Inside Line: F1’s Richie Rich needs to start delivering

I am going to let the cat out of the bag and reveal that I am a Lance Stroll ‘fan’ because I have actually believed that Formula 1’s Richie Rich can actually drive a race car.

‘Fan’ in inverted commas because he will never be a Ronnie Peterson, or Gilles Villeneuve, or Carlos Reutemann, or an Ayrton Senna to me, but I like the story of a father with big bucks funding his son’s dream to Formula 1.

As a father, I relate to everything billionaire Lawrence has done for his lad. He moved mountains, by buying them, to ensure that his lad had the best of the best as any father does within their means.

Lucky Lance has a father with $3-billion in the bank to make the dream a reality.

Guaranteed if his son at six years of age had fluttered his eyelids and told his Dad, “Papa I wanna be a fireman when I am older” the father would have obliged and bought his lad a station or two.

But in this case, the little lad fluttered his eyelids and said: “I wanna be a Formula 1 driver.”

The tale is well told of how Lawrence bank-rolled his son through karting, the junior series’ then skipped Formula 2, popped young Lance into a Williams by the time he was 17 and on the F1 grid at 18 years, 148 days.

Of course, very substantial amounts of money changed hands over the preceding decade to finance that journey to the top flight.

In season one – 2017 – with Williams, Lance did the business as a far as I was concerned. Despite a trio of DNFs early in the season, he composed himself and finished his rookie year only three points shy of his veteran teammate Felipe Massa.

Most memorable for me was, obviously, his podium at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix that year.

As was his great afternoon at a tricky Monza when the youngest guy in the field qualified fourth fastest behind Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo. The Red Bull duo had engine penalties and as a result, Lance started the race from second place and went on to finish seventh.

That Saturday in Italy, Lance was seven-tenths of a second faster than Massa and showed that in races of high attrition, high risk, the kid was always there at the end. I felt with good gear Richie Rich might actually be the real deal.

But along came 2018 and it became apparent that despite the talent if the kid was not in a decent piece of kit he did not have the temperament nor extra skills to take a shitbox and make the most out of it.

Poor Lance never had a shitbox in his life! And of course, tantrums prevailed.

Seeing the despair and suffering of his dear son, and of course, always believing there is a Senna in there somewhere, the obvious thing for Lawrence to do is ditch the shitbox and buy some decent kit so his son could show his true talent.

Remember the Williams shitbox they left behind was a HUGE shitbox.

So Lawrence bought Force India and soon realised that even the name change to Racing Point did not disguise the fact that he bought himself another shitbox – maybe not as bad as the Williams catastrophe, but relative to winning and putting his son on the podium – still a shitbox.

However, and here is the kicker, Sergio Perez is proving that the new ‘shitbox’ is actually quite a handy a piece of kit and hardly deserves that moniker.

These are the facts after yesterday’s Baku qualifying:

  • Q1 Perez best of 1:42.249 was 11th fastest;
  • Q1 Stroll best of 1:42.630 was 16th fastest – four tenths down on his teammate;
  • Perez made it to Q3, finding more than 1.1 seconds to pop the fifth best time.

Stats show that in Melbourne Q1 Stroll was a tenth shy of Perez; during Q1 in Bahrain, the difference was four tenths and in China three tenths. The Canadian has yet to make it beyond Q1 in the car bought for him and he is also being thoroughly trounced by his Mexican teammate.

Unfortunately for Richie Rich, there is nowhere to hide now.

Lance has to deliver to prove to everyone who believes in him that he does belong in the top flight. Right now more believe he does not belong in F1 than those who believe he has what it takes. Are there any of the latter apart from me?

My mates joked with me regularly regarding my opinion about Lance. Now they friggin’ laugh at me and they know who they are!

Honestly, I am very surprised to see how he is no match for Perez at this point. I thought it would be closer and actually predicted Sergio might be troubled and beaten by the lad.

For now, I am wrong but I would argue this is not the same Lance of 2017. This is another guy altogether. He is ragged, desperate, angry and driving with all the wrong energy.

He needs to reconnect with the unflappable attitude and chutzpah of youth that he oozed in his rookie season.

Papa Lawrence has done all he can for his boy short of buying Mercedes for him, and hats off to the big guy, he has done what I or any petrolhead dad would have for their boy if we had the bucks.

But now – after all he has done – he needs to take a bow and he has every right to expect his son put his head down, relish his privilege, and to deliver.

But until that happens, as a father, he would be well advised that well-spent effort would be to get someone to sort out the boy’s head.

Until that is fixed, Lance will continue to falter and alas will always be remembered as that spoilt Rich Kid who had no place being in F1 and would have never got near an F1 car had Lawrence not had such a fat wallet.

Big Question: Is Lance the real deal?