After romping to the European F3 Championship crown in 2016, much was expected of the young Lance Stroll in his rookie season despite plenty of cynicism over him earning his Williams drive thanks to substantial family backing.
He had a rocky start to his maiden campaign with four successive DNFs, but gradually hit his stride and peaked with a podium in Baku. His wet-weather runs in Monza and Singapore were truly impressive and helped cement his position at the Grove team for 2018.
Now that he knows the tracks and the environment, he has nowhere to hide in his sophomore season against a hungry and quick teammate as he told MotorsportM8 in an exclusive interview during the Australian Grand Prix.
How do you look at your rookie season in 2017, and what were the biggest lessons you took away to apply to 2018?
Well, looking back at last year it was a great year – I definitely would have signed up for it. The points we scored, the podium [at Baku], those were some incredible accomplishments. I’m very proud of the job we’ve done and I just want to carry that momentum into this year.
Obviously there’s so much to improve on and a lot of strengths I can build on. Now with more experience, seeing every track for a second time, being at every Grand Prix for a second time, it will be a big advantage.
After spending 2017 with the experienced Felipe Massa, this year you have a new teammate in Sergey Sirotkin. Do you feel like the senior driver in the team, and what is your working relationship like with him? What advice are you able to give him?
Just like every rookie he’s going to have to settle in. Everyone’s going to have their own routine and way of doing things; just like everyone else he’ll have to find out what helps make him quick. I’m sure he has the right people around him to help get him there.
Having that was a big help to me last year. It was a tricky start, but I had a good group of people around me to support me and get me through those tough times.
This year’s FW41 created under Paddy Lowe’s leadership represents a fundamental change in philosophy for the team. Has it ironed out the problems of last year’s FW40 and where do you believe the team is placed in the midfield pecking order?
It’s tough to stay, it’s still early days. There’s definitely a lot to work on. I wouldn’t say ‘We’re not where we want to be’ because the season hasn’t even started yet, but there’s obviously a lot we can improve on. We’ll see this weekend where we stand and go from there.
How important is Robert Kubica’s influence and experience as the team’s reserve driver, particularly given you and Sergey have comparatively less experience?
Robert’s a great addition to the team. He has a lot of experience, he’s fought for championships, won races, so he knows how a top team is structured and operates. To have his input and have him around to help us improve the car and the whole system is huge.
The Albert Park circuit has a third DRS zone for this year’s race. How will this help improve the racing?
It’s no secret it’s very difficult to overtake around here, just due to the nature of the track. It will help overtaking to some extent but it will still remain very challenging.
Is this decision symptomatic of a circuit design issue or car design issue? What needs to change?
I definitely think a lot of the circuit layouts should be changed. If you look at some of the circuits like Canada and Azerbaijan, there’s an actual race happening which is entertaining for the fans and us drivers.
It’s not fun when the weekend is done after Saturday [qualifying] because everyone is going to cruise around and pretty much finish where they started unless there’s some big drama happening. I definitely believe there should be some work going on to change how some circuits are constructed.
Look at a track like Baku where there are long straights with 90-degree corners, and that creates a lot of overtaking and it was such an entertaining race. If we could create that every weekend, that would be more entertaining for the fans.
Baku was obviously a career highlight for you last year. What other circuits rank among your favourites?
From a racing perspective, I like Canada. It’s a track with a lot of overtaking opportunities and it creates strategic complexity. From a driving perspective, I like Monaco. It’s special track and it’s fun to drive.
You had an outing at the Daytona 24 Hours. With the likes of Fernando Alonso having more World Endurance Championship outings at Le Mans and Fuji this year, is this encouraging you to dovetail into racing more outside F1?
Definitely not. It was a one-time thing. Would I do it again in the future? We’ll see how I’m feeling. Right now F1 is taking up pretty much all my time and I’m not interested in extending my weekends any further.
The forecast for much of the weekend suggests we will have some rain. Looking at last year’s Grands Prix in Monza and Singapore where you were really quick, are you hoping for some wet weather here?
It will be nice to have some rain. In today’s Formula 1 you see cars separated by three seconds [a lap] and that is only increasing with the regulations advancing the teams with bigger development budgets that can pull ahead.
When it rains that changes things up a little bit. It allows the driver to drive around the car. It allows you to do something special and it equalizes the car a little bit.
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