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
We take the Williams rookie back to his roots in Canadian karting
IN JUST TEN YEARS,
Lance Stroll has gone from competing in his rst 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 1.1km 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 re for the apparent poor start he’s made to his rookie season in F1, pockmarked by three DNFs in his rst 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 reects on the short journey he has made from grassroots karting to the top tier of the sport. We’re about 50km north-east of Montréal, and a further 120km 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 rst 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 rst 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
IT’S IN THE SHIFTING: THE PADDLES ARE STIFF, PLUS THERE’S THE WEIGHT OF THE CAR ON THE WHEEL IN THE CORNERS
around his track – and is impressed when he launches over the kerbs on his rst 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 ngers 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/nish straight and gazes across the now quiet kart track, with just the twittering of birds overhead and the distant rumble of trafc 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 rst points with a ninth-place nish 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 nish. 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, nding 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
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
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 rst 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 rst 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.