finished in fifth place.

That was the situation in which Stroll found the team. Fifth place and a solid position in the subtop. Since then, however, things have gone downhill. In 2019, the first real season with Stroll at the helm, the biggest change was the arrival of Lance Stroll. Whereas Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez were a close match and brought in many points for the team, the Mexican was now regularly on his own. He scored 52 points, but the Canadian only managed 21, leaving the team with a total of 73 points and seventh place in the Constructors' standings.

In the coronavirus-infested 2020 season, the team still proved to be very innovative. The 'pink Mercedes' was not a genius piece of engineering, but it was cleverly interpreting the rules. Racing Point bought everything that was allowed within Mercedes' rules, and simply copied the rest of the 2019 championship-winning car. Since the rules remained the same, this proved to be a winning formula. Despite much protest, the team thus finished back in fourth place among the constructors. Perez, with 125 points, was again the man from whom most of the points came. Stroll remained far behind with 75 points.

A figurehead for Aston Martin

Despite having the most points, the best performance in qualifying and a first win for the team, Perez was pushed aside at the last minute. The Mexican had signed a contract with the team, but Stroll used a clause in his contract to break it. Stroll wanted to bring in a figurehead with Sebastian Vettel and had no intention of throwing his son out. Vettel became the new figurehead of Aston Martin, as the team would be called, because the unique British brand had also become a jewel of the wealthy businessman in the meantime.

The combination of new rules and a new driver duo did not prove to be a good move for the team. With new regulations, Aston Martin had to come up with a new car and because of the copy of the previous year, their knowledge of the cars turned out to be not so good. However, these were laughed off after 2020 by many of their competitors.

However, despite bringing in a four-time world champion, the arrival of Vettel was also questionable. He too scored more points than Stroll (43-34) and qualified ahead of the Canadian more often than the other way around, but the margin was much smaller than it had been during the period with Perez. The question for many, then, was what would have been possible if Sergio had still been behind the wheel.

In 2022, there was a huge opportunity for Aston Martin. With a completely new set of aerodynamic regulations, this was where the team could once again show what it could do. It was precisely in situations like this that the team had proven so good in the past (2010, 2014 and 2017) and then there was now a budget cap. Where Force India managed to beat teams in the past who could spend much more, with the help of Stroll and the budget cap they were now able to spend as much.

The meddling of the CEO

However, more money does not always mean more success. The team's AMR22 is barely drivable and a spot in the middle of the pack is no longer even an option. The British team drives stiffly at the back, along with Williams. The team's biggest opportunity has actually thrown them further back.

The owner's son, who had to be retained for the team at all costs, was also put on display in the opening stages of the season. Vettel was unable to compete due to a corona infection, but after a year and a half without an F1 car, reserve driver Nico Hulkenberg managed to qualify faster than Stroll.

The internal unrest is also increasing. Otmar Szafnauer has left with slamming doors. The successful team boss did not name Lawrence, but he said he could no longer cope with the micromanagement of the leadership. He left, along with major sponsor BWT, for the French company Alpine.

This micromanagement Szafnauer speaks of is not the first time it has been noticed. In the Netflix series Drive to Survive it was also revealed that Lawrence has a pretty big finger in the pie at the team and from various sources Ralf Schumacher also knew that Stroll now even joins technical discussions of the team. Since the Schumachers are very good friends with Vettel, it would not be surprising if his source is very close to the fire.

Because of this turmoil and poor performance, Vettel's future is also uncertain. The German embarked on the adventure at Aston Martin to lead a team to the top, but may notice himself that with Stroll at the helm this will not work out. The German's contract expires at the end of 2022 and it remains to be seen whether he wants to stay with the team.

An F1-worthy factory, but no confidence

In the background, Stroll is working to make Aston Martin a top team. He has given approval for the construction of a new factory that will be operational in 2023. This will contain the latest technology with a new wind tunnel, in particular, standing out. In addition, top people are being taken away from Mercedes, Red Bull Racing and other competitors to lead the new project, and the number of staff will increase significantly in the coming years to rise to the level of the top.

While Stroll shows with those choices that he knows how to run a business, he also provides an ideal example of why an owner should not be too emotionally involved in the day-to-day running of the business. He should know better. Choose the right people, give them confidence and resources and in time the team will be there. That trust and time, however, he does not give.

Stroll would rather build a successful team for his son today than tomorrow, but that's not how it works in F1. Now a team boss walks away, but in the future it could also be a technical top manager who does not want the CEO to interfere with his designs. The fact that the line-up of drivers is not optimal will also not motivate the mechanics and engineers.

From a team that was able to perform optimally under difficult circumstances, Stroll has, in a much more ideal world with a budget cap and new rules, ensured that his team is under high stress and no longer performing. From a team in the subtop, Aston Martin has now become a back maker team. Stroll has understood the basics of success, but if you keep shaking the tree on a daily basis, you are left with few people who can successfully do their job.

This piece was originally written by Tim Kraaij for the Dutch edition of GPblog. 

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