The Williams Martini Racing team has today finally confirmed the signing of European F3 champion Lance Stroll, whose promotion to a full-time race seat from Reserve driver with the Grove based squad, has been in the offing for some time.
It is believed the only reason his introduction to the squad was not announced sooner, is due to the fact he was not yet eighteen, and this may have called issues for title sponsors Martini. The Canadian will replace the retiring Felipe Massa.
The team also confirmed that current driver Valtteri Bottas, who has been a part of the team since 2010, will also be remaining with the squad in 2017. The Finn is yet to take a win during his time with the squad, and would no doubt like to achieve that feat with a team that gave him his big break.
Stroll’s billionaire father is believed to have offered a sum in the region of $35 million dollars to allow his son this opportunity, a figure the British team would have been crazy to ignore considering the current financial strains felt by many F1 teams.
The Canadian, who turned eighteen on October 29, was crowned European F3 champion after winning the series in dominating fashion. The Prema Powerteam driver took fourteen victories in total, which is almost half of the races contested in 2016, carving out an imperious 175 points lead over his rivals in the process.
It was a fantastic demonstration of skill and superiority over a field of drivers not considered to be of the talented pedigree of recent standards however. This should take nothing away from the fantastic effort and determination on display from Stroll though, who won the last five races of the season in succession, completing a hatrick of victories at the final round of the season.
The Canadian adds this championship victory to the Italian F4 title he claimed back in 2014, and speaking at this morning’s announcement expressed how grateful he was to Williams, for allowing him this opportunity.
“To be racing in Formula One in 2017 is incredible, I can’t thank Williams enough for showing faith in my ability. Racing in F1 was something I dreamt about as a young kid.
“When I began karting seriously, F1 was then the ultimate goal and especially when I started racing cars in 2014.
“The 2017 season is going to be a big learning curve for me, but I’m eager to absorb everything Williams can share with me so that I improve.
“I’ll be taking things on a race-by-race, lap-by-lap basis and hopefully progress with experience like I did when I entered Formula 4 and then Formula 3.
“I believe contesting the FIA European Formula 3 Championship for the past two years has prepared me well for the step up. There are many elements for me to learn and I’m still young.
“I’ve been experiencing a 2014-spec Williams FW36 since August, which has gone very well. The power is incredible. I’m learning about the car, the incredible downforce, DRS and tyre management, finding a rhythm and finding the limit. I’m becoming more comfortable and confident with each run.
“I’ve enjoyed success in karting, F4, Toyota Racing Series and most recently F3 – winning every category I’ve competed in – so I believe I have earned a shot in F1. I’m very thankful to everyone who has helped me to reach this level.”
There is no doubt the Canadian youngster is a talented driver, but whether he has the required experience to make a successful step up to F1, is still to be determined. Max Verstappen has shown it is possible, but not every young driver given such an opportunity will have received the development the Dutchman was privy to during his upbringing, thought the ever open pockets of the 18-year-old’s father, will have helped in that regard.
Stroll’s development role at Williams, which he acquired back in November 2015, has seen him take part in an extensive simulator programme for the Grove based squad, in a programme similar to that enjoyed by Bottas in his early years with the team, and having learnt from one of the best, will he now go on to beat him?
Deputy Team Principal Claire Williams clearly believes he can, and is excited to see what this pairing will achieve for the team in the future.
“I’m delighted to confirm that Valtteri will be racing for Williams once again next year, and be joined by Lance Stroll.
“Valtteri is a much-loved member of the team and his talent is unquestionable, so for him to use that experience to help lead the team forward is exciting. He has played a pivotal role in the team’s turnaround since 2014 and we are looking forward to continuing the strong relationship we have with him into the future.
“Lance joined the Williams Young Driver Programme at the end of 2015 and has impressed our engineers with his maturity, talent and enthusiasm.
“We are pleased to be able to offer him the opportunity to step up and show what he can do in Formula One, after proving a dominant force in all the categories he has raced in so far.
“He is still young, and we looking forward to seeing him develop as a driver. Williams has a great record of introducing young drivers to Formula One, who have achieved great results, and we hope this will be the start of a long successful career for Lance as well.
“As a team, we continue to push forward in our goal to win races and championships, and believe this exciting fresh combination will put us in a strong position to deliver on our future targets.”