When Istanbul was confirmed as an addition to the redecorated 2020 Formula 1 calendar, few considered it would be the venue to end the long run of ‘top team’ pole positions.
But as drivers struggled to keep themselves pointing in the right direction amid the slippery new surface at the track as well as the wet conditions that accompanied it, Lance Stroll emerged triumphant, claiming a first pole position for himself and bringing an end to the absence of a ‘midfield’ team as the fastest on Saturday.
At the 2014 Austrian Grand Prix, Williams sprung a surprise when it beat the dominant Mercedes team to lock out the front row, with Felipe Massa leading team-mate Valtteri Bottas.
In the 125 race weekends that have occurred since, Mercedes has bagged 99 poles (79%), Ferrari has secured 21 (17%), while just five have gone to Red Bull (4%).
There were a smattering of threats to break that streak long ago. At the maiden Russian Grand Prix, just mere months after Williams claimed pole at Spielberg, it made a good go of it again with Bottas’ challenge falling away at the final corner on his last lap in Q3, which destroyed his lap time.
But as the turbo-hybrid era progressed, so too did the gap between F1’s front-runners of Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull and the following pack.
Soon, it would be almost a dream for a midfield team to be able to challenge one of the top marques – something that was realised for AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly earlier this year, who became F1’s first non ‘top team’ winner since Kimi Raikkonen in 2013 with Lotus.
In a similar way to Gasly, Stroll’s achievement is a bounce back from the depths of disappointment. While Gasly’s blow was a demotion from Red Bull, Stroll’s disappointments have come from crashes, retirements and a spat of Covid-19.
“I’m still not really in the moment right now,” said Stroll as he mulled over the rather exclusive emotions of being an F1 pole-sitter. “I’m a bit lost for words. It was such a crazy session.
“I felt like I had the confidence in the car and the consistency in my driving to do it and at the end of the session there I pieced my lap together quite nicely and didn’t really make any mistakes and yeah, I’m sitting here in pole position.
“It’s a pretty special moment for me especially after the last couple of months it’s been a rough ride for me. Since Mugello really. I haven’t scored a point since my podium in Monza. It’s been a rough run, with incidents and Covid. So much has been going on and to bounce back like this and put it on pole position today is very special for me.”
In 2017, Stroll placed himself second on the all-time youngest podium finisher list, behind Max Verstappen by just 11 days. Three years later, he sits behind Sebastian Vettel, Charles Leclerc, Fernando Alonso and Verstappen as the youngest pole-sitters.
Fewer drivers have claimed pole position than a race win, with Stroll now the 101st F1 driver to claim the top spot since 1950. Should he take his maiden win on Sunday, he’ll be the 110th grand prix victor and the fifth youngest in history – behind the same drivers he trails in the youngest pole-sitter list.
However, post-qualifying, thoughts of Sunday were not running through his head, as he revelled and joyed in the midst of being Canada’s first pole-sitter since Jacques Villeneuve, 23 years ago.
“I haven’t really looked at the conditions yet for tomorrow but I heard maybe there was a chance of rain at the start of the race, so we’ll see what happens,” he said.
“That could mix things up. I’ll deal with that in a couple of hours. I’ll let this sink in. I’m going to enjoy the moment for sure. It’s a very special moment for me. First pole position in Formula 1. We’re going to digest that for a couple of hours and then focus on the race.”
It adds yet another chapter to the curious tale of Lance Stroll, who is always eager to prove his worth in F1 while and cast away any comments of devaluation.