Three races into the new F1 season and 18 year old Lance Stroll is still looking for a break. He’s failed to finish all three races and has completed just 52 of the 170 racing laps.
It’s prompting some to question whether his move straight to F1 from FIA F3 was the right thing to do or whether he would have benefitted from more preparation time and experience; for example racing against Charles Leclerc and his ilk in what looks like a terrific FIA F2 series this year.
Max Verstappen made the move straight from F3 to F1 and thrived, but he is an exceptional talent with an old head on young shoulders. Should Stroll have had more time to mature, so that he could come in and show what he can do with better odds of success?
With so much to learn and F1 being an unforgiving environment, the danger is that the pressure of racing in a car expected to score points at every round as well as not having the F1 database to ‘make things happen’ for himself, will begin to tell.
By virtue of his backing and his father’s influence in F1, he is more in control of his situation than some of the Red Bull juniors, like Jaime Alguersuari, who were pitched into the fray too soon, as teenagers by Dr Marko, on a strictly ‘sink or swim’ basis.
But F1 is not a finishing school, as the saying goes, and he doesn’t want to be in this position any longer than is absolutely necessary.
He’s clearly a good driver; whatever the tales doing the rounds of the advantages his wealth has brought him with facilities and developments not available to other drivers in karting and F3, he won the championship comprehensively and has always had his eye on establishing himself as an F1 driver.
So where does it go from here?
How’s it been going, Lance?
He managed to qualify 10th in China, 7/10ths slower than team mate Felipe Massa, while in Bahrain he trimmed that to 6/10ths and lined up 12th. The races have been the real problem, with a brake problem after 40 laps in Australia, then a collision in China at the start and another in Bahrain which was judged by stewards to be 100% Carlos Sainz’ fault, but which wrecked Stroll’s race.
He had made an early stop and was running at the back when Sainz hit him.
Speaking to F1.com at the Bahrain test he said, “What I really want is the end of that streak of poor luck – then I think many things are possible.
“I am still watching and learning. It’s not so much the difficulty of Formula One, but the difference of Formula One versus everything that I have done so far. When you come here the tyres seem almost a closed book and you have to open it and learn to read it. Then, of course, you have to learn the little tricks of the trade – for example, what it takes to makes the tyres happy. And that is why a day like Tuesday is so important – when you are not limited on runs. It is working round to getting to the maximum with my capability as a racing driver.
“Surviving in F1 I would say is 90 percent mental capability. When you are not mentally able to get over things you are in the wrong sport.
“There is nothing you can compare these cars with. It’s like nothing that you’ve ever been driving, so it is also much about the right technique – how to handle these cars right. They are real beasts!”
What’s the conclusion then?
A nice clean weekend in Sochi or Spain, with some points to settle the nerves and allow him to bed into his new role as a Grand Prix driver are what is required.
He certainly has the car for it; the Williams is at the front of the midfield pack, with a performance advantage over the Force India, Haas, Renault and Toro Rosso cars, although the Renault has started to look very quick in qualifying recently, but not matched that in race pace.
So it’s all there to be done and in many ways it needs to be done as Williams is a team in recent years that has been used to finishing in the top five in the Constructors’ Championship. It was 3rd in 2014. They cannot finish there with only one car scoring points against rivals like Force India, Toro Rosso and Renault. The pressure is going to come onto Stroll soon.
Massa has performed well so far, with two sixth places giving Williams fifth place in the table.
But it’s hard for him without a yardstick like Valtteri Bottas alongside him. He doesn’t have the pace to challenge the Ferrari, Red Bull and Mercedes cars and so is set for a lonely year of expecting to be around 7th in qualifying and race unless something happens to any of the top six drivers or one of the midfield rivals, like Renault, gains significant performance through development.
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