Billionaire backing is a “stigma” for drivers like Stroll and Mazepin – Wolff

2020 F1 season

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Formula 1 drivers from billionaire families should not be dismissed because of their wealthy backgrounds, Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff has said.

Developments in the driver market for the 2021 F1 season have prompted fresh debate over the presence of so-called ‘pay drivers’ in the sport.

Lance Stroll, son of billionaire Canadian businessman Lawrence Stroll, is among those who have been accused of owing their place in F1 to their wealthy backgrounds. Stroll arrived in F1 with Williams in 2017 and moved to Racing Point last year after his father bought the team.

Wolff said he agrees F1 “should be a meritocracy” and claimed Stroll’s junior career achievements showed he had earned his place in the sport.

“He won the Italian F4 championship, won the international F3 championship, has been on the podium twice and has qualified for the first row at Monza in the rain,” said Wolff. “I don’t think we can say just because his father’s a billionaire that he’s not here on merit.”

Wolff is closely connected to Lawrence Stroll, whose team uses Mercedes power units and other hardware. The younger Stroll is “actually suffering from that stigma” of association with his father’s wealth, said Wolff, “and that is just not right”.

“He can’t do anything about his father being very successful in his own right,” Wolff continued. “I think it’s even more impressive that a kid with that environment choose one of the most competitive sports in the world. So, honestly, there is no discussion.”

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Two other well-backed drivers are expected to arrive in Formula 1 next year. Nikita Mazepin, who lies sixth in the Formula 2 standings with two race wins and has previously tested for Mercedes, is the son of Russian chemicals billionaire Dmitry Mazepin. He has been tipped to make his Formula 1 debut at Haas next year.

Lance Stroll, Racing Point, Autodromo do Algarve, 2020
Stroll has shown he is in F1 on merit, says Wolff
The occupant of the other Haas seat is expected to be current F2 points leader and Ferrari Driver Academy member Mick Schumacher, the son of seven-times world champion Michael Schumacher.

“Let’s not discredit Mick or Nikita before having seen them,” said Wolff. “I think Nikita has been a regular front-runner now in the F2 season. He won some races or at least he was competing for some of the race wins and the same thing for Mick.”

F1 is in “the best possible state” in terms of driver talent now compared to in previous years, saaid Wolff. “We had much more drivers who came in only because they paid five, six years ago. Maybe I have the wrong recollection, I don’t want to name anybody, but you know who I mean.”

Wolff said he understood Haas team principal Guenther Steiner’s decision to replace the team’s more experienced line-up with new drivers who could bring financial advantages to the team.

“He has a driver that’s been with him two or three years, had his ups and downs, and now he’s going for a younger one that also brings a budget but who has been competitive. I would do that. Nothing against Romain [Grosjean], I think he did many, many good years in Formula 1.”

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Author information

Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...
Hazel Southwell
Hazel is a freelance journalist who roams the paddocks of Formula E, covering the technical and emotional elements of electric racing. Usually found at...

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48 comments on “Billionaire backing is a “stigma” for drivers like Stroll and Mazepin – Wolff”

  1. Wow, lost a lot of respect for Wolff here if that is genuinely what he believes. F1 isn’t a meritocracy, any motorsports outside of karting isn’t a meritocracy. Sure you need to be fast, but you need to have backing also. I know of so many people that beat those that went on to have professional motorsports careers.

    I think it’s even more impressive that a kid with that environment choose one of the most competitive sports in the world. So, honestly, there is no discussion.

    In what world is he living? F1 is the most competitive sport in the world? When they are finishing a lap ahead of their rivals and smashing the sports records? To use that statement to shut down the argument is absolutely ridiculous.

    1. Try literally any other sport where you can go out and buy the equipment for less than 100 quid where nothing seperates you and your rival other than pure talent and tell me F1, or any motorsport for that matter, is the most competitive. What an absolute joke.

    2. What would you have him say? F1 is a “sport” where the people with most money win championships, more or less? We know that to be true, but you can’t afford to say that when you’re the top team now can you?

      1. Well no, I don’t think that’s true either necessarily.

        You need the combination, talent, money, dedication and probably more hard work than anyone not involved can imagine. Not to mention the work of the team principles and owners to bring the team together and motivate, and all their education and experience to be able to do that effectively.

        Pretending that if one of those pillars is shorter, it can’t be propped up with another (ie talent for money, or even dedication for talent) is just a disservice. Some acknowledgement to that effect I think would garner more respect.

    3. @skipgamer – Wolff is just defending the B-Team. He seems like an intelligent guy so I don’t believe he actually agrees with 90% of the things he says but he’s got to look after Mercedes’ (and the wider Mercedes family’s) interests.

      If he genuinely believed half of the things he says publicly, he wouldn’t be managing a team as successful as Mercedes.

    4. I agree entirely. Motor racing is a service industry, even in the mid field of F1, Indycar, or Nascar (e.g. look at Chip Ganassi looking for a funded driver for the #10 car, & Ericsson being re-signed in the #8).

      As Nick Hancock said years ago on “They think it’s all over”, “motor racing isn’t a sport: you can’t go and have a game of F1 in the back garden”. Even karting budgets are ridiculous.

      Anyone who says they’re not a pay driver because they take a salary from their sponsor’s funds is just deluding themselves. Am I an “asset manager” because I can balance my chequebook?

      1. haha good post

  2. Barry Bens (@barryfromdownunder)
    29th October 2020, 7:42

    He won the Italian F4 championship, won the international F3 championship

    Well blimey, isn’t that a top achievement! Meanwhile there’s champions of the F3 league when there was actual competition, winners of the Super Formula and Winners of the F2. Winning a national F4 championship and the International F3 one is peanuts compared to that. If Lance has earned his potion on the grid with those achievements, surely there are drivers (both in the past and the present) who deserve it even more.

    1. Well, Verstappen didn’t even win the F3 championship, does that mean that surely there are drivers who deserve to be in F1 more than him too?

      Stroll, just like Verstappen, moved to F1 straight from F3, so none of them could possibly prove themselves in more senior championships, because they didn’t need to.

      1. Barry Bens (@barryfromdownunder)
        29th October 2020, 8:09

        Yeah, I guess it’s pretty safe to say that. However, if you look at how the winner of that F3 season is performing (Esteban Ocon), you could claim that he has proven himself afterwards. Looking at Lance Stroll however, I find it very hard to claim the same thing.

        My biggest problem is that the same cases are always repeated to defend him: his podia and his rain quali at Monza. Literally the only 3 noteworthy moments in several seasons. Whereas his mess-ups are plenty to fill a full-hour show on a friday night.

        1. You can say that for pretty much everyone else around his age. He’s a middle of the pack driver based on talent and is singled out for being rich. People line up to defend Albon, Gasly, Norris, and Ocon, but they haven’t done any better than Stroll has.

    2. I am afraid you forgot the last part: “He won the Italian F4 championship, won the international F3 championship, has been on the podium twice and has qualified for the first row at Monza in the rain,” said Wolff

      Which isn’t true if memory serve me correct Max and Daniel were in front of him as he qualify fourth and only of gridpenaulties he got promoted. He should said Started from frontrow.

      To compare Lance beter people should check his races against Max Verstappen during the Ferrari summer series in 2014.

      Interesting names and who are in F1 right now.

      1. link is just numbers not the video (were Max overtook Lance and almost got run into the wall)

      2. Lel Stroll got rekt by Calderon XD
        To be fair on him tho, he is doing well this year to say he’s up against perhaps on of the top 5 drivers in the sport

        1. WOAH WILL BUXTON??? HE BEAT FUOCO ONCE?!? Buxton 4 Ferrari 2022

          1. Ah, also your name makes me think: “sebastian… sbinnala!” and vettel promptly spins, he must receive that message pretty often!

        2. Yes, honestly don’t think it looks good on stroll to be beaten by calderon, not cause she’s a woman but cause from what I heard about her performances she’s not good enough for f1.

          Have to say latifi performed well there, surprised.

  3. Those poor, downtrodden billionaires. Won’t someone think of their interests for a change?

  4. Yeah it is a stigma. He is quite OK racing driver, and probably would never make it without backing.

    But most drivers dont make it to f1 without backing.

    They all enjoy a great privilage.

    1. They do but when they reach the “pinnacle of motorsports”, they are still judged based on their talents. I can’t think of another example where a faster driver is let go whilst the slower team-mate is kept on to make way for a new driver.

      1. Sergio Perez in the racing Point!!

        1. True that, vettel is only being hired for his past glories, if one looked at the 2020 there’s no way in hell to replace perez with him!

  5. I think it’s even more impressive that a kid with that environment choose one of the most competitive sports in the world

    The poor souls! Having all the opportunities in the world after being born in a golden cradle and choosing MOTORSPORTS as a PROFESSION!

  6. I apologise for this off topic post. Daimler is going to increase it’s share of Aston Martin to 20% which of course guarantees the continued use of Merc sorry AMG PUs by RP/AM. Does it mean the the AM F1 team will become an official AMG B team?
    Or is it going to be a bit more involved and will Daimler use this as an exit strategy?

  7. I think that (Lance) Stroll is actually a big benefit to the sport. F1 sometimes feels
    a bit like a soap opera and having drivers from diverse or extreme backgrounds just makes it more interesting in my mind. You can think of him as the rich villain if that works for you but even then I think he generates more drama than some of the more indifferent drivers.

  8. Cool, looking forward to seeing Stroll in a Mercedes then.

    Im a big fan of Stroll, backing or not, like Maldanado he shows that f1 is difficult, the multiple inputs into a corner show its not just the car.

    Theres a lot of myth around f1 drivers, most have substantial backing, either from parents or from state/private sponsors. The days of the gentleman racer ended with Piers Courage in 1970, some say they’d gone by 1950. Either way, its part of top line racing and always will be. As is gently taking the mickey out of those who the public deem to have had it ‘easy’.

  9. When a team that isn’t backed by the Stroll family signs Lance and he thrives in that environment, then he’ll have earned respect. Until then, he’ll always have his critics.

    1. It is far, far too late for that now, no other team would take him as he has failed to establish himself as a driver of any merit whatsoever.

      When Papa bought his Babby a midfield team, Babby had at most 2 seasons to properly dominate a driver that pretty much everyone sees as a solid points scorer capable of the occasional brilliant drive(Perez). Babby has been dominated by this reliable points scoring driver, and it is not only on the days he has produced one of his more brilliant performances.

      What’s more, in 2020 Babby has been put to shame by a second reliable points scorer that is capable of the occasional brilliant performance, Hulkenberg, and this solid driver did so on his very first turn of the wheel in the entire season.

      As much as us fans hate the position Babby-Stroll is in due to blatant nepotism, it does not matter. What matters is he has absolutely 0 respect among his peers on the grid, why Wolff is giving him a second of thought is beyond me, perhaps it is to do with Mercedes/AMD/Daimler/Aston.

  10. Who is the unnamed driver Wolff is referring to?

    1. Could be Maldonado, Guttierez, Nasr, Ericsson, Palmer, Chilton.. they all had substantial backing.

  11. Nobody cares how rich a driver is if they’re talented good drivers. It only matters when they’re bad or mediocre and holding up seats that could go to better drivers.

    Perez is a pay driver with billionaire backing, nobody really cares, because Perez is a good driver.

    Stroll is 4 years in and driving like a rookie. Mazepin hasn’t won a single thing in open seater racing, and mostly is found in the back or midfield at best. This is why there’s a stigma.

    1. 8 podiums inc. 4 wins in F3 and finished 2nd in the 2018 championship. 5 podiums inc. 2 wins in F2 this year.

  12. And why shouldn’t It be?
    A guy like Stroll is never facing any pressure, no matter how he performs, his seat is guaranteed. And now we got to the situation that better drivers than him are being let go while doing better jobs than his, solely because their father isn’t the owner.
    These rich kids will never earn the respect of fans.
    You can buy your way, your seat and even your team, but not public’s perception.

  13. Billionaire backing is a stigma? Yes, it must be so difficult to have such ridiculous sums of money at your disposal that you can buy seats in racing categories or even get your father to buy you a whole F1 team while commoners on the internet don’t feel you deserved your success because you bought it.

    The ‘stigma’ is that while they are doing well, there’s reasons WHY they’re doing so well. They have had more help, more assistance, more support than a driver that had none of that. They have job security while others – despite being good, face the chop. Their money buys them exposure and puts them in a position a driver without would never have. There’s something of it that just doesn’t feel ‘earnt’, for me.

    Calling it a stigma is rather gross, though.

    1. Verstappen’s father is a former F1 driver. His son benefited not only from dad’s money but also from dad’s experience, and connections to enter F1. Verstappen is a very talented and quick driver, nobody complains, as there is no reason to.

      Carlos Sainz Jr has his rally legend father’s money, motorsport connections and name, no doubt these have helped him reach F1. Sainz is a very talented and quick driver, nobody complains, as there is no reason to.

      Lando Norris’ father is also a very wealthy man, nobody complains, as there is no reason to.

      Lance Stroll is driving like a rookie for 4 seasons in a row, and somehow us fans are in the wrong to dislike his existence on the grid “because daddy has money”.

      Gross, indeed.

  14. I completely disagree with his position on this and that’s quite rare for me. Stroll was given every advantage and opportunity all the way up until he paid his way into F1. He was running cars with new parts, the best crew and had unlimited resources for testing in the junior formula. I have no doubt he’s a competent driver but does he really possess the natural ability to be one of the top 3 on the grid, absolutely not.

    For me he is an average driver that has made use of the resources available to him to train up to close to his maximum ability level but he doesn’t possess the extra few percent that great drivers have in his repertoire. Now that being said, I can fully appreciate why teams have signed him up to get a cash investment while running a driver who is fairly reliable albeit ultimately slow.

    People have mentioned Verstappen already and it’s fair to say he has benefitted from heavy funding into his career but he has that extra pace that is missing from the likes of Stroll. Stroll will never get to that level, he just doesn’t have the capability. Anyone remember Pedro Diniz? He eventually became a competent pay driver but no matter how much time these drivers get in the sport with their money, they cannot break through their performance limit.

    Now I’m sure Stroll will just say that my viewpoint comes from jealousy as such is often the case with the rich. There is no stigma with having a billionnaires backing if you clearly have the talent. Perez has a lot of backing but he clearly shows his ability frequently and there is no need to highlight his odd podiums to justify his position in the sport like Wolf is trying with Stroll. We know Perez has had some good results (some on merit, others not) but ultimately he’s always driving at a decent level. The same cannot be said for Stroll.

    I have no opinion on Mazepin until I see him drive in F1 as just because he has had the financial backing we’ll see where he fits in the order when he starts driving in F1. Same with all the rest of the rookies. I guess the poijnt is the critique Stroll gets is not stigma, its a reaction to many simply thinking without the money he would never be in the sport and that is fair. Even going off the merit of his past championships, nothing so far in his F1 career suggests he should ever have kept his seat at RP over Perez next year imo.

    1. Without the family/national/vested interested money a lot of drivers wouldn’t be in the sport. And that includes Norris, Albon and quite a few others. And every one of them that gets into F1 has earnt an F1 licence. So they all ‘deserve’ it. Whether they get to stay is another matter. But the simple fact for a lot of teams today is that the primary reason to sign a driver for 21 is the money he brings to the team.

  15. Mark in Florida
    29th October 2020, 13:10

    Racing has always with very few exceptions been a rich mans game. It started off with rich guys racing their new sports cars against each other until it evolved into F1 and WEC. So not much has really changed only the money wars have vastly escalated beyond a common person’s ability to comprehend why it costs nearly 400 million to run a successful team. Maybe with a budget cap in place F1 will get back into the realm of mortals. Even in Indy Car or modern sports car racing its usually rich guys in the pits either running the team or doing the driving.

  16. A bit odd one from Wolff. Yes money has always been part of not just F1 but in other motorsport categories too. There are only 20 places in the current grid. If you’re lucky you can end up in some teams junior driver programme (Like Hamilton) or if you have financial backing you can see yourself driving in a team that needs financial support (Like Stroll) or you have been chosen by the team principal (Like Alonso). In the end you still need talent to move up to F1. Back in the day when there were more teams it was easier to get a seat in a teams which couldn’t even qualify or pre-qualify for the race. Nowadays seats are even more harder to get and because of that unfortunately money speaks more than it has done ever before.

    We need more teams so we can see a future stars and get more underdog stories (Like Minardi)

  17. Jose Lopes da Silva
    29th October 2020, 14:19

    Lance Stroll is not a pay driver, he’s a Team Owner.

  18. Woolf is talking nonsense in defence of his friends kid

    There is no doubt stroll is a good driver, well far better than me, but ‘good’ is simply not good enough for F1, and he’s clearly only there as his Dads loaded

    Having a rich father does not make you a bad F1 driver, a lack of talent does

  19. Does Norris have backing from his billionaire father?

    1. I think his father is a multi-millionaire

      1. Approaching billionaire status. In the richest UK 500 list. Supposedly Lando had his own staff including physios and chef when he was in F3.

  20. Is Giovinazzi’s father a billionaire also? If he isn’t a pay driver then why on earth is he in Formula One?

    1. Cause there’s some kind of deal between ferrari and sauber, and giovinazzi is italian!

  21. Strolls been in f1 long enough to show his ability.

    Wolff is buddies with stroll senior. As the article points out.

    Stroll junior has had an apalling run lately….

    Enough said.

  22. I feel so much for them.
    [wiping tears with money zombieland meme]

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