Lance Stroll Stalker: First Pre-Season Test

For the first time since 2006, there is a Canadian on the Formula One grid and, surprisingly, his last name isn’t Villeneuve. As a fellow Canadian, I feel it is my duty to chronicle Lance Stroll’s time in F1 in excruciating detail.

Let’s get started, eh?

For any Canadians who stopped paying attention to F1 a decade ago, when Jacques Villeneuve retired/couldn’t find another team willing to let him drive, there have been a lot of changes since you last watched the sport.

First, Ferrari doesn’t win all the races anymore…Mercedes does. Second, the Formula One Group was sold again and, although Bernie Ecclestone had maintained control through past sales, this time he got whacked. Wikipedia called it, “a coup against Ecclestone.”[citation needed] Sounds brutal!

Now that you’re caught up to the present day, let’s talk about Stroll. Although there hasn’t been a successful teenager who made it to F1 thanks to his dad’s influence since Max Verstappen almost two years ago, Williams graciously allowed Stroll’s dad to buy his son a race seat. So, as any loving father would do, the elder Stroll (who made a fortune selling bootleg Ralph Lauren polos or something), plunked down $80 million—according to Auto motor und sport—to fulfill his son’s lifelong dream. But maybe they were Canadian dollars, in which case it was a real bargain.

Imagine if the dad of the Niki Lauda character in that movie Rush had just given him $80 million or its equivalent in Austria money instead of making him borrow it from a bank. Would he still have had the mental and physical strength to come back from his horrific injuries and lose the championship by quitting the final race of the season? Probably not.

Anyway, the 18-year-old Stroll arrived in Barcelona this week for his first official F1 test, having completed an extensive, top-secret testing program last year that everyone knew about. Although those unofficial tests in a 2014 Williams car give Stroll more experience in F1 machinery than any other recent F1 rookie, the Barcelona test did not go smoothly.

After his second crash, on Wednesday, the Williams FW40 was too damaged to drive again on Thursday, final day of the test. You get the feeling, however, that if the Canadian had been scheduled to  drive again on Thursday instead of Felipe Massa, Stroll père would’ve paid to overnight a completely new chassis from Grove. Needless to say following his off-track excursions, Stroll looked more like former Williams driver Pastor Maldonado, circa 2014, than he did Pastor Maldonado, circa 2012 Spanish Grand Prix.

Of course, those types of mistakes are to be expected from rookie drivers. Even three-time world champion Lewis Hamilton defended the young Canadian, saying, “I feel for him in the sense that it is the toughest year to come into Formula One, being that these are the fastest and most physical cars,” according to a Press Association report.

For all the talk about how difficult the cars will be for the drivers to handle this year, you would think they were riding rodeo bulls rather than the most finely tuned race cars in the world. But I digress.

Stroll is a talented driver, but like Verstappen, he is also rough around the edges. The Dutch teenager finished third in the 2014 Formula Three championship, his first step and final step on the single-seater ladder before arriving in F1. Stroll one-upped him, winning the F3 title last year (so technically he two-upped him), meaning that, according to the transitive property, he shouldn’t even have to wait until his second year to be promoted to Williams’ parent team (Mercedes).

Unfortunately, that makes Valtteri Bottas this year’s Daniil Kvyat. Or something.

Villeneuve also sees the similarities between Stroll and Verstappen. When I spoke to him about his fellow Canadian driver at the 2015 Canadian Grand Prix, not long after Stroll was penalized for causing a big accident in an F3 race at Monza, he said:

The problem is that you have these parents who put their kids when they are so young in a go-kart, in a race car, telling them, ‘You will be a race car driver.’ But that doesn’t teach them anything. It actually makes it very dangerous. And then kids like [Max] Verstappen get into F1 and they drive dangerously and they’re not humble enough to even accept their own mistakes.

From the Horse’s Mouth

Stroll might have looked like a rookie on the track, but he already sounds like a veteran. Even if that top-secret testing program that everyone knew about couldn’t keep him out of the barriers, he definitely paid attention during his media training.

In the following 112-word quote from the team press release after his first day in the FW40, he manages to repeat the same thought three different ways without actually telling us anything of interest:

It is still early days and I have only done a handful of laps. I am just getting to grips with the FW40, and there is still a lot of time ahead of us. It was good to finally get behind the wheel to just get a feel for it. Like I said, it is still early days, so I need to do a lot more running before I know exactly where I am and where the car is at. I will have a much better picture once we have more laps under our belts, but it was good to break the ice and I am looking forward to some more running.

What’s Up Next?

Stroll will be back behind the wheel of a rebuilt car next week in Barcelona at the final pre-season test, his final chance to acclimatize to F1 before the circus jets off to Melbourne for the Australian Grand Prix on March 26.

(Featured image via Williams Racing)


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