The youngest member of Ferrari’s Driver Academy isn’t quite 16. Sam Smith spoke to a teenager who’s already making waves
A spectacularly quick young Canadian at Maranello? We’ve been here before… But while the legend of Gilles Villeneuve arguably grows by the year, a relatively unknown 15-year-old from Montréal is hoping to continue that unforgettable legacy.
Spotted by a Ferrari talent scout while karting in Florida during the winter of 2010/2011, Stroll was snapped up by the Scuderia and joined what was then its all-new Driver Academy. Stroll competed in the 2011 Italian Karting Championship, before winning the Andrea Margutti Trophy and placing fifth in the 2012 CIK-FIA world karting championship.
His promotion to single-seaters came at the tail end of 2013, when he entered the Ferrari Driver Academy’s Florida Winter Series, his first car meeting. This season he undertakes a concentrated assault on the Italian Formula 4 Championship powered by Abarth, with the crack Prema Powerteam.
Now based in Geneva, Stroll commutes weekly to Maranello for training, driver development, the obligatory simulator sessions and engineering workshops. He dovetails this prime preparation for his future career with the more mundane task of continuing his education.
As we chat in the Imola paddock, he typifies the maxim of having an old head on young shoulders. “Being part of the Ferrari family is obviously amazing and the support structure is helping my career massively,” he says, “but at the same time I try not to think too hard about it and just get on with my racing. I do my work, enjoy it and I stay focused, so hopefully the results will continue.”
Stroll made an assured start to the F4 campaign, with four wins from the opening nine races and a further three podiums. His weekend at Imola proves ruthlessly efficient, with two victories and a strong run from 10th to second in the reverse-grid race.
“The races were good and went the way I planned,” Stroll says “In the second race, when I started 10th, I realised I had to be a little bit patient.”
Also at Imola are Ferrari Academy director Luca Baldisserri and former Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali, looking lean and refreshed after a few months away from the F1 cauldron. “Lance is a very impressive young man, both in and out of the cockpit,” Domenicali says. “His racecraft is developing of course, because he is just out of karts, but the talent is there for sure. He has shown great maturity in his racing. He should be a big asset to Ferrari’s future.”
Stroll also has the advantage of coming from ‘billionaire’ stock, as his father – Lawrence Stroll – accrued enviable wealth through retail business. Stroll Sr is a collector of vintage Ferraris and the family connection with the Prancing Horse goes back to the 1990s, when the Tommy Hilfiger brand, then a Ferrari partner, was managed by Lawrence and his business partner Silas Chou.
And what about the Villeneuve legacy? “It was well before my time,” Stroll says, “but my father has told me many great stories. He was obviously an unbelievable talent and if ever I am half as good as him I will be happy.”
Stroll is not 16 until the autumn, but there is already talk of him stepping up to FIA Formula 3 in 2015, although one of the European Formula Renault series is also an option. Whatever, the pressure of being a Ferrari-backed driver will increase incrementally.
But, as one of four Ferrari Academy inductees (the others being Marussia F1 racer Jules Bianchi, GP2 graduate Raffaele Marciello and FIA F3 star Antonio Fuoco), Stroll is creating a buzz of excitement in Maranello’s corridors.
Career in brief
Born: 29/10/1998, Montréal, Canada
2008 karting, Fédération Sport Automobile du Québec Rookie of the Year
2010 Florida Winter Tour, Canadian ASN and Coupe de Québec champion
2012 4th WSK Master finals, 5th CIK-FIA world championship
2013 CIK and WSK Rookie of the Year
2014 F4, Italy