LANCE Stroll burst onto the Formula 1 scene as a fresh-faced 18-year-old in 2017, before he’d finished high school and obtained his road licence.
The teenage sensation and wet weather wizard began life on the circuit with perennial cellar dwellers Williams Mercedes, with the sub-par car leading to a string of poor showings and a constant chorus of criticism, compounded by Stroll’s billionaire father’s wealth and involvement in his son’s career.
But those negative voices may soon fade to a whimper, if Stroll’s early-season form continues.
After a disappointing qualifying session that saw him start the Australian Grand Prix from p16 on the grid, the 20-year-old Canadian held his nerve while sandwiched in the middle of a furious five-car jam, and in a show of maturity and skill, claimed p9 and vital points for his new team, Racing Point.
“It was a great race, a good start,” Stroll said post-race.
“We had great pace throughout the whole race.”
Less than three seconds separated seventh to 11th when the chequered flag fell at Albert Park on Sunday evening.
“There was not a lap where I was not pressuring someone in front of me or not under pressure. It was a race from start to finish and I hope we can see more of that this season. It looks like potentially the racing could be closer, I think the aerodynamics are working a bit better behind cars,” he said.
After two seasons generally spent well off the pace and at the back of the field with Williams, Stroll revelled being at the centre of the action. This was largely due to Racing Point’s savvy tyre management, where they ran a hard-medium tyre strategy, as opposed to the soft-medium tyres used by those around him.
“It was about managing tyres at a certain part of the race and then pushing on when we wanted to attack the cars in front, which made it very challenging,” Stroll said.
“One time [Daniil] Kvyat went down the inside, he went a bit deep and I got him on the exit. It was proper wheel-to-wheel racing.”
Stroll firmly believes he and his team can only improve as the season progresses.
“New team, new car – we’re not quite there yet,” he added.
Finnish Mercedes driver Valterri Bottas claimed his second podium finish in Melbourne and first victory, in a time of 1:25:27.325, ahead of teammate Lewis Hamilton and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.
Australia’s Daniel Ricciardo endured a weekend to forget at his home grand prix, forced to retire by lap 31 after losing the entire front wing of his car just four seconds into the race.
It followed a nightmare lead-up, where he clocked 32 hours of media and sponsor commitments, had a broken seat on Friday and failed to reach Q3 on Saturday.
Stroll upstaged new teammate Sergio Perez (p13), as his former team’s struggles rolled on with both Williams drivers the last of the active drivers to cross the finish line.
With 20 races and nine months of intense competition ahead, Stroll’s focus will turn to the Bahrain GP in Sakhir on March 31.