MONTREAL — Gilles and Jacques Villeneuve are just names in a record book to Lance Stroll, who wasn’t born yet when the Canadian father and then his son began their Formula One careers.
At 18 years old, Stroll followed them into F1 this season, picking up a seat with Williams. And on Sunday, he will become the first homegrown driver to race in the Canadian Grand Prix — on the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve — since Jacques Villeneuve left Formula One in 2006.
“It’s kind of a dream come true for me,” Stroll said on Thursday, a day before the first practice sessions for the 50th anniversary edition of the race. “Growing up here I was sitting in the grandstands at 5 or 6 years old, and watching the races here. And now to finally be part of it, it’s very special.”
The two-time reigning European Formula 3 champion, Stroll has yet to earn a point in the championship standings while failing to finish his past three races. But the native Montrealais is hoping that a return to his hometown will change that.
“I don’t get to come back too often,” he said. “It’s been a busy week … but at the same time I have had a chance to visit some friends, family, here in Montreal, that I don’t get to see often. So that’s been great.”
Sergio Perez, of Force India, said he believes the theory that racing at home is worth two-tenths of a second — as long as the driver is able to channel the extra energy to focus on preparation and racing. He experienced many of the same feelings when he raced in Mexico for the first time in 2015, he said.
“When you race in front of your home crowd, you have all the support from your fans, all your people, your friends, family,” he said. “You have so much energy through you and so much support and there is so much willingness to do well in front of them. … It’s important that you don’t let the emotions go too high and always stay calm and just enjoy the weekend, because it will go very fast.”
The son of a Canadian billionaire, Stroll has had some bad luck in F1 so far, with brake failure knocking him out of the Australian GP, and errors from Perez and Carlos Sainz forcing him to retire in China and Bahrain. He managed to finish in Barcelona two weeks ago but was 50 seconds behind teammate Felipe Massa.
Stroll attributed the poor results to the adjustments he is still making as a Formula One rookie with just a handful of races behind him.
“It just comes down to experience, and sometimes it just takes a bit of time for things to fall into place,” he said. “We can’t panic. We can’t lose concentration. We have to stay in it. It’s a long year.”
And he laughed off accusations that he obtained his seat through family money instead of talent.
“It’s always going to be said and asked, about where I come from and all that. But I focus on the positives,” he said, adding that he won championships in Formula 4 and Formula 3. “Drivers can’t just buy their way into Formula One, you have to actually go out and get the results.
“There are always going to be haters; there is always going to jealousy. That’s just the nature of sports in general. When you win, it’s expected, and when you have hard times, people put you down and that’s how it goes. But I don’t focus on that. I know who is important around me and those are the people I listen to. The rest of the noise you just have to block it out.”
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Jimmy Golen, The Associated Press