Canadian Lance Stroll will arrive in Montreal for his first home grand prix as a Formula One driver this weekend (11 June) but his rookie season thus far has failed to go to plan.
Stroll is Formula One’s newest teenage sensation-to-be, debuting for Williams in Australia this season at just 18 years and 148 days years old.
He arrived in Formula One after mercilessly crushing his competition in European Formula Three in 2016 to win the series by a mammoth 187 points — but F3 was the culmination of a necessarily truncated junior career for his age.
The Canadian had accumulated just three full years of car racing before making the leap to F1, even bypassing the sport’s favoured GP3 and GP2 feeder categories to take his seat at Williams.
His talent behind the wheel and the deep pockets of his billionaire father, the Canadian investment tycoons Lawrence Stroll, have fuelled his meteoric rise in equal parts, but the pair’s haste to contribute to the in-vogue motorsport attitude of debuting junior drivers early has left Lance lacking crucial racecraft.
In none of his six races has Stroll scored points. Twice he was let down by his car, but twice he crashed out in avoidable accidents and twice he was simply too far off the pace to have an impact.
By far his most troubling performance was at the Spanish Grand Prix, a race often considered a litmus test for car and driver given the sport’s decades of experience at Barcelona.
There Stroll was embarrassed by senior teammate Felipe Massa, who came from more than 17 seconds behind the Canadian with 29 laps to go to finish almost 12 seconds ahead at the flag — an inexplicable difference of one second per lap. Stroll finished the race in last place.
In 2017 Williams is competing to be the fourth-best team on the grid, but its campaign thus far has relied solely on the 20 points scored by Massa, the driver it forced into retirement to make way for Stroll before Valtteri Bottas’s Mercedes defection granted the Brazilian a reprieve.
The team languishes in sixth place and a distant 33 points away from its fourth-place target as a result, and it is at risk of slipping further down the championship table.
“He’s a young kid, people forget that,” deputy team principal Claire Williams told Autosport ahead of the race. “We always said from the outset that he needed some time to familiarise himself.
“I know he’ll be looking forward to going to Canada, but there will be a huge amount of pressure on his shoulders, and it’s a difficult track.”
The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is indeed one of the sport’s most intimidating circuits, but it is one at which Williams, with its low-downforce aerodynamics and class-of-the-field Mercedes engine, has excelled.
The team has scored two podiums and two top-four qualifications in the last three years, ramping up expectation on the teenager to score his first points this weekend.
There is arguably no better environment than Williams for Stroll to grow as a driver in Formula One — its welcoming atmosphere is credited for Massa’s post-Ferrari career revival — but the question of whether Stroll’s rapid promotion was best for his career will hang heavy on his season should it remain stalled.
The Canadian dollars flowing into team coffers will ameliorate a poor debut to some extent, but with the driver line-ups among Williams’s midfield rivals the strongest of recent times, Stroll may not have the luxury of time to validate his early progression to Formula One.