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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

Lance Stroll interview: Williams driver keeping his feet on the ground after record-breaking debut season

Canadian teenager was confirmed as a William driver during last year's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Graham Caygill sat down with him to discuss his first 12 months in F1.

Lance Stroll became the youngest rookie driver to finish on the podium in F1 and the youngest to start a race on the front row. Christopher Pike / The National
Lance Stroll became the youngest rookie driver to finish on the podium in F1 and the youngest to start a race on the front row. Christopher Pike / The National

Twelve months ago in the Yas Marina Circuit paddock, Lance Stroll was a man much in demand.

The 18-year-old Canadian was surrounded by media in the Williams hospitality area as journalists from around the world fired questions at him following the news that he would be racing in Formula One in 2017 with the British team.

Despite testing for the team and being exposed to the spotlight already, the teenager admits that it did not immediately sink in what he was about to do.

“When I turned up to Melbourne then I realised that I am really doing this,” he said on Thursday of his debut in March as he prepares to complete his first season in F1 on Sunday at the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

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Stroll, now 19, goes into the race 11th in the drivers’ standings with 40 points, and he is content with how he has handled the step up to the top echelon of motorsport, having been European Formula 3 champion in 2016.

“I have taken it day by day,” he said. “I have enjoyed it. There have been some amazing highlights. Some moments I will remember forever.”

At the age of 18 years and 148 days, Stroll was the second youngest driver to ever start a grand prix, with only Max Verstappen younger.

As to whether he had any doubts about stepping up to the series at such a young age, he said: “Eventually I would have to step into Formula One for my rookie season.

“Whether it be this year or two years time, I would have do it eventually so we figured now was the time, or back in March that was the time, to step it up and I have no regrets.”

Stroll believes a big part of why he has been successful this season is that he has not been distracted by the glitz and glamour of Formula One, instead concentrating on his job of driving a fast car as quickly as possible.

When asked how his life had changed, he said: “I don’t think anything is really different. I am still myself, I live my life, I just race a car.

“I still have my life outside of Formula One. It has always been the same. Yeah, Formula One is travelling around the world and experiencing the world and that is the thing that has been new for me.”

Stroll’s biggest moment came in June when he became the youngest rookie driver to finish on the podium in a F1 event when he was third in Azerbaijan.

He is the only driver not in a Mercedes-GP, Ferrari or Red Bull Racing car to finish in the top three so far this season.

“It was a great race,” Stroll said. “It was an amazing result. Finishing on the podium in my first year, I never expected that. It just fell into place. We worked hard. We were solid all weekend and we came away with a podium.”

Stroll's other achievement came in Italy when he became the youngest driver to start a grand prix on the front row after claiming second in qualifying at Monza in September.

“I love that, the satisfaction that you feel when you do something incredible and that is why I compete,” he said. “The feeling of accomplishment and glory after doing achieving something is beyond anything else.

“It is the best feeling in the world and I have been fortunate to feel it a few times this year with Monza and Baku. Those were dreams come for true for me.”

The Williams car has not had the pace of the front-running cars, and the team are fifth in the constructors’ standings, making Stroll's qualifying efforts in heavy rain in Italy all the more impressive.

“The rain, the wet conditions, it kind of equalises everything, though not completely,” he said. “But you don’t have all those gaps between all the cars you have in the dry and it is an opportunity to capitalise on and that is exactly what we did.”

Another proud moment for Stroll was finishing ninth and scoring his first championship points in Montreal, Canada, at his home race in June.

“It was unbelievable,” he said. “Competing in my home town at a grand prix I was watching when I was three years old. It was massive and a dream come true. I was so happy after the race.”

Stroll has been back to Montreal a couple of times during the season and is looking forward to spending time there after Sunday’s race as the off-season begins, with the 2018 season starting in Australia again in March.

There are rumours Stroll might race at Daytona 24 Hours sportscar race in the United States in January, althought he made clear he was anxious to have sometime away from behind the wheel.

“I am not sure what my winter is going to look like,” he said. “I will definitely have a lot of downtime. Whether I do a race or not in the winter, I am still going to take a lot of time off in the winter and enjoy many other things other than driving a car.”