The Williams team has acknowldged it will likely have to show patience with new signing Lance Stroll, but is confident in the long-term potential of Formula 1’s latest teen-aged racer.
“Of course he’ll make mistakes and we’ll be repairing cars. These things happen as part of the process,” the team’s chief technical officer Pat Symonds told Reuters of the 18-year-old Canadian, who will replace the retired Felipe Massa in the Williams line-up next year.
Stroll was a lightning rod for criticism in European F3 in 2015 after a series of heavy accidents, but rebounded in that series this year to claim the championship in dominant fashion, winning 14 races and an equal number of poles.
“He hasn’t won that championship with anything other than a lot of skill and maturity,” said Symonds. “For a guy that young he’s driven really well in pretty well every condition. He’s raced well, he’s led at the front. He’s come through the field a bit, he’s driven well in the wet. He is the real deal.”
Stroll’s selection may have raised eyebrows when it was announced last month, but it’s hardly the first time the Williams team has gone outside the box in driver choices. In 1996 it tapped Jacques Villeneuve as an F1 rookie after the French-Canadian claimed the CART IndyCar championship and won the Indianapolis 500. He proved a frontrunner immediately, claiming the world championship with the team in his second season. (Stroll, ironically, will be Canada’s first F1 driver since Villeneuve retired in 2006.) The team went on to take calculated risks with rookies Jenson Button (from F3 in 2000) and Valtteri Bottas (from GP3 in 2013), who will now play the role of veteran to the precocious rookie, although he too is confident Stroll can deliver the goods.
“There are plenty of things to learn when you jump from any category,” the Finn said. “There are many more people in the team, there is a lot for you to learn technically from the car, so I will help in the ways I can. He has plenty of talent – I am sure he will do fine.”
The veteran Symonds, who has worked with F1 legends like Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher, told Reuters that he doesn’t think age ought to be a significant factor in deciding who is ready for grand prix racing.
“You don’t have to be well on your way to a pension before you get in these things,” he said.