We sit in on Williams rookie Lance Stroll’s rig­or­ous train­ing programme


and, in­deed, there are few more dispir­it­ing sounds than the whine of tread­mill rollers set to the rhyth­mic back­beat of feet clonk-clonk­ing on the rolling road to nowhere. And yet Lance Stroll is grin­ning imp­ishly as he warms up on one of these ma­chines in the state-of-theart Williams tness cen­tre, tak­ing in the vista of bu­colic Ox­ford­shire coun­try­side framed by the room’s wide dou­ble-glazed win­dows. We’ll soon see whether he man­ages to keep smil­ing… F1 Rac­ing has dropped by to see how Williams have been pre­par­ing their new charge, the 2016 For­mula 3 Euro­pean cham­pion, for the rigours of com­pe­ti­tion in For­mula 1. Faced with a panoply of un­knowns, the all­new, wide-tyred, high-down­force for­mula is ex­pected, at the time of writ­ing, to slash lap times by more than four sec­onds, so Williams have left noth­ing to chance. While F1 fans have been count­ing down the days to lights-out on the Mel­bourne start­line, Lance has spent the win­ter re­hears­ing the minu­tiae of a grand prix week­end and tough­en­ing up his body for the pum­melling it’s go­ing to get in the cock­pit.

In short, they’ve made him sweat, both men­tally and phys­i­cally. But while there’s hard work in­volved, his coach­ing team seem af­fa­ble enough – although clearly cut from ‘drop-and-give-me-20’ cloth. And it’s all un­der­pinned by sci­ence.

“The two dis­ci­plines are very dif­fer­ent – the phys­i­cal train­ing and the men­tal train­ing – but if you drew a Venn di­a­gram of how they in­ter­act, there would be a small sub­set,” says Rob Smed­ley, Williams’ head of per­for­mance en­gi­neer­ing. “What we put in place with Lance was a programme that ad­dressed both. The eas­i­est part for him was to work on his phys­i­cal tness, and we’ve worked very closely with his per­sonal train­ing crew to en­sure that he’s do­ing all of the right things.”

That’s in­volved bring­ing in the F1-ex­pe­ri­enced Hintsa Per­for­mance coach Ville Vi­hola, for­merly Lewis Hamil­ton’s per­sonal trainer, to work with Stroll fam­ily tness guru David White­man, who has been help­ing Lance since the be­gin­ning of his karting days. Watch­ing Vi­hola and White­man work to­gether to put Lance through his paces, it’s clear – at the risk of ad­ding com­pli­ca­tion to the afore­men­tioned Venn di­a­gram – that their method­olo­gies in­ter­sect sub­stan­tially.

We’re a long way from the era of Stir­ling Moss, who once told this au­thor: “I never did any keep-t. I didn’t have to. I was driv­ing a car all the time.”

“Just get­ting in the car and driv­ing it is ab­so­lutely the best thing that you can do,” agrees Smed­ley. “Lance has had a programme in the 2014 car that’s helped with that. What we have to take into ac­count is that the loads are go­ing to be much higher this sea­son.

“There are big­ger tyres, more aero­dy­namic down­force by quite a big per­cent­age, and the cars are go­ing to be more phys­i­cal to drive. To be ab­so­lutely clear about where that phys­i­cal­ity comes in, it’s go­ing to be in the high-speed cor­ners. They’ll be even faster, to the ex­tent where some of them will pretty much be­come straights be­cause the driver will be tak­ing them at-out. In the not-too-dis­tant fu­ture, even some­where like Turn 9 at Barcelona, for in­stance, will be at-out if we con­tinue to de­velop the cars at the cur­rent rate.

“Pin­point­ing where the loads are go­ing to be so he can work on that has been one side of it. The other side is the men­tal ap­proach, which is of­ten over­looked – the driver needs to op­er­ate with a clear head, with­out a lot of bag­gage. What we’ve been try­ing to do with Lance is to make all the rou­tine stuff that a driver has to do dur­ing a grand prix week­end – from when he gets in the car on Fri­day morn­ing to when the che­quered ag falls on Sun­day af­ter­noon – so rou­tine that he doesn’t have to think about it. He then has more men­tal ca­pac­ity to ap­ply to the process of mak­ing the car go quickly.”

What strikes you about Lance when you speak to him is that, like McLaren pro­tégé Stof­fel Van­doorne, he wears his self-condence lightly. Those who have worked with him in his F3 cam­paign, in which he surged ahead of highly rated ri­vals in­clud­ing McLaren Au­tosport BRDC Award win­ner Ge­orge Rus­sell (now signed to the Mercedes’ driver de­vel­op­ment programme), speak of a quiet but steely re­solve be­hind the cheeky smile.

Fresh from his warm-up, Lance has a patina of sweat on his brow, but this is merely the start of a work­out that’s de­signed to build up his strength and en­durance – par­tic­u­larly around his neck, which will be the rst re­ceiver for all those ad­di­tional G-forces. It’s when the body is work­ing at full ca­pac­ity – mus­cles strain­ing, heart beat­ing close to max­i­mum – that the brain starts to lose fo­cus on what’s hap­pen­ing out­side as it di­verts re­sources to keep­ing the hu­man ma­chine run­ning.

“We do a lot of car­dio­vas­cu­lar work,” says White­man, who, like Lance, hails from Mon­tréal. “The aim is to bring his heart rate up to a point where he’s still able to achieve max­i­mum con­cen­tra­tion when it’s in that work­ing range. De­pend­ing on the time of year, we do dif­fer­ent types of car­dio­vas­cu­lar train­ing. Some­times we’re do­ing very in­ten­sive in­ter­vals, other times we’re do­ing mod­er­ate, steady-state work, the kind of ef­fort level you’d see driv­ing the car. We do a bit of ev­ery­thing.

“We just use the tread­mill for a warm-up be­fore we start his weight train­ing, which is what we’re mov­ing to right now. Usu­ally, we’ll run out­side in the sum­mer and do a lot of bik­ing. For a few hours of mod­er­ate steadys­tate work we’d rather get on a bike and go out­doors, be­cause it’s low-im­pact and more in­ter­est­ing. For the short, in­tense stuff we use in­door bikes that mea­sure power out­put, so we can see how hard he’s work­ing.

“That gives us an ob­jec­tive mea­sure to see if he’s im­prov­ing. At var­i­ous times through­out the sea­son we’ll put him through a thresh­old test, and then use the num­bers from that to set his work­outs. We want the thresh­old to in­crease dur­ing the sea­son.”

Among the deni­tions of the word ‘thresh­old’ in the Shorter Ox­ford English Dic­tio­nary is “the be­gin­ning of a state or ac­tion”. In phys­i­cal train­ing it gen­er­ally per­tains to the point at which the un­for­tu­nate sub­ject of the test has to reach for a bucket.

“They’re in­ten­sive, yeah,” laughs White­man. “But Lance is com­pet­i­tive. He’s not afraid to push him­self. A bucket nearby is a good thing to have, though…”

The ar­rival of another Williams staffer in the gym pro­vides some con­text as he some­what os­ten­ta­tiously huffs and puffs and grunts through a se­ries of bench­presses and squats. By con­trast, barely a whim­per passes Lance’s grit­ted teeth as he pro­gresses from planks to bat­tling ropes to per­form­ing sit-ups while catch­ing and re­turn­ing a medicine ball thrown at him by Vi­hola. The sweat, how­ever, tells its own story.

So­cial me­dia has been alive with pho­tos of other driv­ers out­do­ing one another in the gym in prepa­ra­tion for the new sea­son, one in par­tic­u­lar show­ing Max Ver­stap­pen sup­port­ing most of his body weight with just his head and neck. Lance’s coaches are cau­tious about do­ing too much weight train­ing, though, since Lance is at the up­per end of the height spec­trum – at 180cm he’s by no means a bean­pole, but is tall enough for ad­di­tional mus­cle bulk to reg­is­ter un­de­sir­ably on the scales. When F1 Rac­ing raises the sub­ject of the cur­rent trend to­wards carb-dodg­ing fad di­ets en­dorsed by Instagram mi­cro-celebrities, White­man chuck­les and shakes his head. It’s fair to con­clude that we will not see Lance in­dus­tri­ously ‘spi­ral­is­ing’ cour­gettes.

A sure sign of Lance’s tness level is the speed at which he’s ready to sit down for a chat af­ter a vig­or­ous car­dio ses­sion that’s left him red-faced and breath­ing heav­ily, if not quite bleed­ing from the eyes.

“I’m happy to work hard and push my­self,” he says, dab­bing his face with a towel. “When I started karting in Europe it was so tough. I was 12, 13 years old and up against kids who’d been com­pet­ing pretty in­ten­sively for six years al­ready, so I had a lot of catch­ing up to do. Those were tough days. I had some good re­sults but also some horrible re­sults.

“I love what I do, you know? And it’s im­por­tant to en­joy ev­ery step of the jour­ney, and not only work for the glory mo­ments, be­cause they go by too quickly. That’s the big les­son I took from last sea­son in For­mula 3. I stressed for it for two years – not in a neg­a­tive way, but I was work­ing hard to­wards it – and then when I won the cham­pi­onship, a cou­ple of days later I was back in the gym. So, yes, you’ve got to en­joy ev­ery part of it.

“I’ve done a lot of stuff in the sim­u­la­tor as well as all the tests, and re­ally, right now, I just want to get out there and race. I can’t wait for the sea­son to start.”

It was Ben­jamin Franklin who al­legedly said, “If you fail to pre­pare, you are pre­par­ing to fail.” Lance Stroll is prob­a­bly the best-pre­pared rookie to en­ter F1 since Lewis Hamil­ton stormed onto the grand prix scene af­ter hun­dreds of hours on the sim­u­la­tor in 2007. Lewis is a lofty tar­get to em­u­late, but, 10 years on, why not?



“Mind man­age­ment,” to quote no less an em­i­nence than Sir Jackie Ste­wart, re­mains a prime virtue of the best F1 driv­ers – now ar­guably more than ever, given the in­tri­cate com­pli­ca­tions of op­er­at­ing a mod­ern hy­brid powertrain. Even the very best fall short on oc­ca­sion; think of Lewis Hamil­ton’s en­gine-set­ting woes in Baku last year, or the switch change that Nico Ros­berg blamed for the two Mercedes tak­ing each other out of the race in Barcelona.

For that rea­son, over the win­ter Lance Stroll has been test­ing a 2014 Williams F1 car at var­i­ous lo­ca­tions around the world, not so much to find speed or learn the cir­cuits, but to drain the men­tal swamp. It was of­ten said of Takuma Sato, for in­stance, that he could be quick in an F1 car, but it re­quired 100 per cent of his fa­cil­i­ties to get there, whereas the likes of Fer­nando Alonso have enough spare men­tal band­width to for­mu­late and in­ter­ro­gate race strat­egy as they dance on the edge of their car’s lim­its.

“You’ve cited one driver there, of those I’ve worked with, and the other one was Michael Schumacher, who could drive flat-out or at a tenth below the limit for the whole race,” says Rob Smed­ley. “And that tenth al­lowed him 30 per cent more men­tal ca­pac­ity to read the race and un­der­stand sit­u­a­tions as they un­folded. The most tal­ented guys can do that – part of it can be taught, which we’re do­ing with Lance, but you can’t teach peo­ple to be quick.

“To be fast in an F3 or GP2 car and to be fast in an F1 car re­quires more or less the same skill set, there’s just more of ev­ery­thing in F1. The leap you have to take is the en­gi­neer­ing skill set – you have to be able to change elec­tronic set­tings quickly and with­out think­ing about it. Be­cause if you have to di­vert men­tal ca­pac­ity to­wards things like that, you can’t fo­cus on other im­por­tant de­ci­sions in a timely way. Those can be the trig­ger points for three or four bad laps be­fore a driver gets back on track.

“Man­ag­ing the tyres is the holy grail, as it were. It’s much more achiev­able now, given the data and ex­pe­ri­ence we have, so you no­tice the dif­fer­ence be­tween driv­ers in the outer ex­trem­i­ties – in the wet, for in­stance. ‘Wet’ is one word for thou­sands of dif­fer­ent per­mu­ta­tions that are chang­ing con­stantly, from the depth of wa­ter on the track to the air tem­per­a­ture, which af­fects the con­vected cool­ing that you get. It’s like an on­go­ing ex­per­i­ment with too many vari­ables and not enough re­peata­bil­ity, and the driver has to be part of the learn­ing process. He can help iden­tify the ef­fect of changes, and one of the best I’ve worked with for that is Felipe [Massa], who’s very good at pick­ing out the ‘noise’ in an ex­per­i­ment.”

Re­sis­tance train­ing (left) is es­sen­tial, es­pe­cially for the neck, which will bear the brunt of the in­creased G-forces

Stroll warms up on the tread­mill (far right) be­fore mov­ing onto weights (right) that will con­di­tion his body with­out ad­ding too much ex­tra weight

Stroll has spent the win­ter test­ing a 2014 Williams, help­ing him get to grips with the com­plex­ity of F1 ma­chin­ery

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