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Doing his own thing - Q&A with Williams’ Lance Stroll

25 Nov 2016

It is no secret that his father’s bank balance has aided Lance Stroll’s motorsport career to date, but the Canadian has also done his talking on the track, winning championships in each of the last three seasons - including the prestigious F1 Euro title in 2016. Testing time in a 2014 Williams has helped him prepare for his F1 debut with the team next year, but will the 18-year-old really have what it takes? We caught up with him in Abu Dhabi…

Q: Lance, you will take over Felipe Massa’s Williams cockpit in 2017 - so you have pretty big shoes to fill. What is your program from now until the first time you get into the new car?

Lance Stroll: Physically, mentally and technically I will be working with the team. And also re-charge my batteries to be ready for a long 2017 season.

Q: Before the pre-season tests start at the end of February, you will again get in a 2014 car to help get used to that F1 feeling?

LS: Yes, I will have a couple of days - but so far the where and when is not yet confirmed.

Q: Have you so far picked up anything for your driving style from driving a Formula One car?

LS: I haven’t sat in the car a tremendous amount yet - just a few days - and from what I have seen it is a powerful machine. Actually it is much more powerful than what I have been used to in F3, but you get used to it. Actually it is just the next step - the next car in my career. It is a new challenge - and I am ready for it.

Q: When you think back, what was your first feeling about the transition from a Formula Three car to a Formula One car?

LS: Ha, in the end it is just another car with four wheels. This shouldn’t sound disrespectful, but I have been driving all sorts of different cars in my career so far. And yes, each category holds its own challenge - but you get used to it. Sure, a Formula One car is the best race car in the world - but then it’s just another car. The transition will be less and less difficult with every time I get into the car.

Q: We have seen in the past many young drivers being spectacular in lower categories and then coming into Formula One and simply fading away. What makes you think that you are ready to go from F3 straight into F1 - and succeed?

LS: When you have an opportunity like that at a young age there is nothing really that prepares you for Formula One, other than doing Formula One! (Laughs) GP2 is the step in between, but I think it cannot prepare you as well as getting into F1 and doing 21 races a season. If Williams didn’t think that I am ready I wouldn’t be here. And being in Abu Dhabi is to look and learn and get to know the people that I will be working with in the future, so that when I get to Melbourne it’s not all new to me. Sure, I will not know everything by the time we go to Melbourne, but I want to be prepared as well as possible. Williams is expecting me to improve throughout next season and I know that I will have a great team behind to do help me do that. My team mate Valtteri (Bottas) will also be a good benchmark for me, as he is with the team for some years now and has proven to be very fast. That all will help me to improve race by race.

Q: You come mainly fresh to the new 2017 regulations. Is that a good or bad thing?

LS: If you have F1 experience it always helps. But to a certain extent it is probably easier to come into F1 in a year of massive changes, as it is a new ball game for everybody - and from such a low point then for me. But I think it is easier next year than to come in a year later and having even more to catch up on. But these are all guesses. The real test will come in Melbourne.

Q: If you think back to sitting in the 2014 car for the first time, what was the most difficult thing to cope with? The sheer pace, the different handling of the tyres?

LS: A bit of everything. On sheer one-lap pace it’s just another car with a lot more power that gives you the chance to really push. Tyre management and fuel savings and all these things I am not used to, so this will require steep learning. But in the end it is not one thing that I have to learn - it is many things and many details.

Q: What about physical fitness? This has become a crucial factor over the years in F1 racing?

LS: Well, it’s not like you jump in any race car physically totally unprepared. We are all sportsmen and have a certain level of fitness. But yes, I am aware that F1 requires more - and I will address that over the winter.

Q: How many F1 procedures have you already trained for with the 2014 car?

LS: A lot of things in the 2014 car, but also in the simulator. But nothing beats a race situation. Whatever you prepare for, the reality is always different when the adrenalin level goes up. The tests in Barcelona sure will help, but the word is ‘test’ and not ‘race’! (Laughs)

Q: There are now two young drivers on the grid with completely different driving styles: Esteban Ocon with a very smooth style and Max Verstappen with a pretty aggressive style. Where do you fit in?

LS: Let’s wait and see. I am not thinking that I want to copy anybody on the grid. I want to do my thing - and not overthink too much. I want to be a quick driver - maybe the quickest one day. That’s it.

Q: How about pressure? Suddenly people are expecting things from you - much more than you have ever experienced before. And we have seen drivers crack under that weight of expectation. Ready for that?

LS: I don’t think that there are massive changes. I have been under pressure my whole life since I started racing. Yes, there are more people, more cameras - but that’s just superficial. The racing itself stays the same: you want to beat everybody. And without winning championships I wouldn’t be here. It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I am relishing every single moment.

Q: The F1 paddock is full of drivers and their ambitious fathers: Lewis and Anthony Hamilton, Max and Jos Verstappen, Kevin and Jan Magnussen, Jolyon and Jonathan Palmer. How much are you a product of your father’s ambitions?

LS: Well, without someone inspiring you at a young age you will not make it into F1. I watched F1 races with my dad early on Sunday mornings in Canada when I was very young. Then I got hooked. And he didn’t push me, because if I didn’t want to do it I wouldn’t have had success. When I look back at those days, it was fantastic sharing this passion for motorsport with my dad. Michael Schumacher was also a huge inspiration for me. He was my idol.

Q: It is no secret that your family is pretty well off. How much did that fact pave your way?

LS: Well, you need to have a sponsor - or a family that backs you from the age of eight until you eventually make it into F1 - if you get to F1. Without that I wouldn’t have been able to move from Canada to Europe and pursue my dream. But after that, no matter how much money you have, if you are not able to be quicker than the rest you don’t get anywhere, as you will not win races. Money cannot buy wins. Money can give you opportunities, as it is a very costly thing to race and there are plenty of young drivers who haven’t had that opportunity, even if they were very talented. But that’s the sport we are in. I have been working very hard and won championships - and without that I wouldn’t be here.