After what on the surface appeared a somewhat lacklustre start to his rookie campaign, many dismissed Williams’ Lance Stroll as another F1 wannabe. But then came his first points, on home soil, immediately followed by his first podium and a further top-ten finish. It all adds up to 12th in the standings, right behind veteran team mate Felipe Massa. We caught up with Stroll for an exclusive chat about ‘the story so far’…
Q: Lance, half your rookie season done - what has been the good, the bad and the ugly so far?
Lance Stroll: Ha, lately it’s been only good. The last few races have been my own personal fairy tale. Being in the points was fantastic – being on the podium was just awesome. Yes, there have been unlucky moments at the start of the season with things out of our control – technical issues, people having contact with other people – and that has cost us points.
Q: What about the ‘ugly’?
LS: I like to refer to it as ‘frustrating’. And that clearly was Bahrain. I did not finish the first two races, as I had a technical problem in Australia and the issue with Sergio Perez in China. And then again something in Bahrain – three in a row. That looked like a series. That was frustrating, as it had looked as if we could manoeuvre ourselves into a position to score some points.
Q: When Williams signed you, some people immediately wrote you off as ‘a rich man’s son’ – and for them the first couple of races seemed to confirm it. Then came Canada, Baku and Austria. Do you feel that people see you differently now – that there is a rise in respect?
LS: No, because as I see it I didn’t come into F1 only because of the money. I was the youngest ever driver to win the F3 championship, with a massive margin over the runner-up. These are the facts. Yes, it is easy to judge from only what you see from the outside, but the people who are really close to me and who are important to me never doubted what I am capable of doing – and we have shown the rest!
Q: Did the Canada result come at the right moment for you? From a mental point of view?
LS: Not so much. If it comes earlier or later… you almost cannot influence it. But I knew that I was capable of doing results so I wasn’t panicking, as I knew that it was all a matter of time. But to really do it in Canada, that was great. A great day, the home race.
Q: Have Canada, Baku and Austria made things easier for you?
LS: No, because F1 is never easy. It is always challenging.
Q: It’s not made it easier in terms of self-confidence?
LS: No, nothing to do with it. It is much more about other things: me improving the way I drive or me working with the team. We have changed a lot on the car since Baku and that helped me a lot in my performance.
Q: Your driving style in Baku, the cold bloodedness with which you seized chances – even with Bottas grabbing second from you on the line – suggested a different Lance to the one just a few races before…
LS: …yes, that is true. This is what I meant with improving the way I drive and working with the team. And the car changed a lot in Baku. I went with a much different set-up and that helped me a lot.
Q: And you became the second youngest podium finisher of all time. When you look at the list of names you are in excellent company: Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso, Max Verstappen and so on…
LS: You said it - and it proves that I can be here! (Laughs) I did it with a Williams – not a Mercedes!
Q: On the drivers’ parade in Baku you were in intense conversation with Lewis Hamilton during the lap on the truck. Lewis hardly ever socialises in that situation. Did he give you some important advice that did the trick in the race?
LS: No, no. We are just good friends. We talked about funny things – no racing stuff. I like Lewis, he is a cool guy. We are buddies. We were talking about things outside the racing.
Q: And his former physiotherapist is now yours…
LS: Yes, Ville (Vihola) is now with me.
Q: Does it help having a guy as experienced as Ville in your corner?
LS: Of course. It is very important who you have around you. I am very happy with the crew of people that is my entourage.
Q: What is the most important thing he has been showing you?
LS: Training, of course, but then also downtime - to unwind is also equally important. We get along very well.
Q: Silverstone – like Austria– was a track you already knew. Does that really help, or does the sensation of a new track sharpen the senses more?
LS: I think that it sure helps to go back to track for the second time – it is a bit like getting back into a comfort zone. But then it should not make any difference for a driver where he is racing – on a new track or in his ‘living room’.
Q: Formula 1 made a big splash with a showcase in the centre of London last week…
LS: …and it was awesome. It was fantastic for the fans and great for us drivers. It was definitely something different and I honestly hope for more such days in the future. It was great for Formula 1 to get the sport out to a public that is not necessarily a fan. I hope that many we saw in central London came up to Silverstone on the weekend. Then I would say ‘Mission accomplished’ – and in cool style!
Q: The summer break is almost upon us. What are your plans? Active or lazy? Gym or beach?
LS: Bit of both. I also like getting around, travelling with my friends. I think it is important to disconnect from racing for a couple of days. There is more to life than racing. But then jump back with full throttle, as right now racing is very much my life.