Is he just a rich rookie or a superstarin-training? Your questions attempt to get to get under the skin of the Williams young gun, Lance Stroll
At the top of the three-storey Williams is a rooftop terrace that overlooks the paddock. This is where team guests and VIPS mingle with a cocktail and gossip about the latest goings-on in the soap opera world of Formula 1.
Monza is the motorhome’s last destination this year, before it reappears in the Barcelona paddock next May. On this sunblessed Italian afternoon, a handful of guests are lolling in one corner. In another is the team’s celebrated chef, Michael Caines, tapping busily away at a laptop. And on a sofa next to the Martini bar sits Williams’ rookie racer Lance Stroll. The 18-year-old copped a certain amount of flak during the early parts of his debut season: the opening races were a struggle until he achieved his first points finish at his home race in Montréal. Then came that breakthrough podium in Baku.
Later on this Italian GP weekend, he will qualify on the front row. But prior to that star turn, he’s faced with a tougher challenge: a grilling from our readers. The only thing we need be mindful of is the autograph session Stroll must attend in less than half an hour. After that he has to be in central Milan for a drivers’ parade. Today’s schedule is a tight one. So with one eye on the clock, he reaches for a question card… Yes I have. First there was the adaptation from F3 to F1, the weight difference and power and especially the tyres. I was braking too late and too hard and I was injecting problems into the car. I had to rein it in. So I started braking earlier and with less pressure, because when you put so much energy into the brakes you create a lot of temperature in the tyre and the Pirelli is very sensitive, particularly with regards to the surface temperature. So going into a corner you increase the problems you have and lose grip.
Braking lighter and earlier made my life much easier, which meant I could then focus more on my exits. That’s very different to F3 where the tyre would accept almost anything. Last year I could brake very deep and slide the car, but I’ve needed to refine and finesse it compared to what I was doing before.
Also, since Baku, we’ve altered the setup of the car and, since that point, I’ve been a lot more comfortable
driving the car, so, in all, it’s really been a combination of adapting myself and also making changes to the car.
How did you handle critics saying you weren’t ready for F1? Charlotte Davies, UK
I just didn’t bother getting involved in all that. I knew the truth. I’ve won championships in the past and I’ve got my superlicence points and I’ve earned my shot at Formula 1. I knew it was only a matter of time before criticism would come my way. I never got into the mix of what people were saying and the media. I just tried to stay out of it and stay in my bubble and focus on my own thing. The results have turned around and from Canada onwards it’s been getting much better.
F1R: For someone who’s only 18, that’s a good positive mental attitude to have…
LS: I always kept the people who are important close to me and I didn’t get involved – I just stayed out of it.
Were you surprised by the comments Jacques Villeneuve made about you, or don’t you care? Patrick Six, Belgium
[If, dear reader, you hadn’t been paying attention to Villeneuve’s recent musings, he said of his young compatriot: “It’s one of the worst rookie performances in the history of F1” adding that Stroll’s drives had been “pathetic.”]
LS: Who? Who said what? I don’t really care. [The hugely experienced Williams press relations officer Annie Bradshaw suggests to Lance that he tears up that particular question card, and he obliges with glee]
LS: Everyone needs to love everyone, right?
Are you a Gilles Villeneuve fan? Hass Monsoor, Australia
I am. I am a Gilles Villeneuve fan.
F1R: We did shuffle the cards. It’s not deliberate that this question follows the previous one… LS: [Laughs] He’s a bit before my time, but massive respect to him. He was a daredevil of a guy and back in the day it was quite something to be on the limit like he was. Some would say over the limit, but you’ve got to respect him and I think he goes down in the books as one of the all-time greats.
F1R: Have you read Gerald Donaldson’s biography of Gilles? In it there’s an anecdote about him free-falling in a helicopter – that’s how much of a daredevil he was.
LS: That’s taking it to a whole other level. Are you ready to lead the team if Felipe Massa retires again? Joseph Cooper, UK I’m still young and I still have a lot to learn, but I’m building a good relationship with the team at every race and every weekend I get closer to everyone. I think there is a lot of potential and I’m looking forward to being with Williams in the future and seeing what we can get out of that. Now, with Paddy Lowe [chief technical officer] being here, and a lot of good people coming into the company, I believe that over the next couple of years there’s a lot more to come. I’m ready to be a part of it.
Many new drivers are missing out on the feeder categories for F1, why do you think this is? And what did European F3 teach you as a driver? Tom Bryan, UK
I don’t think it’s something that’s happening a lot. I missed GP2 or Formula 2, but that was because I had an opportunity to come up to Formula 1 with Williams. I did a really good job in F3 and I had a shot and took it. I don’t think that one is any better than the other, I think it’s just about timing and doing what is right for you.
There is nothing wrong with doing F2: everyone has their own path and their own trajectory into Formula 1. That’s how it worked out for me. I felt ready and Williams felt I was ready and I had to make the jump eventually. You always start Formula 1 from zero.
I KNEW IT WAS ONLY A MATTER OF TIME BEFORE CRITICISM WOULD COME MY WAY. I JUST TRIED TO STAY OUT OF IT AND STAY IN MY BUBBLE A“ND FOCUS ON MY OWN THING
Are you into any other sports? If so, what? Josh Goodman, UK
Yes, I play a lot of golf. I’m into mountain biking, skiing, tennis, surfing… F1R: Where do you surf? LS: I surf in the Caribbean – Barbados, on the east coast where the big waves are. But having grown up in Canada by a lake, I also do wakesurfing behind a boat: I’ve been doing it since I was four. I also like American Football (NFL). I don’t play it, but I support the New York Giants and I was there for both the Superbowls they won, in 2008 and 2012.
Backstreet Boys or One Direction? Przemek Iwaniec, Canada
Who are Backstreet Boys? F1R: An American boy band. [Annie Bradshaw once again, vainly, tries to help out: “I’ve heard the name but I can’t tell you anything about them.”] LS: I’d have to say One Direction because I’ve never heard of Backstreet Boys.
I’m a fellow Canadian. What is it like to carry the hopes of all Canadians on your shoulders? Tim Stanfield, Canada
I always notice the Canadian flags waving wherever I’m racing around the world. So it’s great to have that support no matter where we go. Be it in Belgium or Australia – I always spot a few of them. And to race in Canada, in my home town of Montréal, was just amazing.
Where are the best places to go when visiting Canada? James Potter, UK
There are a lot of beautiful places to visit. Vancouver on the west coast is amazing. Montréal is a great city to see – it’s really happening and buzzing. Niagara Falls is something you should see when you’re in Canada. There’s a lot to do while you’re there.
Which current or past F1 driver do you respect the most? Patrick O’neill, UK
Michael Schumacher was my idol. He was the guy I watched growing up and then there are the guys today, Hamilton, Vettel, Alonso, who are at the top of the sport. They are so good. Every weekend they get the maximum out of what they can achieve. You’ve got to respect the real champions.
F1R: Did you catch up with your old chum Mick Schumacher in Spa? LS: I didn’t get the chance, no.
F1R: It was great to see him driving Michael’s Benetton around the track…
LS: Yeah, I was watching it on the TV. Very cool.
What is your least favourite track and why? Pam Berryman, UK
[There follows a very long pause, so we decide to pitch in with a suggestion…] F1R: China? LS: No, I really liked China, it’s a great track. I would say… Russia. I hate Russia. It’s really average. Boring with no high-speed corners. Russia is the worst.
How are you affected by the current restrictions on testing? Joe Johnston, USA
To be honest, it’s just something you have to deal with in a rookie season. When you show up at new tracks, the simulator can only take you so far. It comes down to you hopping in the car with the limited time you have and making the best of it. The second year I will do things differently from the first time around. During every race I’m learning, especially when conditions change or tyre compounds alter. The race is the time you learn the track the most during a weekend. The simulator helps but at the same time it’s just experience. Sometimes it clicks and makes more sense than at other times.
In the current F1 world, what would you say irritates you the most? Ewelina Mazurek, Poland
The media stuff and the politics can be annoying. There are a lot of rumours that aren’t true that go around the paddock. The amount of time you spend in the car is nothing compared to dealing with the other stuff. It’s irritating, but it’s part of the sport.
THE SECOND YEAR I WILL DO THINGS DIFFERENTLY FROM THE FIRST TIME AROUND. DURING EVERY RACE I’M LEARNING
He has the hopes of a nation riding on his shoulders, and Lance proved he could rise to the occasion by scoring his first F1 points in Montréal