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Racing Point: A Poorly Managed Image

The case of Racing Point’s image management between 2018 and 2020 should be studied by the faculties of Public Relations as much as those of Journalism in Brazil analyzes the Base School case. The reason is the same: it is an example of what an excellent professional should not do.

Successive errors and negligence made the team and its drivers (mainly Lance Stroll) the target of constant attacks and misinformation by the press. There was likely a conflict between the solutions to the image problems and the interests of the team. This article analyzes Racing Point’s failures to deal with successive image crises before its transformation into Aston Martin.

(The author of the article has a degree in Broadcasting from Faculdade Cásper Líbero and took courses in Press Office and Crisis Management by the same institution and Senac. Her teachers were Neuza Serra and Aurora Seles.)

 

1- The beginning of Racing Point and the first crisis: the Esteban Ocon Case

 

In 2018, Indian businessman Vijay Mallya faced legal problems in his home country’s justice system, which accused him of fraud and money laundering. His team in Formula One, Force India, declared bankruptcy in July of that year due to successive debts. Amid various speculations about the team’s future (among them that the Mexican businessman Carlos Slim, one of Sergio Pérez’s sponsors, would buy it), Canadian Lawrence Stroll, Lance’s father, joined an entrepreneur group to set up a consortium and buy Force India. Consequently, the team ran the rest of the 2018 season as Racing Point Force India.

 

Vijay Mallya: Force India’s owner from 2007 to 2018. (Photo: Getty Images) [1]

 

Lance Stroll, until then, drove for Williams, a team marked by severe administrative problems. Team principal Claire Williams and chief engineer Paddy Lowe blamed the drivers for the team’s poor performance. However, this problem lay in the low structure of the car assembled by the engineering department. The press adopted Claire and Lowe’s narrative and attacked Stroll and his teammate Sergey Sirotkin.

Since one of the new owners of Force India was the father of a driver, they speculated that either Sergio Pérez or Esteban Ocon would leave to make way for him. Pérez brought in more sponsorships and got higher scores, making him the most likely to stay on the team. On the other hand, Esteban Ocon was a personal friend of Lance Stroll, although the emotional component is not definitive in business decisions. However, they highly omitted that Ocon was already quoted to leave Force India. His then patron Toto Wolff, Mercedes’s team principal, would have offered him a seat on his team if he hadn’t made it difficult for Lewis Hamilton in a possible dispute for positions at the 2018 Monaco Grand Prix.

 

Toto Wolff failed to give Esteban Ocon a seat in 2019, but the driver choose to let the media blame Lance Stroll. (Photo: EsporteNET) [2]

 

According to the American podcaster and communication theorist Ben Shapiro, the facts become irrelevant to the media when it creates a narrative to follow its agenda. In the analysis of the German sociologist and communication theorist Theodor Adorno (1903-1969), the media has a purely market view of its target audience. Reconciling the two theses, we see that it was not enjoyable for the press to divulge the truth: Esteban Ocon was leaving. It would be more in line with its plan and financial interests to create controversies to sell headlines, even if this would damage Lance Stroll’s reputation.

The Canadian driver’s press officers never learned how to manage his image crisis generated by the media persecution. Many journalists refused to acknowledge their achievements in Formula One, which the category considers ‘historic.’ The strategy adopted was to ignore malicious comments from the press and fans. Although this is an excellent plan to maintain emotional control, “silence is never the best answer,” Professor Neuza Serra said. Stroll’s advisers’ duty was to clarify that he never fit into the ‘pay driver’ profile. One proof is that the Canadian fulfilled all the FIA prerequisites for entering Formula One, like the 40 points in the Superlicence (these are earned and cannot be bought). The other is that he achieved a podium and two records in his debut year by a team that is not very competitive.

 

Lance Stroll’s podium at the 2017 Azerbaijan Grand Prix: the last Williams had. (Foto: FORMULA1) [3]

 

Esteban Ocon took advantage of the controversy to disregard the case. He knew that was Toto Wolff’s fault for his probable exit from Formula One, as he failed to get him a seat on another team (the others viewed the relations between Ocon and Mercedes with suspicion). However, Ocon preferred to let the media blame Force India’s purchase by Lawrence Stroll and his partners. Only after months did the driver speak out against the attacks on Lance Stroll, even though he was not sincere about those responsible for his delicate situation. Maintaining the controversy despite the announcement was an excellent self-promotion strategy for Ocon.

 

Esteban Ocon clarifying the controversy, pero no mucho. (Photo: Instagram) [4]

 

2- The second crisis: the departure of Sergio Pérez and the entry of Sebastian Vettel

 

During 2019, Lance Stroll took longer to adapt to the new car, and consequently, his scores were below those of Sergio Pérez. Soon, some press sectors continued to doubt its capacity, as did Brazilian commentator Reginaldo Leme during the broadcast of the French Grand Prix by Rede Globo. Despite this, it had some impressive results, like fourth place in Germany.

In 2020 Racing Point started the season as a candidate for ‘top team,’ as its cars and drivers had an excellent performance. However, the team was accused of copying Mercedes’ brake systems and gaining advantages. Although FIA ordered Racing Point to pay a fine and lose 15 championship points after an investigation, the drivers managed to bring it back to the top. At the time, Lawrence Stroll commented on the case, stressing that he does not usually appear in the press but intends to clarify the situation, proving his team’s integrity.

 

Renault took the leadership of the movement against Racing Point, though its past is not exactly the most ethical in Formula One. [5]

 

They soon forgot this case due to a second image crisis. Again, the media found an opportunity to tarnish Lance Stroll’s reputation by accusing him of influencing Racing Point’s decisions for being the son of one of the owners. Fired from Ferrari due to a series of wrong choices that costed points for the team, Sebastian Vettel was out of options for the 2021 grid.. He decided to buy shares in Aston Martin, the company that would own Racing Point the following year, and soon secured his place. The problem was in the disclosure of events: Racing Point, sometimes denied, then confirmed the arrival of Vettel, and there was also inconsistency in the narratives about whether they warned Sergio Pérez or not.

The fact is that Racing Point never mentioned in its releases that Sebastian Vettel was more than a driver but a shareholder. And even big names in the media reporting the fact (like Adam Cooper and Sergio Quintanilha), the press reinvested in insinuating that Sergio Pérez was dismissed because firing Lance Stroll was out of the question. The natural thing for a press relations team would be to clarify two main points in this case: that Stroll is a driver with an excellent start to his career, and because he is young, he can be a good investment in the long run, and that Vettel bought his seat. Instead, both the team’s and Stroll’s advisors preferred to omit what would be crucial to ending the crisis.

 

3- The passivity of Lance Stroll (and his press office)

 

Given the facts listed, it is essential to note that Lance Stroll’s stance in the face of the successive crises through which his image goes is, at least, curious. As stated earlier, the driver and his press office prefer to ignore the insults because they know they are unfounded but end up wasting a good opportunity to reveal the truth to the press and improve his image. Ignoring the crisis is not going to make it go away; it just increases it.

The proof that Lance Stroll does not have privileges at Racing Point (as many in the media suggest) is that there is no complaint from him or his family on the constant fails of his strategists who persistently fail to plan for the races. It happens mainly at pit stops, as in the Turkish Grand Prix, where Stroll started from pole position and ended in ninth place. And his staff could use a handy resource to silence these rumors permanently.

 

Though the strategists are constantly failing, neither Lance Stroll nor his family complains about it. This is just one from the many proofs that Lance is not receiving privileges in the team. [6]

 

As evidenced in “Formula One in Brazil: An analysis of the television broadcasting in the country,” those who criticize the wealth of Lance Stroll, an indigenous and Jewish driver, and do not do the same with white drivers with fewer achievements, are racist. The same goes for those who criticized Lawrence Stroll’s investments in Force India and did not do the same with Sebastian Vettel’s investments in Aston Martin. In its marketing view, the press pretends to be a supporter of the fight against social inequalities, and – as stated by Ben Shapiro – it invests in the class struggle discourse to engage its target audience. But it is very suspicious that the convict in this narrative is precisely a Jewish-Amerindian driver, a member of ethnic minorities, and involved in social causes.

By this logic, what would apparently be a narrative case of promoting a class struggle (between the driver “lucky to be rich” and the fans “without the same luck”) turns out to be a reactionary discourse that reinforces a system of oppression of minorities, because it denies the athlete of historically persecuted ethnic groups (Jews and Amerindians) the right to fortune while allowing those belonging to the dominant group (white Europeans).

(Translated from Portuguese to English from “Formula One in Brazil: An analysis of the television broadcasting in the country”, p. 120-121)

 

Therefore, it is strange that Lance Stroll’s advisers do not point out the racist character in the media attacks on the driver. If it did, the press would be forced to report, and journalists, fearing that they would be labeled as ‘racist’ by public opinion, would change the discourse. Also suspicious is that Stroll still considers Esteban Ocon his friend, even when he used the Canadian driver’s image crisis to promote himself instead of helping him.

 

As Robin would say, “Holy Naivety, Batman!” [7]

 

Also, Sebastian Vettel’s entry into Aston Martin caused a suspicious attitude in Lawrence Stroll himself, whose position is inconsistent with reality and puts his own son’s reputation in check. The businessman blamed Vettel’s dismissal from Ferrari before the beginning of the 2020 season for the German’s poor performance that year. He ignores the fact that this ‘bad phase’ had already occurred in recent years due to Vettel’s “individual mistakes,” leading him to be fired, as reported by journalist and former driver Martin Brundle). He also blamed the Ferrari car for the driver’s misfortune, ignoring that Vettel’s situation is quite different from that of Lance Stroll and Sergey Sirotkin at Williams in 2018 (both drivers had difficulties on the track due to the car). Charles Leclerc’s performance in 2020, far above Vettel’s, proves that, although it has an impact, the Ferrari car was not the main factor for the German’s underperforming performance. Finally, in trusting that Vettel will benefit the team for having been a four-time champion with Red Bull between 2010 and 2013, the businessman resorts to the fallacy argumentum ad antiquitatem (appeal to tradition or the past), presenting the future as a continuity of the past distant, ignoring the changes that occur in the present. However, Mercedes also did not have a four-time champion in 2014, when their team was composed of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, and won all championships from that year. Lawrence Stroll himself does not mention Vettel’s purchase of shares, as if he also wanted to hide this fact so that the German is not remembered as a ‘seat buyer’ (using his past to help with the disclosure strategy). Consequently, as for lack of science (or, maybe, even with his consent), he allows the media to continue distorting his son Lance’s image to satisfy the team’s marketing goals.

 

4- Conclusion

 

Racing Point’s press office has consistently failed to protect its drivers, especially Lance Stroll, from the media’s unreasonable and sensationalist attacks. And even if it means that Stroll does not have privileges on his team, the press prefers to ignore the facts to obtain financial advantages through controversies.

Sometimes, companies end up allowing specific image crises to hide their real interests. In the case of Racing Point, it is evident that Sebastian Vettel did not want to be remembered as ‘the driver who had to buy his seat because, despite his glorious past, his present was a disaster.’ Therefore, the team omitted information that would be essential to save Lance Stroll’s reputation. Consequently, it is clear that if there is a privileged person at Racing Point (now Aston Martin), that someone is Vettel. The passivity of the Canadian driver and his press office is a clear example of how not to face an image crisis caused by the media.

 

They are doing a great job in engineering. They only need to improve in press office. [8]

 

5- Bibliography

To better understand the sources, the bibliography was divided into sections according to the information presented in the article.

 

1- The creation of Racing Point

 

2- The Esteban Ocon Case

 

3- The Williams Case

3.1 Claire Williams and Paddy Lowe blaiming the drivers for the team’s problems (from 2017 to 2018)

3.2 The real causes for the problems

 

4- Reginaldo Leme’s comment

 

5- Lance Stroll’s deeds in Formula One

 

6- Philanthropic actions and social causes defended by Lance Stroll

 

7- The brakes’ scandall

 

8- “Individual mistakes” led Sebastian Vettel to be fired from Ferrari (Martin Brundle’s testimony)

 

9- Sebastian Vettel buys shares from Aston Martin

 

10- Discrepancy of narratives about Sergio Pérez’s situation

 

11- Lawrence Stroll’s fallacious testimony in favor of Sebastian Vettel

 

12- The impact of the car on the drivers’ performance

 

12- Theoretical basis

 

6- Photos

Note: None of the photos used in this article, except the montages, belongs to me. This site has informative intentions, not commercial. The links where I took the photos are indicated below. All copyrights reserved.

 

Who’s Lawrence Stroll? Lance’s Famous Daddy

Businessman Lawrence Stroll has been attracting sports media attention due to his investments in Formula One. From the entry of his youngest son Lance into the category to purchase the Force India team (now Racing Point and future Aston Martin), the Stroll name arouses curiosity in journalists and fans.

However, Formula One fans often end up believing in rumors and having false impressions about the Canadian. Consequently, they do not realize the true intentions of his detractors. This article will explain who Lawrence Stroll is through facts and show the motorsports lovers who the famous Daddy Stroll is.

 

1- The origin of the Strolls

 

The Stroll family, whose original name is Strulovitch, has origins in Russia. During the tsar era, there was intense persecution of Jews. One of the state policies was the pogroms: invasions of Jewish villages accompanied by raids, fires, and deaths. Soon, many Jews had hoped for new times with the revolutions of 1917 (including some leaders of the movements against Tsar Nicholas II, such as Leon Trotsky, were Jews). However, the Communist period did not bring peace to this community, especially in the regime of Josef Stalin. The persecutions not only continued but intensified.

As a part, many Jews fled Russia for democratic countries. A large part fled to the Americas. It was the case of Leo Strulovitch. Resuming life on the New Continent, Strulovitch and his wife Sandra (born in Canada) had two children: Lawrence and Randy. Lawrence decided to follow in his father’s footsteps, a clothing merchant who, years later, became an investor and introduced Ralph Lauren and Pierre Cardin’s feminine line in Canada. He studied, worked, set up his first businesses, and started his initial investments a few years later.

 

Lawrence Stroll and his partner Silas Chou. [1]

 

Specialists point to Lawrence Stroll as responsible for the popularization of the Polo Ralph Lauren brand in the European continent and the expansion of Michael Kors in the market. In 1989, Stroll and his partner Silas Chou founded Sportswear Holdings Limited, one of the largest companies in the fashion industry in history, as pointed out by Spanish journalist Jaime Cevallos. The company allowed the popularization of the Tommy Hilfiger brand, which gained ample space in the textile sector. In the 2000s, Stroll and Chou saw some brands that received their investments entered the Stock Exchange, like Michael Kors. The purchase and sale of shares earned a good fortune to entrepreneurs.

In August 1994, Stroll married Belgian fashion designer Claire-Anne Callens; on April 11 of the following year, their first daughter Chloe was born. Their second son, Lance, was born on October 29, 1998. Claire-Anne, the owner of the Callens brand, runs her business alone, and her stores are in many cities in Europe, the United States, and Canada.

 

Belgian fashin designer Claire-Anne Callens, Lawrence Stroll’s wife. [2]

 

2- Lawrence Stroll and sport: an ancient interaction

 

In the documentary W5: Lance Stroll Canada’s Top Formula 1 Racer, Lawrence Stroll reports that he raced in the Ferrari Challenge, a competition made by collectors who own the Ferrari model 348, around his 30 years and continued during the childhood of his children, who used to see their father at the event. That was the first insertion of Stroll into the sporting world, long before Lance thought about being a Formula One driver. Soon, the first myth about the entrepreneur falls apart: he would only have entered the motorsport business because his son wanted to be a driver.

Just as Lawrence acquired a taste for fashion by observing the work of his father Leo, Lance Stroll shares a love of the sport with his father. Motorsport is one of the most expensive sports categories that exist due to the cost of your labor and materials. Consequently, it is necessary to have financial support in the athletes’ careers, making it impossible for drivers without investments to enter from the basic categories to the highest. Possessing a fortune stemming from his textile business, Lawrence Stroll was one of his son’s supporters on his way into the sport.

 

Lawrence Stroll at the Ferrari challenge with his children. [3]

 

The training of a driver requires investment and athletic performance. In this case, it does not matter if the sponsorship comes from your family or not. A talented driver without a good investment cannot help the team’s budget. An athlete without aptitude does not achieve impressive results that translate into financial gains for the team. With these obstacles, it is almost impossible for a driver to reach the top category of world motorsport with only financial and frustrating performance. Athletes like this usually abandon their careers in lower stages, such as karting. Besides that, according to Nuno Sousa Pinto (sports director), FIA hampered drivers whose performances would not justify investments in their careers (the famous pay drivers). From 2016, to enter Formula One, they would have to score 40 points in the Super license.

 

3- Lance and Lawrence: father and son in Formula One

 

As the 2014 Italian Formula 4 champion (the first in the category), the Toyota Racing Series in 2015, and European Formula Three in 2016, Lance Stroll earned the points needed in the Super license to join Formula 1 in 2017 for the Williams team. Nuno Sousa Pinto points out that Stroll’s curriculum is more impressive than many young athletes who also entered Formula One and, even though having wealthy families, do not receive criticism. It reveals that, unfortunately, some journalists let personal preferences stand out from the expected professionalism and spread misinformation, ignoring one of the main principles of journalism: ethics.

Athletes need time to adapt to the category in which they work. The criticism of Lance Stroll during the pre-season was, from a journalistic point of view, hasty. The first half of 2017 confirmed it. Stroll scored his first points at the Canadian Grand Prix and finished third at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, breaking his first record: youngest rookie to score a podium. A pay driver would never get such impressive results because he would not have an aptitude for the sport, only financial contribution. At the Italian Grand Prix, Stroll broke the record for the youngest driver to start from the front row, proving his potential and talent for motorsport.

 

2017 Azerbaijan Grand Prix’s podium. [4]

 

In an interview with Canadian broadcaster RDS in 2018, Lance Stroll stated that his father is a businessman and invests in ventures that he is sure will work. Therefore, from Prema Powerteam to Racing Point, Lawrence Stroll’s interest in teams goes far beyond interaction with his son: these are opportunities for high investments.

It is worth noting that the only drivers on the 2020 grid who came from more humble families are Esteban Ocon and Valtteri Bottas. Everyone else comes from families with high financial conditions: some from the middle class like Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen, others from more affluent classes. However, without exception, all have financial contributions, whether from their families, companies, or even both.

Some drivers were born to entrepreneurs who work in different areas such as fashion, investments, automobiles, engineering, among others. Some examples are Lance Stroll, Lando Norris, Charles Leclerc, Daniel Ricciardo, and Sebastian Vettel. Others are children of athletes (Max Verstappen, Carlos Sainz Jr., and Pierre Gasly) and have privileged conditions since birth. The driver’s origin does not interfere with his performance because, as Lawrence Stroll defined, parents do not drive the car for their children.

 

4- The rumors: reporting before knowing the truth

 

In 2018, Force India was sold to the consortium led by Lawrence Stroll, also formed by Silas Chou, Michael de Picciotto, John McCaw Jr., John Idol, Jonathan Dudman, and Andre Desmarais. Then, the media speculated that Lance would move to the team immediately, as the engineering department of Williams failed in making a competitive car. When Esteban Ocon left the team after the season, his fans and some journalists immediately blamed the Strolls. They acted as if the French driver had his situation already assured before the sale of the team.

However, as Joas van Wingerden reported, Toto Wolff was already considering taking his patron from Force India. The negotiations failed because the ties between Ocon and Wolff were viewed with suspicion by the other teams, as stated by Christian Horner, the team principal of Red Bull. That was proved in 2019 when Ocon undid his ties with Wolff to get an opportunity to return to Formula One for Renault.

At the time of the purchase of Force India, Sergio Pérez was more attractive to investors than Esteban Ocon due to his consistency in scoring and sponsors. That, added to the intentions of the French driver manager, ensured that the Mexican was the best option to race alongside Lance Stroll. Also, the Canadian presented good prospects for the following seasons due to investments and his achievements in the debut year.

 

Lance Stroll and Sergio Pérez at Racing Point. [5]

 

In 2020 there was a similar situation. Sebastian Vettel did not have his contract with Ferrari renewed because his work was not meeting their expectations. Racing Point owners claimed they considered contracting him because of his past as a four-time champion (though it was proven later that the German bought shares from Aston Martin and ensured a financial investment to the team). Although it seemed apparent that the team would not choose Lance Stroll to give Vettel his seat, this is not just because he is the son of one of the owners. There are indeed companies that prioritize family ties. If their members are not prepared to take this kind of responsibility, the business will go bankrupt. But this is not the case observed in Lawrence Stroll: the success of his investments is due to care in decisions.

That means that family ties are not the deciding factor for choices like this. The discussion was about which of the two drivers, Stroll or Pérez, would have more chances to bring the team’s desired results in 2021. Both have impressive achievements, differing in career time in Formula One: Pérez has ten, and Stroll has four. In technical terms, both can be considered experienced drivers. However, the Mexican is more likely to retire early, as he is 30 years old and is in Formula One for a decade. Having both good sponsorships, sports investors find more prospects in young athletes, such as Stroll.

It perceives that business involves much deeper issues than just kinship ties. Investment in Formula One is high risk and therefore, decisions require caution. Of course, the inconstant narratives of Racing Point difficulted the understanding of the facts (added to the team’s refusal to admit that Vettel is now a partner, not only a driver), so laypeople in business can judge this is a case of a father protecting his son. That is why one must coldly analyze the facts to disclose the information correctly.

 

5- Conclusion

 

That is the story of Lawrence Stroll: a man who built his fortune with investment and entrepreneurship, works that require a lot of commitment and caution. If you expected the stereotype of a wealthy heir to significant capital, married to a socialite and a playboy child, look for someone else. Maybe you will find a driver’s father with that profile, but that is definitely not Lawrence Stroll.

 

Update (October 9th, 2020): As revealed by Adam Cooper in the website Motorsport (check here), Sebastian Vettel bought shares in Aston Martin before signing his contract. It proves what was said here: the hiring of Vettel instead of the renewal of Sergio Pérez was due to business, not a priviledge of Lance Stroll for being the son of the owner.

 

Bibliography

 

 

Photos

Note: None of the photos used in this article belongs to me. This site has informative intentions, not commercial. The links where I took the photos are indicated below. All copyrights reserved.