Mercedes team manager Toto Wolff says Lance Stroll faces an unfair “stigma” because of his father’s wealth and that he fully deserves his place on the Formula 1 grid.
The Racing Point Stroll driver is currently enjoying his best F1 season to date, scoring a podium at the Italian Grand Prix and more than double the points from his previous two seasons combined.
The Canadian has come under frequent scrutiny throughout his career due to the role of his father Lawrence, who bought the Racing Point team in 2018 before his son moved there.
Racing Point acknowledged earlier this year that Stroll’s conduct with the team was never in doubt for 2021 during his successful bid to sign quadruple world champion Sebastian Vettel, who will replace Sergio Perez.
Stroll isn’t the only driver with the support of a wealthy dad. Williams driver Nicholas Latifi rose through the ranks with the support of his father Michael, while F2 driver Nikita Mazepin has been linked with a seat at Haas for 2021, providing funding from his family.
But Mercedes chief Wolff dismissed the idea that F1 was moving away from true meritocratic status, saying Stroll had fully justified his place on the grid.
“Name me one [driver] this season that is not there on merit, ”Wolff said.
“Let’s look at Lance. And I’m not biased here, because I agree that it should be a meritocracy.
“He won the Italian F4 Championship, won the European F3 Championship, stepped on the podium twice and qualified for the front row at Monza in the rain.
“I don’t think we can say just because his dad is a billionaire that he’s not here on merit.
“I think he actually suffers from the stigma which is not fair.
“There is nothing he can do to make his father succeed himself.
“It’s even more impressive that a kid with this environment chooses the most competitive sport or one of the most competitive in the world. Honestly, there is no argument.”
Wolff has also moved to defend the records of Latifi and Mazepin – both of whom have won races in F2 – and said there are far fewer paying drivers in F1 compared to previous eras.
“Nicholas has won races in F2, and we haven’t seen what he’s capable of, this is his first season,” Wolff said.
“But he’s not someone when you look at the years 10 years ago, I can’t even remember the guys, who came to F1 without even winning a single race in a competitive junior series.
“Towards next year, let’s not discredit Nikita until we see him.
“I think Nikita has been a regular favorite now in the F2 season – I think he won some races, or at least he was competing for some of the races.
“I think we’re in the best shape we can possibly get. We’ve had a lot more drivers who have come just because they paid five or six years ago.
“But maybe I don’t remember well. I don’t want to name anyone, but you know who I’m talking about.