Lance Stroll is 18 and he is a Formula 1 driver with one of the greatest teams in the sport, but it is fair to say that the youngster is enduring a tough baptism by fire in his debut season with Williams.
His billionaire father Lawrence Stroll has bankrolled his son’s career from the junior categories and into Formula 1, spending an estimated €40-million (karting, Formula 4, Formula 3 and Williams deal included) to get the teenager onto the Formula 1 grid.
Talk is that there is immense pressure on the rookie as he tries to make his mark at the pinnacle of the sport, suggestions are that much of the pressure comes from within the young man’s inner circle.
Williams technical chief Paddy Lowe revealed recently, “One of the very difficult things for Lance is the enormous pressure placed upon him. He’s a driver with a lot of expectation around him from, not just people close to him, but across the board.”
Thus it was no surprise that the first question asked of Stroll senior, in an interview with Le Journal de Montreal, was: are you putting too much pressure on your son?
To which Lawrence replied, “Come on then! I do not put pressure on Lance’s shoulders. The pressure that Lance has is that which he puts on himself. I am his father. I am only his father. I’m not the one who handles things. There are professionals everywhere who are paid to do it.”
“The team is very satisfied with his behavior and his progress. But I am his father. When he was young and he cried, I opened my arms to comfort him. And when he was joyful and happy, it made me happy. That is what it is to be a father. And I believe that, whatever their means, fathers want to help their children and support them in achieving their dreams.”
There is a school of thought in the paddock suggesting that Stroll was fast tracked into Formula 1 too early in his career, and would have benefited greatly with a year or two in the Formula 2 feeder series that produced the likes of Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg and more recently Stoffel Vandoorne.
Furthermore, many young talented drivers without massive means have been leap-frogged by money loaded Stroll, a fact that has caused resentment in certain quarters.
Stroll senior is acknowledges, “Sure there is an element of jealousy. But I want to say that Lance is in Formula 1 on merit. He won wherever he competed.”
Indeed Lance has an impressive resume in the junior categories he has competed in, having won the Italian Formula 4 Championship in 2014, bagged the 2015 Toyota Racing Series title in New Zealand and is the 2016 FIA European Formula 3 Champion.
But the jump to Formula 1, in a year in which the cars are very complex and more challenging to drive, may have been a step too far and too soon. Perhaps a season of FP1 sessions before a full grand prix campaign may have been a better option for the teenager.
Stroll senior explained, “This is probably the toughest year for a youngster to start Formula 1. Even the teams do not always understand exactly what is going on. In Barcelona, the team was never able to find a good setup for the tyres. You can not ask an 18-year-old to do it alone.”
As for the big bucks that he has at his disposal, Lawrence says, “There is not a young driver on the F1 grid who has not been supported by millions. Take Sergio Perez… how do you think it happened for him?”
“Williams is progressing. We knew it would be a difficult year and they can count on a young driver who is also progressing. We’ll see what happens.”
“We must also look at the facts. The performance of Vandoorne with McLaren is an example who we can compare. There are two points to remember: the first is that Vandoorne is 25 years old, not 18 years old like Lance; the second is that the gap between Vandoorne and Fernando Alonzo is larger than that between Lance and Felipe Massa,” concluded Stroll senior.
Big Question: Is Formula 1 this year a step too soon for Lance?