Doing a Stroll

| Photographer Credit: Euan Cameron Photography

When Lance Stroll came to New Zealand to contest the Toyota Racing Series, he did so as part of a deliberate strategy aimed at slotting him into a Formula One drive at the earliest possible opportunity. (See main picture: 2015 Stroll wins the Lady Wigram Trophy)

Alongside Lance and helping set the pace was French racer and former Ferrari Driver Academy member Brandon Maisano.

The pair ran with leading TRS team M2 and Stroll became TRS Champion, recording 10 podiums – including four wins – from 16 race starts. Maisano followed him home, the perfect wingman, second with a 1-2 points gap of 108.

Next, Lance’s dad Lawrence bought a share of the top-rated European F3 team Prema, bringing Stroll into competition with the best possible chance of taking the F3 title. Great engineers, great mechanics, great team with a proud history.

Maisano was trying to maintain his own single-seater career and followed Stroll into Prema, but left after a few races, claiming he wasn’t getting the tech support he deserved.

For Stroll Jr, it was a relatively cost-effective exercise, though there was some on-track madness in the first year that at one point saw races cancelled in an effort by organisers to calm the farm. Stroll was fifth that year, then took the Euro F3 title the following year.

That set the frame for the next step – right into a seat with the Williams F1 in 2017. No GP3-GP2 progression for Lance, just a pole vault into the top category, where he was 12th overall in 2017. The F1 results so far read 12-18-15-Covid.

Next it was off to the former Force India F1 team. With roots in the Jordan F1 operation, and evolving into a new British-based team called Racing Point, the team was backed by a consortium led by Lance’s dad.

Now the team is called BWT Racing Point, will evolve in 2021 into a new team called Aston Martin, and Lance is still in the hot seat.

So far so excellent.

Cue more news this week from another racer who has contested TRS and has aspirations to climb to the highest rung of the career ladder.

Nicholas Latifi

Nicholas Latifi, a Canadian of Iranian extraction, had a best result of sixth at Timaru (in the halcyon days when TRS went to Timaru)

Perhaps overshadowed by Nick Cassidy’s blitz charge to the title and a season filled with massive international talent, Nicholas Latifi was a strong competitor when he did TRS in 2013 and since then has distinguished himself in a wide range of racing categories, culminating in a seat at – yep – Williams F1.

This week his dad, businessman Michael Latifi, has emerged as the frontrunner to acquire the struggling Williams Racing Formula One team.

The cash-strapped British racing outfit announced they were seeking fresh investment and beginning a ‘formal sale process’ after amassing significant losses, confirming ‘preliminary discussions’ with potential investors. It isn’t really a Covid casualty; these rumours were circling months ago.

Nicholas and Michael Latifi

Latifi Sr sponsors Williams through his Sofina Foods company, and loaned the team USD $24.7 million to help it survive Covid.

Now, European media report Latifi is preparing to pay another USD $151 million to complete a buyout.

The Canadian invasion continues apace – this move will mean 20 per cent of the grid or more are run by the land of bears and maples.

Formula One is planning to begin its suspended 2020 season on 5th July, with back-to-back Austrian Grands Prix kicking off an initial schedule of eight races in Europe.

We’ll just wait now for the next Kiwi to ascend to this level. Anyone care to lay a bet on who that will be, and when?

Mark Baker

Mark Baker has been working in automotive PR and communications for more than two decades. For much longer than that he has been a motorsport journalist, photographer and competitor, witness to most of the most exciting and significant motorsport trends and events of the mid-late 20th Century. His earliest memories of motorsport were trips to races at Ohakea in the early 1960s, and later of annual summer pilgrimages to watch Shellsport racers and Mini 7s at Bay Park and winter sorties into forests around Kawerau and Rotorua to see the likes of Russell Brookes, Ari Vatanen and Mike Marshall ply their trade in group 4 Escorts. Together with Murray Taylor and TV producer/director Dave Hedge he has been responsible for helping to build New Zealand’s unique Toyota Racing Series into a globally recognized event brand under category managers Barrie and Louise Thomlinson. Now working for a variety of automotive and mainstream commercial clients, Mark has a unique perspective on recent motor racing history and the future career paths of our best and brightest young racers.

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