PaddockScout profiles Lance Stroll, the Canadian teenager who’s secured two titles in just over a year in single-seater racing and for whom a future in Formula 1 is beginning to look like a formality.
Date of birth: 29 October 1998 (age 16)
Currently: Italian F4 and Toyota Racing Series champion
Lance Stroll has long been in the limelight. As anybody would have been if they had been signed up by Scuderia Ferrari at the age of 11. That announcement came in 2010, a few days before Stroll’s home Grand Prix at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve – as if to highlight that the bar for an aspiring Prancing Horse star from Quebec couldn’t have been set much higher. While the other drivers in what was then the relatively new Ferrari Driver Academy were already in single-seaters, Stroll would be their long-term project.
After the usual route through karts, Stroll stepped up to cars last year and before he’d even turned 16, he was the first winner of the new Italian F4 Championship. Last weekend – one year and three weeks after his first car race – he wrapped up the Toyota Racing Series in New Zealand after a confident performance over the five-week competition. With plentiful family funds and the support of an F1 team, making it to the top level only seems like a matter of time.
A quick history (so far)
After winning the Florida Winter Tour in Rotax Mini Max in 2010, Stroll competed in European and international KF3 races for two years, finishing runner-up in the Andrea Margutti Trophy and fourth in the WSK Master Series, as well as winning the SuperNationals in TaG Junior in the USA. For 2013 he moved up to the senior KF class, with strong rookie results of fifth in the WSK Super Master Series and sixth in the World Championship.
Stroll’s planned step up to single-seaters for 2014 coincided with the creation of not only the Italian F4 Championship, but also the Florida Winter Series established by the FDA that ran in January and February. Stroll was outshone in the karting graduate stakes by Max Verstappen, but still performed well from the off. He scored podiums at the second and third rounds, and a maiden pole position at the fourth and final event, even though a heavy crash cut that short.
For Italian F4 – the inaugural campaign for the FIA’s new F4 blueprint – he lined up with FDA partners Prema Powerteam, and unsurprisingly the multiple F3 champions were the team to beat. Stroll won the opening race at Adria, before quickly adding two more victories at Imola and one each at Mugello and Magione.
His team-mate Brandon Maisano was a rival on track, but with the experienced Frenchman too old to be eligible for the main championship, Stroll had quickly put himself out of sight of the rest in the standings. His sixth and seventh wins of the year at round five at Vallelunga were enough to secure the crown, a little over three months after the season had begun. The following race weekend at Monza was the first where he failed to win, before he missed the Imola finale due to another injury.
With the Florida Winter Series canned despite a seemingly successful first run, Stroll headed to the Toyota Racing Series for his 2015 pre-season preparations. Once again he was the driver to beat from the start, winning twice at the opening Ruapuna event. Another win and two other podiums at Teretonga boosted his lead further, and although a clumsy collision in the opening race (for which he admitted fault) threatened his advantage, further misfortune lay ahead for his rivals.
Stroll certainly wasn’t the quickest driver over the rest of the campaign – not winning again until the final race, the New Zealand Grand Prix – but his consistency was superb, failing to finish inside the top six just twice from the 16 races. That allowed him to make the title a certainty at the penultimate race despite the strong pace of his M2 Competition team-mates Maisano and Arjun Maini.
Stroll will step up to the FIA F3 European Championship this year, and the performances of Esteban Ocon and Max Verstappen in 2014 have shown what an inexperienced youngster like Stroll can achieve in the series. The grid will be packed mostly with fellow rookies like his BRDC F4-winning counterpart George Russell and Formula Renault 2.0 graduate Charles Leclerc, as well as complete car racing newcomers Callum Ilott and Alessio Lorandi.
While that is certainly talented competition, Stroll’s record so far suggests he could be the one to come out on top of any rookie in-fight. One big plus on his side is that he stays with Prema, the best in the business at that level having taken drivers to the last four European F3 titles. His new team-mate Jake Dennis and Carlin’s Antonio Giovinazzi – a two-time race-winner last year – will start as the title favourites, but they would be wise to be wary of Stroll.
Talent and potential
As impressive as his quick run to the Italian F4 title was, it came with the caveats that he was only up against a field of fellow car racing newcomers, and that in Prema he had a team that was always going to get on top of the brand new car faster than their smaller rivals. Particularly so, with the help of Maisano. Then there’s the matter of resources, given that the Italian scene is known to be a place where most drivers are operating on a shoestring. While testing with the new car was limited given its fairly late arrival, it seems unlikely that Stroll wouldn’t have been gaining mileage in other machines beforehand. In a field made entirely of rookies, such practice can be a big advantage.
The Toyota Racing Series was a step up, because even though many of his rivals were similarly inexperienced, they had shown strongly elsewhere. However, Stroll was one the quickest when the series got underway, and turned his speed into results better than anyone else to build a comfortable buffer. Interestingly, his pace seemed to drop off after that, but it’s possible this was an intentional focus on points rather than wins, given that the TRS system strongly rewards finishes. After all, he doesn’t really need to impress anybody at the moment, just learn.
Intentional or not, it paid off handsomely and his ability to stay out of trouble when others couldn’t in a series full of bumps and scrapes showed very impressive maturity for a 16-year-old. F3 will be another big step forward, and the challenge there – as it ultimately is for any top driver – will be to pair speed and consistency together at the same time.
Formula 1 is an expensive game, and when it comes down to it, Stroll’s biggest asset won’t be what he achieves in the junior ranks, but rather the resources of his billionaire father. Lawrence Stroll has made his fortune in fashion retail, and is a racing enthusiast with a significant collection of Ferraris and the owner of the Mont Tremblant circuit. He’s recently been rumoured as a potential investor in a number of F1 teams – most notably Sauber, but also Marussia, Lotus and McLaren, and even the sport itself. When Lance is ready for F1, it seems likely that his father will buy into a smaller team, as he has done with Prema.
Many will question why Ferrari are supporting a driver with such a background, but he’s already proving his inclusion in their programme with on-track results alone. And with money being no object, there’s the potential for them to develop Stroll into the best driver he can possibly be.
Taken as a young driver with a ‘normal’ background, Stroll’s early single-seater performances would still make him a standout, particularly with his status as a Ferrari protege. His Italian F4 campaign was dominant, and the TRS title never really looked in doubt either, despite some highly-rated opposition.
Combining that on-track promise with his off-track background would have made F1 a future certainty, were it not for the new superlicence rules. The smaller F1 teams would probably be trying to sell him a seat for Melbourne next month if such a move was legal.
The new points requirements will act as a useful barrier to extremely well-heeled drivers that don’t have the results, but on Stroll’s current form, it’s unlikely to be an issue for him. With ten points already in the bank from Italian F4, a second-place finish in F3 this year would take him up to the magic 40 mark. And such a result is not impossible. The only thing stopping him then would be the fact that he doesn’t reach F1’s new minimum age of 18 until October 2016…
Stroll will therefore be forced, whatever his results, to develop further and do more than the required two years of single-seaters. But the FDA certainly hasn’t been guilty of rushing their drivers in the past anyway, and Stroll is ultimately with them to learn, not just make it to F1 as soon as possible.
It’s too early now to judge just how good he could become once he makes it to F1, but the early signs are certainly promising.