Lance arrives in Austria on Thursday with a 13-point lead in the standings after the latest races in France (14-15 May). The Canadian teenager started his Prema Powerteam Dallara F312-Mercedes from “pole” – his second of the 2016 season – fourth and second grid positions for the three races – varying degrees of rain having affected both qualifying sessions and practice earlier on Friday. Due to the configuration of the tight and narrow 2.760km Pau circuit, the 21-car field was split into two groups, Lance actually setting the fastest time in two of the three sessions – and second in the other – with Stroll’s “Group B” having the worst of the track conditions.
Pole-sitter Stroll saw his hopes of a podium finish disappear when he stalled at the start, Lance getting underway ninth – a position he held to the finish on the treacherously slippery track after further heavy rain showers on Saturday morning. Stroll was unfortunate to start the second race on Saturday from the “wet” side of the track, the entire field opting to start on “slick” tyres as a dry line had formed. Having dropped a place, Lance was up to fourth with 22mins to run and challenged for third place to the chequered flag. Lining-up on the front row for Sunday’s 75th Grand Prix de Pau under blue sky and sunshine, Stroll made a great start from the front row before a Safety Car period prompted by a multi-car accident on the exit of Turn 1 on the opening lap. The race resumed with 22mins remaining, Stroll pressuring the pole-starting Alessio Lorandi, the gap consistently less than one second all the way to the chequered flag to the runners-up position, Lance a mere 0.460secs behind the winner.
Stroll, who finished fifth in the 2015 Euro F3 standings, scored impressively at the 4.326km Red Bull Ring, recording a third, fourth and fifth – winning the “rookie” category in all three races last year – a fact that bodes well for the Williams Martini Racing’s Young Driver Development Programme member next weekend. The venue, formerly known as the Österreichring, situated in the foothills of the Alps near Spielberg has held the Austrian Formula One Grand Prix since 1963. In 1997, Stroll’s fellow Canadian Jacques Villeneuve won the Austrian Grand Prix for Williams having started from pole-position and also setting the fastest race lap – a feat Lance will be striving to achieve over the weekend
“It’s great to be heading to Austria as the championship leader but it’s still very early in the championship. I’m already concentrating on the Red Bull Ring races. All I can do is do a good job at each race and focus on what I’m doing. I made a good start in Sunday’s race at Pau, almost getting alongside Alessio, and my pace was good all race. I think I was a little faster than him but he didn’t make any mistakes and gave me no opportunities to overtake. I wanted the points and it wasn’t worth making a risky move getting into the lead. The engine stalled when the lights went to green for the opening Pau race on Saturday. I was trying to make a really good start but went too quick of the clutch. I got going in ninth and just focused in completing the race without making mistakes which would have been easy to make given the weather. I held onto ninth place and scored two points. We all started Race 2 on slicks, it had stopped raining and there was a dry line but unfortunately I started from the wet side of the track and dropped to fifth. I ultimately finished fourth and like in the first race, the most important thing was to collect as many championship points as possible. Qualifying had also been made difficult due to the weather. Prema did a really good job – my car was phenomenal. Conditions were anything but easy on a very slippery track due to the rain. Friday was a positive day with a pole in Q1 and a second position in my group in Q2.”