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FEATURE – LANCE STROLL – A STROLL IN THE PARK

Lance Stroll made his Grand Prix debut in Melbourne

Lance Stroll made his Grand Prix debut in Melbourne

Lance Stroll made his GP debut with Williams in Melbourne – and the Canadian is keen to prove he is not just another ‘chequebook racer’

By DAN KNUTSON

BILLIONAIRE LAWRENCE Stroll reportedly spent US$80 million to fund the racing career of his son Lance Stroll who will make his Formula 1 racing debut with Team Williams in the Australian Grand Prix at the end of March.

Critics, cynics and some people who are just plain jealous maintain that Stroll only made it to the top level of motor sport because his father paved his way with cash. He’s used to all that by now.

“There are two ways it works,” he explains. “You need to have a sponsor or a family member who helps you from eight-years-old to whatever age you arrive to Formula 1. Without that I would not have been able to move from Canada to Europe to pursue my dream.

“Money doesn’t get you wins, it just allows you to race, which is true. You can’t deny that. It is a very expensive sport we are in. There are plenty of drivers who haven’t had that opportunity who are very talented, which is really unfortunate – that is just the sport we are in.”

He has a point. Red Bull, Mercedes, McLaren, Ferrari, Renault and, in the past, companies like Elf and Marlboro, have all helped young drivers – everyone from Alain Prost to Daniel Ricciardo – to get to Formula 1.

“I worked really hard,” Stroll says. “I went on to win those championships and without those championships I wouldn’t be here. I could have all the money in the world and finished last and that wouldn’t have put me where I am today.”

Lance Stroll talking with Williams veteran Felipe Massa

Lance Stroll talking with Williams veteran Felipe Massa

So how did Stroll get to where he is today?

Born in Montreal on 29 October 1998, he got his first taste of speed at age five in a go-kart purchased by his father. At age eight he won his first race. In 2008 he won the Canadian Championship. He continued to win races and championships in North America, and he competed in international competition as well. He became a member of Ferrari’s Driver Academy in 2010.

He graduated to car racing and single seaters in the Florida Winter Series in 2014, and the following year he won the Italian Formula 4 championship with seven victories in 18 starts. Next he won New Zealand’s Toyota Racing Series with four wins in 16 starts early in 2015.

He moved to the European Formula 3 Championship with the Prema Powerteam in 2015. Prema is a premier outfit, and Lawrence Stroll bought it and invested in it so as to give his son the best platform possible to advance his career. Lance’s first season saw one victory and several heavy crashes, but things went a lot better in 2016 when he earned the title with 14 wins, 14 poles, 13 fastest laps and 20 podiums in 30 races.

“Formula 3 is a really good car that teaches you how to drive,” Stroll notes. “There is not so much power but that is why it is a very complicated car to drive because you have to find that edge and you can’t really go over it and you can’t be under it.”

Lance Stroll competing in European F3

Lance Stroll competing in European F3

Math not money earned him enough points to qualify for an FIA super license that allows him to compete in Formula 1.

“Money can’t buy wins,” Stroll says. “If you don’t have the super license – which requires winning championships like F4, F3, or maybe GP2 if you don’t win F3 – if you don’t get those 40 points which I have done you don’t get into Formula 1.”

A month after Stroll won the Formula 3 championship Williams confirmed that he would race for the team. Williams Deputy Team Principal Claire Williams insists that money did not earn Stroll his seat. It is a wealthy enough team that it does not have to take on pay drivers. On the other hand, the team is not going to turn down any contributions. For example, Valtteri Bottas’ sponsor Wihuri paid Williams 8 million euros [A$11m] a season.

Stroll is already getting plenty of Formula 1 experience thanks to his father funding a full-fledged test programme with Williams. Using a 2014 F1 car, which is allowed by the rules, the test team has literally been around the world giving Stroll the chance to drive a F1 car on major tracks. He has also been spending time in the simulator back at the Williams factory in England.

“I am prepared,” he says. “Any little bit you can get you have to take, so the team have been very cooperative on preparing me as much as possible for 2017. We have new tyres, a new aero package new everything. So it is going to be very different, but it is definitely good making a step from a ‘14 car to the ‘17 car rather than going right from Formula 3 to the ‘17 car.”
Stroll is part of the new young generation in Formula 1. He’s 18-years-old. Only Max Verstappen, who was 17 years and 166 days old, was younger when he made his debut in Australia in 2015.

“Max is definitely an example,” Stroll says. “Not to me but to the sport and that that step from Formula 3 to Formula 1 is possible, and that young drivers are capable of competing in Formula 1. But everyone has their own unique situation. They go to different teams, so it is too hard to compare just like that. I am just going to focus on myself and do the best I possibly can.”

How has Stroll found the transition from a 2016 Formula 3 car to a 2014 Williams Formula 3 machine?

“At the end it is just another car on four wheels,” he says. “I have been driving all sorts of different cars all my life: karting, Formula 4, Formula 3 and now Formula 1. There are always challenges in each category, new things to learn, and every step you make always feels like it is the biggest step you have done in your life. The first impression was very powerful, a lot of grip and basically the best car in the world, which is what it is. It is the top of the leagues, but it is another car with challenges and things to learn. So I am just getting better and more used to it every time I get in.”

“We have a lot of work to prepare for the first race and experience and all that,” he adds. “It is not like I will arrive in Melbourne and know everything and that is my season. It is a long-term project. Williams expects me to improve throughout the season.
“I have a great team behind me to help me do that, and I have a great teammate [Felipe Massa] who is a great benchmark for me. He has many years with the team, has proven to be very fast and will help me a lot throughout the year. I don’t want to just set any expectations or set the bar too high. I will progress race by race and that is what I am going to do: I am going to take it race by race and lap by lap.”

Lance Stroll spent time learning with Williams F1 in 2016

Lance Stroll spent time learning with Williams F1 in 2016

Pat Symonds, Williams’ former Technical Director, says that Stroll is the best prepared rookie to come into Formula 1 since fellow Canadian Jacques Villeneuve made his debut with Williams in 1996 in Melbourne. Villeneuve qualified on the pole and led much of the race until he was slowed by an oil leak and finished second.

Villeneuve did some 10,000km of testing in 1995 and 1996 Williams Formula 1 cars before he made his debut. He already had an IndyCar championship and an Indy 500 win under his belt, so he had much more experience in relevant cars compared to Stroll. Furthermore, the Williams back then was the best car on the grid compared to last year’s Williams which was only good enough to take fifth place in the constructors’ championship.

Nobody is expecting Stroll to emulate Villeneuve in his Formula 1 debut, but it will be interesting to see how the young Canadian fares and compares to teammate Massa and the rest of the drivers. It will be Stroll’s performance on the track, not his father’s fortune, which will give the answers lap by lap and race by race.

Lance Stroll with Lawrence Stroll and Jean Todt

Lance Stroll with Lawrence Stroll and Jean Todt

SELF-MADE BILLIONAIRE

LAWRENCE STROLL was listed at number 722 on Forbes’ list of billionaires last year. He is a self-made man.

Born in Montreal in 1959, Lawrence Sheldon Strulovitch [he later changed his sir name to Stroll] started out working in his father’s clothing business.

Stroll was instrumental in bringing clothing brands Pierre Cardin and Ralph Lauren to Canada. He and partner Silas Chou invested in and helped build Tommy Hilfiger into a billion dollar business. They also bought shares in luxury goods company Michael Kors and then cashed out in 2011.

A keen racing and car enthusiast, Stroll has a large collection of cars, mostly Ferraris, including a 330 P4, a 1962 250 GTO, and a 1967 Ferrari GTB/4 S NART Spider bought at action in 2013 for a then record US$27.5 million. And if he ever needs a place to drive them he also owns the Circuit Mont-Tremblant north of Montreal.

Stroll and his wife live in Geneva. They have two children: Lance and Chloe. He has a net worth of US$2.4 billion, more than enough to fund his son’s racing career and climb to Formula 1.

Lance believes he is a product of both his own passion for racing and that of his father.

“Without someone inspiring you and someone allowing you to watch the races when you are a kid I think that you don’t just get into it,” he says. “You have to have someone who shows you what it is all about, who turns on the grands prix on Sunday morning, and who enjoys racing.

“I wouldn’t say be pushed me, as that is the wrong word, but if I wouldn’t want to do it he wouldn’t want me to do it. It really is my choice to do what I am doing. We obviously share a passion; we are big motorsport fans and just love racing, and that definitely is the reason why we are here.”

Peter Ryan was the first Canadian Grand Prix driver

Peter Ryan was the first Canadian Grand Prix driver

PRIVATE RYAN

LANCE STROLL will be the 14th man to race in a Grand Prix carrying the colours of Canada.

Many will know the names of other Canadians to have raced in Formula 1 – Villenueve is three of them, and two of those were named Jacques – but who was the first man to race for Canada in a GP?

Peter Ryan was actually born in Philadelphia but the downhill skier sought Canadian citizenship when he wanted to compete for the Great White North as a teenager. But a crash that broke both his legs left him unable to ski at the level he wanted, so he turned to motor racing.

It did not take long to show that he was good – very good. He won the 6-hour Sundown Grand Prix in a Porsche at Harewood with co-driver Roger Penske, and from there he entered a Formula Libre race at Watkins Glen. He started the race fifth – the drivers ahead of him were named Moss, Brabham, Bonnier and Gendebien – and chased the leaders until he stopped with engine problems after 56 laps.

In 1961 he won the very first Canadian GP, then held for Sportscars, ahead of Pedro Rodriguez (Ferrari 250 TR) and Stirling Moss. Both Ryan and Moss were driving similar Lotus 19s; the Canuck won by a lap.

That led to an invitation to compete at the ’61 US GP at Watkins Glen in October. He qualified 13th in an ex-works J Wheeler Autosport Lotus 18 Climax, and finished ninth. Such was the impact he made that he was invited to race in Europe by Lotus, and upon arrival he was ‘loaned’ to Ian Walker Racing. In a car he built himself – Colin Chapman thought it was a good idea – he immediately made his presence felt, beating Peter Arundell in a works Lotus for Formula Junior honours at Mallory Park.

He was still quick in Sportscars, and after standout drives at Daytona and Sebring, and was invited to race at Le Mans by Ferrari’s semi-works NART team. With co-driver John Fulp, Ryan was in contention until he crashed into an earth bank and retired, but not before exhausting himself, trying for two hours to dig the 250 TR out.

A few weeks later Ryan lined up at the Coupe Internationale des Juniors Formula Junior race at Rheims. After battling for the lead with Frank Gardner, John Love and Bill Moss, Ryan clashed with the latter. Both Ryan’s Lotus and Moss’s Gemini left the track at high speed and while Moss was unhurt, Ryan’s car landed on top of him and he was seriously injured. He was evacuated to a Paris hospital and after lying in a coma for 30 hours, died the next day. He had just turned 22, and was interred at Mont Tremblant, alongside his father.

Ryan was inducted into the Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame in its inaugural ‘class’ in 1993. Others inducted that year include John Cannon, Eppie Wietzes and Gilles Villeneuve.

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