Few young people can afford to realize their childhood dream as quickly in life. But for all those who crossed the course of the Montrealer Lance Stroll since his first shots, there was no doubt that he was promised a great future in motor racing.
And he is on the way to be right. Formerly a Formula 1 Williams team driver confirmed last November, Stroll will be making his debut this weekend at the Australian Grand Prix, becoming the second youngest driver in the history of the discipline at 18.
To get to the top of the racing car, Stroll certainly did his best to climb the ladder by being competitive on the track. Last year, he became the youngest Formula 3 champion in history, signing 14 wins in 30 starts.
“I’ve made a lot of progress, and I think I’ve reached the level of driving I was aiming for,” he said after winning the F3 title in 2016. I managed to understand how F3 – a series that has the reputation of being daredevil – and that’s why I triumphed with such a gap.
“My apprenticeship is not finished, however, because you have to adapt to a new category.”
In his journey, he also enjoyed the unfailing support of his father, Lawrence, a true car racing fan and a great fan of Ferrari. This one did not hesitate to draw in his important fortune to give the means to his son to concretize his dream.
Some sources believe that Lawrence Stroll, who made a fortune in the fashion industry, spent at least US $ 40 million to secure a F1 wheel to his son.
If the young driver agrees that his father’s financial support has been essential to his pilot career so far, he insists that he also had to prove himself on the track.
“Of course it’s important to have sponsors in F1, because as you can see, there are a lot of good drivers who break their teeth because they do not have enough strength . It should not be like that, but it is, so it’s good to have support. ”
Money is not, however, true, even in F1. It does not allow you to buy talent. And in the eyes of many observers, Lance does not lack.
Vince Loughran, the general manager of the Mont-Tremblant circuit – which is owned by Lawrence Stroll – remembers that the young Lance made him feel very early.
And Loughran, who has more than 42 years of experience in racing, has seen Mont-Tremblant, over the years, well-known drivers who have reached F1.
“I was already working at the Mont-Tremblant circuit when Gilles Villeneuve came to take his pilot course (1973). I also saw his brother, Jacques, and his son, Jacques, taking driving lessons here. This is one of our prides. And now it’s Lance’s turn. ”
At the request of Stroll Sr., Loughran set up a temporary track, on the edge of the real, made of orange cones and small karting walls in recycled tires. Even if Stroll wanted first and foremost to have fun, Loughran said he noticed from that time that he had unusual qualities for a pilot.
“We saw at that age he loved racing. You know, in one of his recently published biographies, Wayne Gretzky was asked to comment on the importance of practicing for success, Loughran said. To this he replied: ‘Why do you talk to me about training? I love hockey! ‘ So it’s kind of the same thing for Lance, it was just ‘fun’ for him. ”
Then, Stroll’s career was taken care of by Hugo Mousseau, a sports car enthusiast from Beloeil who met him in 2008 while he was a racing instructor at SH Karting in Mont-Saint-Hilaire.
“His father, Lawrence, had approached me to supervise him, and from there, Lance and I connected,” recalls Mousseau. He was shy when he was young; He did not discuss what was going on in his mind. But he changed, and started communicating more when I took care of him. He learned not to blame someone else for his setbacks, and that’s what made him progress so quickly.
“He realized very early that he had to work so many hours a day to achieve such results. It’s a bit like Carey Price, he can not rely solely on his talent. He has to work continuously to improve. He is also very intelligent, that is, he understands what he has to do and knows how to share information with the right people – like his race engineer, for example. ”
Passage into the Ferrari lap
Meanwhile, around the age of 12, when his passion for motorsport grew, Stroll enrolled in the Jim Russell Flying School. The racing driver Jean-François Dumoulin, also a flight instructor, remembers very well his first encounter with him, and especially the small blocks of wood that he had to add to the pedals for him to drive.
“One day Lance arrived in a group of eight youngsters to learn how to drive Formula cars – the ones that come after the karts – and from the start I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was already quite mature For his age, mentions Dumoulin. He worked with young people of 14, 15 and even 16 years, and despite that he was one of the most receptive in the group when offering him advice.
“Already, he listened very much and asked good questions. In addition, during the three-day school, he systematically finished in the top-3, which was impressive considering his age. Then I saw him again a few times each summer. ”
The rest is history. After settling in Geneva with his family and joining the Ferrari Academy in 2010, Stroll has multiplied karting races all over Europe.
He then graduated in single-seater in 2014 and took part in the Italian F4 championship in the Italian team Prema PowerTeam, before obtaining a wheel in F3, where he rapidly acquired the reputation of aggressive and fast pilot.
The team’s manager, René Roisin, did not fail to emphasize his rapid progress at the end of his first season.
“Beginning in such a demanding competition, he dazzled the other players in his class and also fought against rivals much more experienced, proving he is ready for the next stage,” Roisin said on the motorsport website .com. I’m sure he has everything he needs to get more brilliant results and fight for the F3 crown next season. ”
His prediction proved to be. Stroll became the first North American European F3 champion in October and the youngest in history to accomplish the feat.
A veteran team-mate
And last November, a few days after he celebrated his 18th birthday, Stroll was confirmed as one of the two Williams drivers for the upcoming season.
Already familiar with the British team environment since he joined the team’s development program in 2015, Stroll finds a familiar face at Williams: Brazilian Felipe Massa.
Massa, who postponed his retirement plan after the transfer of Finn Valtteri Bottas to Mercedes in mid-January, has known Stroll and his father Lawrence for a long time.
“It’s strange, because the first time I met him (Lance), he was eight years old,” Massa recalled. In addition, I’ve known his father (Lawrence) for a long time – that goes back to when I was driving for Ferrari and Lance was at the Academy. ”
Asked if he would serve as a mentor to Stroll, the 35-year-old Brazilian grimaced and set the record straight.
“We are team-mates, but I certainly want to be in front of him,” he said. That being said, it will not prevent me from passing on information to him, especially if it will allow him to progress. I will try to help him as best I can because it is in my nature. I know he has talent and can bring a lot to the team. So it’s good for the team and it’s good for the championship. ”
Stroll himself was keen to say that Massa should not be labeled “the big brother” that will allow him to acclimatize to F1.
“He’s not a mentor,” he said. I know I said that in an interview, but maybe people did not understand me. He is not here to chaperon me.
“Having said that, he has experience and he’s a driver that I can watch and listen to during briefings to learn new things. Moreover, what I find good is that he knows that we are working for the team, and that it does not have to be a war between us. But the competition between us is positive for the team, because it will allow us to surpass ourselves. So it’s great to have Felipe on the team. He’s fast, he’s happy to be here and he’s motivated.
“But all the same, I can not count on him. I have to do my job and drive as fast as I can. So I’m looking forward to it, because I’ve talked enough, and now it’s time to ride. “