Williams rookie Lance Stroll’s debut in Formula One testing at Barcelona didn’t exactly go to plan. On his first day in the FW40 he spun into the gravel after just 12 laps, costing his team the rest of the day. His second day was more successful, with 99 laps completed, but it would also end early. He crashed into the barrier on his 100th lap of the day. His misadventures cost the team an entire day’s running that they desperately needed.
It has to be said that this year is possibly the most difficult season for a rookie to earn his stripes in a long time. The cars are approaching 1,000 horsepower while remaining torquey as ever, downforce is significantly increased and the grid is strong from top to bottom. While many have questioned Stroll’s readiness to race in Melbourne, many others have spewed their dislike of him all over social media. Twitter became a firestorm when he crashed the FW40 for the second time. Despite his inauspicious start, I say give Stroll a chance.
First, Stroll seems to know his place in the paddock. He has presented a professional demeanor despite the beginning of his career not going to plan. When asked about his two off-road excursions he could have been defensive or testy. He spoke of the positives, displaying maturity that many of us did not possess at 18 years old.
Stroll also knows the value of having Felipe Massa as his teammate for the season. Back in February he spoke to this point:
“I am really am looking forward to Felipe to being a mentor to me,” Stroll said. “I think it’s really important to have two drivers who want to push the team in the right direction rather than fighting.”
“It’s good to have that competitiveness in the team and that urge to want to beat the driver next to you, but at the same time I think we’re gonna respect each other.”
Second, veteran drivers have shown empathy for Lance. Last week, Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton said the following regarding Stroll:
“I feel for him in the sense it’s the toughest year to come in to Formula 1,” Hamilton said. “It’s to be expected, it’s not an easy car to drive at all. It’s so much faster through the corners.”
“You can’t just jump in and drive from no experience at all to be consistent and not spin, and that’s to be expected. It’s actually good for him to go through this now rather than the first race.”
Nico Hulkenberg agreed with Hamilton:
“It is much more difficult for rookies to come into Formula 1 with these cars.”
Hulkenberg’s Renault teammate Jolyon Palmer also gave his thoughts regarding Stroll:
“He is only 18 and there are a lot of physical demands in Formula One,” said Palmer. “I am not sure you have physically finished developing at 18 and that is tough.”
“I would say it is unfortunate the timing Lance has come into Formula One because the cars are so much quicker this year, but it is only one week and if he has a great test next week and gets on top of it no one will care that he has crashed.”
I feel that if multiple drivers are saying that he needs time to develop, their opinion is more valid than that of a keyboard warrior. Which leads in to my next point:
Lance Stroll is facing immense scrutiny, more than most veterans on the grid dealt with. When Fernando Alonso, for example, made his debut with Minardi in 2001, there was no Twitter or Facebook to share videos and information immediately. If he crashed at testing, it would have been a line towards the end of a recap article. What Lance faces today, however, is instant information and feedback. The following photo was seen around the world within minutes of the crash:
The backlash came in swift and strong online. “Stroll doesn’t belong”, “Daddy’s money well spent” etc. Search Twitter if you’re curious as to how ugly things have gotten. My concern with the instant nature of our lives today is that he won’t be given room to grow. Every move will be under an intense microscope. Imagine doing your day job with your boss standing over your shoulder at each moment, evaluating how you spend each second of your day. Do you feel discomfort? Anxiety? Frustration? Now multiply the intensity by a thousand and add in the high stakes that are Formula One. Am I saying this is wrong? No, this is now the way of the world. I am just acknowledging that his development won’t be any easier unless he is well insulated from social media and public opinion.
At the end of the day, am I a fan of Lance Stroll? No. But I do know that Williams chose him for a reason more than money. Former Williams Chief Technical Officer Pat Symonds spoke highly of him in February:
“Lance excelled at having accidents. Some of them were really quite scary, but the real test came this year, to see if he had learned from that, settled down and would race well. The answer to that is, undoubtedly, yes. You can have all the advantages in the world, but you still have to win it — and he didn’t just win it, he dominated it. We have seen him drive well at the front under great pressure. We have seen him come through the field, and, particularly, we have seen him drive very well in the wet. You put that lot together and you say: “What’s not to like?”
Give the kid a chance to prove himself. Yes, he comes from money. Yes, he paid for his seat. Yes, he paid to have great equipment in F3. Let him show whether he belongs. Sink or swim. He’s just 18 afterall.