We take the Wil­liams rookie back to his roots in Cana­dian kart­ing

We take Wil­liams rookie Lance Stroll back to his roots on a visit to the Cana­dian cir­cuit where he raced karts for the first time

F1 Racing (UK) - - CONTENTS - JAMES ROBERTS GLENN DUN­BAR

IN JUST TEN YEARS,

Lance Stroll has gone from com­pet­ing in his first kart race in front of a hand­ful of par­ents to rac­ing a For­mula 1 car in front of nearly 100,000 fans at his home grand prix. Yes, his ca­reer has been fast-tracked by his fam­ily’s wealth, but he has still had to per­form in ev­ery cat­e­gory in which he’s com­peted. He won a trio of con­sec­u­tive ti­tles in his three years prior to F1: FIA Euro­pean F3, the Toy­ota Rac­ing Se­ries in New Zealand and Ital­ian For­mula 4.

Now, on the eve of his home F1 grand prix de­but in Canada, we ac­com­pany him to the place where it all be­gan. North of Mon­tréal, along Au­toroute 25, is the SRA kart cir­cuit, which is named af­ter the nearby Que­be­cois vil­lage of Saint-roch-de-l’achi­gan. This morn­ing the 0.75-mile track is bathed in warm sun­shine

and a 125cc Ro­tax two-gear shifter kart awaits Lance. He’s ready to reac­quaint him­self with the place that ig­nited his pas­sion for rac­ing.

Lead­ing up to to­day, Stroll, 18, has been com­ing un­der fire for the ap­par­ent poor start he’s made to his rookie sea­son in F1, pockmarked by three DNFS in his first three races, plus out­ings where he strug­gled even to es­cape the clutches of Q1 in a car that – in the hands of his team-mate Felipe Massa – reg­u­larly made it into Q3. But both he and the team have been ask­ing for pa­tience, in the be­lief that even­tu­ally the good re­sults will ma­te­ri­alise. Which, as we would soon dis­cover, they do.

So, for the mo­ment, Stroll is putting his F1 tra­vails to one side as he re­flects on the short jour­ney he has made from grass­roots kart­ing to the top tier of the sport. We’re about 30 miles north-east of Mon­tréal, and a fur­ther 80 miles north is the ski re­sort of Mont-trem­blant. This is where the Stroll fam­ily are based (although they now live mostly in Geneva). And it’s there, along­side the Riviére du Di­able, that the pic­turesque former grand prix cir­cuit that hosted the Cana­dian GP twice in 1968 and 1970 is lo­cated. It’s now owned by Lance’s bil­lion­aire fa­ther, Lawrence.

In the car park of the cir­cuit, Stroll Sr, a gen­tle­man GT racer and a col­lec­tor of clas­sic Fer­raris, would lay out a few cones and his son would drive around them for hours on end in a lit­tle kart. When he reached the age of eight, it was time to make the first se­ri­ous step in the world of kart­ing and they came to SRA.

The track, which is owned by Michel Bois­clair, was built in 1996 and in 2001 hosted the first round of the CIK World Kart­ing Cham­pi­onship. Driv­ers who com­peted here then in­cluded Lewis Hamil­ton, Nico Ros­berg, Vi­tan­to­nio Li­uzzi and Giedo van der Garde. To­day, Bois­clair is stand­ing above the pits rem­i­nisc­ing about the old days as he watches Stroll gun a lit­tle 125cc kart around his track – and is im­pressed when he launches over the kerbs on his first out-lap. Af­ter a lit­tle anec­dote about Keke Ros­berg plough­ing

his rental car into a ditch on the week­end of the world cham­pi­onship race, Bois­clair re­calls the years when Stroll used to race here.

“Right from the be­gin­ning you saw a clear path in terms of what the Strolls wanted to achieve,” he ex­plains. “It’s easy to say that the path has been made for you, but you need to take ad­van­tage of it and be mo­ti­vated for it. And the mo­ti­va­tion to race was al­ways there in Lance. That’s an as­pect that peo­ple don’t al­ways see. To be in For­mula 1 you need to be a good driver, but you also need to love what you are do­ing. The pas­sion has to be at the max­i­mum. And I saw this right away; his mo­ti­va­tion is there. He wanted to learn; he was at the track more than any­body else. And he never com­plained that it was too hard, too this, too that – do­ing club kart­ing was the best thing for him as a per­son and it made him a bet­ter driver, too.”

Af­ter a few laps, Stroll re­turns to the pits, re­moves his hel­met and his eyes tell the story. It’s been a few years since he was last here, and he’s in­stantly back in the groove – although he ad­mits his fin­gers are aching.

“It’s in the shift­ing: the pad­dles are stiff, plus there’s the weight of the car on the wheel in the cor­ners,” he says grin­ning. “But wow, that was so much fun. The bumps re­ally shift out the rear of the kart, and it’s great slid­ing around here.” He turns to Bois­clair: “I’ve been say­ing since I was eight that there should be grass at the chi­cane. You shouldn’t be able to cut it. Rac­ing is all about gravel and walls.”

“Ah, we keep the Tar­mac there for the rental driv­ers…” Bois­clair replies.

Once Lance has caught his breath, he perches on the tyre wall by the start/fin­ish straight and gazes across the now quiet kart track, with just the twit­ter­ing of birds over­head and the dis­tant rum­ble of traf­fic on the au­toroute in the dis­tance. Did this track bring a lot of suc­cess?

“A bit, yeah,” he says smil­ing. “I won the Quebec cham­pi­onship here and a cou­ple of races when I was younger, too. I’ve had bad days here though, you know, it starts to rain, you spin… But there are so many mem­o­ries here; I haven’t been back since my last race here in 2010 and it’s so special to come back. Ev­ery­thing is the same.”

Four days af­ter our chat, Stroll over­comes his poor start to 2017 by se­cur­ing his first points with a ninth-place fin­ish at his home race. Then, a fort­night later on the streets of Baku, he keeps his head when all about him are los­ing theirs and claims a sur­prise podium fin­ish. Yet as we talk, suc­cess still seems a dis­tant prospect, and he speaks openly about where he needs to im­prove as the sec­ond half of the sea­son looms.

“There are a few things I need to work on, but it’s just tak­ing time adapt­ing to F1. It’s all about gain­ing more ex­pe­ri­ence, week­end by week­end, getting the car to my lik­ing, find­ing con­sis­tency, getting on top of tyre man­age­ment and hav­ing a bit of luck with re­gard to tech­ni­cal is­sues,” he says.

“I think it’s still early days and we just need to keep work­ing to un­der­stand the weak­nesses. For ex­am­ple, the brak­ing is dif­fer­ent to what I’ve been used to in For­mula 3 and the tyres don’t ac­cept the same driv­ing style to what I have been do­ing in the past, so I need to adapt a lit­tle bit more.

Some­times it takes time for things to fall into place, we just need to stay cool and calm – and al­ways be pos­i­tive.”

Tweaks have been made to his Wil­liams FW40, no­tably with the power steer­ing, to as­sist with what tech­ni­cal chief Paddy Lowe has de­scribed as an “active” driv­ing style. Guid­ance has also come from his se­nior team-mate. Felipe Massa spoke re­cently about how much ad­vice he was given when he was young by Michael Schu­macher – and now he is able to im­part some of that wis­dom to Stroll.

“Yeah, it’s great to have Felipe around,” con­curs Stroll. “He’s a good bench­mark for me, he’s still quick. Some tracks are new to me, so af­ter FP1 it’s good to look at his data and learn that ac­tu­ally I can brake later at cer­tain cor­ners. Felipe’s do­ing a great job this year and he’s mo­ti­vated to help the team move for­ward. He knows what we need to be more com­pet­i­tive and he’s push­ing the team in the right di­rec­tion.”

Since Mon­tréal is Stroll’s first home race, much is be­ing made of his at­ten­dance, so he has to depart promptly for an­other PR ap­pear­ance and an­other ‘meet and greet’ with spon­sors. First though, he heads to the boot of his car to look for some­thing. When he re­turns, he hands Bois­clair a tro­phy. It’s the ti­tle-win­ning cup from Au­gust 2008, awarded for Stroll’s first place in the Cadet Cham­pi­onnat du Quebec de Kart­ing. He ex­plains that it be­longs in the club house of the SRA fa­cil­ity. It’s a thought­ful ges­ture and one that Bois­clair ac­cepts with some pride. What­ever Stroll goes on to achieve in the fu­ture, he can thank this lit­tle track in ru­ral Quebec for ig­nit­ing his pas­sion for rac­ing.

“IT’S

GREAT TO HAVE FELIPE AROUND. HE’S A GOOD BENCH­MARK FOR ME, HE’S STILL QUICK. SOME TRACKS ARE NEW TO ME, SO IT’S GOOD TO LOOK AT HIS DATA

Back where it all be­gan: Stroll eyes a 125cc Ro­tax cart, his drive for the day at the place where he launched his rac­ing ca­reer

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