His huge potential
Make no mistake, Stroll is an extremely talented driver - no one wins three championships in three years in three different categories by accident. But perhaps what impressed Williams most was the way in which he won his latest title, the competitive FIA European Formula 3 championship - the series from which Max Verstappen also graduated straight to F1. From 30 races, Stroll took 14 wins (10 more than the next best driver), 14 poles, 11 fastest laps and 20 podiums to secure the coveted crown by a record margin - domination that cannot be ignored. That it came off the back of a tricky debut season in which he was involved in several high-profile accidents also showed his growing maturity and development which, when added to the intelligence and work ethic that those who’ve worked with him rave about, makes for a formidable package.
He’s already up to F1 speed
Not only has Stroll spent 2016 embedded within Williams in his role as development driver, the former Ferrari academy member has also taken part in a specially designed test programme since August, running a 2014-spec Williams at circuits around the world to get him up to speed. "The power is incredible," he said. "I'm learning about the car, the incredible downforce, DRS and tyre management, finding a rhythm and finding the limit. I'm becoming more comfortable and confident with each run.” Have Williams been pleased with what they’ve seen so far? You bet. "Lance has impressed our engineers with his maturity, talent and enthusiasm,” said deputy team principal Claire Williams. “We are pleased to be able to offer him the opportunity to show what he can do in Formula One. He is so capable, he's extremely intelligent and he puts the work in. To achieve what he has achieved in such a short space of time, I have total confidence he will get in the car and deliver."
Williams’ record with young drivers
Jenson Button, Nico Hulkenberg, Valtteri Bottas - it’s hard to argue with Williams’ track record for identifying young talent, introducing them to F1 and developing them as drivers. Expect them to foster a similarly nurturing environment for Stroll. And while you could argue ‘unknowns’ make any rookie driver a risk, the 18-year-old comes with the caveat that he also brings money to the team, which could be hugely significant in a season of huge technical change when development is expected to be rapid. It’s worth pointing out, however, that Williams say finances played no part in Stroll’s signing, with Claire Williams reiterating: "Money doesn't drive performance in the cockpit. You either have the talent or you don't - and I think Lance has proved that he has got that talent and he has done what he has done to earn his race seat in F1.”
…and the potential cons
When he takes to the grid in Australia next year, Stroll will become the second-youngest driver in F1 history, behind only Max Verstappen (whom the Canadian raced against in the Florida Winter Series back in 2014). But while the Dutchman quickly proved the old mantra ‘if you’re good enough, you’re old enough’ it shouldn’t be assumed that Stroll will adapt as rapidly or prove as big a sensation. It’s worth noting too that unlike Verstappen, Stroll won’t be alongside another rookie in his maiden season - he’ll be partnered with no lesser talent than Valtteri Bottas. He will, of course, be able to learn much from the Finn, but it will be a test of his confidence and maturity if he struggles to match him. The bottom line is that even if a driver is hugely talented and has a great CV, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re ready for F1 - just ask Romain Grosjean.
His relative inexperience
He may have shared a prototype sportscar in the Daytona 24-hours this year (finishing an impressive fifth), but in single-seater terms Stroll has never raced anything more powerful than an F3 car. Again, though, the same could be said of Max Verstappen before he stepped up to F1… Compared to the Dutchman, Stroll has actually packed a lot of racing into his two years in cars, although there have been questions about his racecraft - it was only last year that he was excluded from the results of an F3 race at Monza for triggering a big crash before being given a one-race ban for causing another collision at Spa, though he’s answered many of his critics this season. In terms of F1 experience, Stroll’s test programme will see him join the grid better prepared than most rookies in recent years, but it will surely take time before he’s able to offer Williams anything approaching the kind of technical feedback and direction that the outgoing Felipe Massa could, and that could hurt the team in the short term.
He’s entering F1 in a period of change
There’s an argument that coming into F1 in a season of technical change isn’t the worst thing for a rookie, because to a certain extent all of the drivers are starting afresh, and the newcomer won’t be confused or bogged down by comparisons to previous machinery or tyres. However, you could just as easily argue the exact opposite: that experience is a bed-rock from which to build upon, particularly as the changes being implemented in 2017 are designed not only to make the cars faster (broadening the step up from F3) but also to make them harder to drive, especially from a physical standpoint. They will have wider tyres and more downforce, and that means higher cornering speeds and G-forces, as well as increased braking loads - night and day, in other words, from F3, where races are also considerably shorter. Stroll will be thrown in at the deep end in a technical sense too - with a completely new package, there’ll be much more for the team to hone than there would have been had he graduated last year. Bottas will shoulder a lot of the burden, but it’ll be important for Williams to get Stroll up to speed on that front as soon as possible. But again, he says he is ready for the challenge and his pedigree suggests he’s more than capable.