Lance Stroll is here to break the racing driver formula

The 22-year-old Formula 1 racer talks Maple Syrup, James Bond and the 'heartbreaking' cancellation of last year's Canadian Grand Prix...

Lance Stroll is humming and drumming. He’s tapping his fingertips on the table, rhythmically racking his brain for an answer to my question. There’s a pause, the drumming stops and he offers up the sweetest, sincerest — and most profoundly Canadian answer I could have hoped for; “Maple syrup”.

To be fair to Stroll, it was quite a Canadian question. I’m asking the Formula 1 driver to name his three favourite things about his home country — and he isn’t disappointing. Following his initial syrupy answer, the Quebec native drizzles out a couple more of his classically Canadian loves; “Skiing in the mountains,” he says, “and spending summer evenings on the lake.”

There’s a reason I ask — and a reason why Stroll is so proudly patriotic. In 2017, the young racer became the first Canadian to line up on an F1 grid since championship-winning Jacques Villeneuve hung up his helmet a decade earlier. Since then, the 22-year-old has flown the Maple Leaf flag for Williams, Racing Point — and will this year become one of two new drivers, along with Ferrari alumni Sebastien Vettel, for the freshly-minted Aston Martin Cognizant F1 team.

It’s a season Stroll is looking forward to greatly. Not only does he get a natty new race suit and a freshly engineered car, but he gets to race in Canada once more. Last year, due to the shortened season imposed by the pandemic, the Canadian Grand Prix was cancelled — and Stroll didn’t get a chance to race on tarmacked home turf in Montreal.

“That was heartbreaking,” Stroll admits. “Formula 1 without the Canadian Grand Prix just isn’t the same. And it’s the race I look forward to the most every season, so it was a great shame it didn’t happen last year.”

This year, the championship returns to Montreal’s Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on June 12. “And hopefully it’ll be great again,” nods Stroll. “I’m excited for Canada, and it’s an honour to represent my country in this sport — and it’s always been a dream of mine to represent the flag of Canada in Formula 1.”

Stroll has had his fair share of success. Back in 2017 at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, he became the second-youngest racer in history to win a podium place at an F1 championship race. Last year, he claimed another two podiums in Monza and Sakhir. But nothing, says the racer, will compare to that first time he made the top three.

“It was one of the biggest highlights of my career,” he says. “A dream come true just to be up there on a Formula 1 podium.”

Stroll says it’s a moment he’ll remember forever. But does he think he’ll remember every single podium of his career?

“I would think so,” he answers. “I suppose it depends. If you’re Lewis Hamilton, you might not remember every one! But I can certainly remember every one so far!”

And 2021 will likely bring even more points and podiums to Stroll’s list of achievements. At Aston Martin, the young driver has a real chance to shake up the championship. Headquartered in Silverstone, the team is headed up by Stroll’s father, Lawrence — a billionaire businessman and currently the 15th richest man in Canada. And the dynastic power and passion has been clear; palpable within the team ever since the re-engineered Aston Martin AMR21 car was revealed earlier this month. 

Just this week, Stroll’s teammate Sebastian Vettel revealed that he has named his car ‘Honey Ryder’, after the Bond girl Ursula Andress played in the first ever Bond film, Dr. No. Stroll, who counts the 007 films among his favourites, had also clocked the Aston Martin connection.

“James Bond!” he laughs. “Yes, I’m a James Bond fan. But I don’t have a favourite James Bond — I think they’ve all been good in their own ways”.

Bond himself owes a lot to the Stroll family. Last January, Lance’s father became chairman of the British brand, and has since used his significant business acumen to steer the supercar manufacturer through the Covid crisis. But, while the younger Stroll clearly admires his father’s achievements, he claims to never have felt any overwhelming pressure to succeed or push boundaries himself.

"If you’re Lewis Hamilton, you might not remember every podium!"

“I always thought that, whatever I had cut out for me, I could only do my best,” he reasons. “So I never really added extra pressure on my shoulders. The best you can do is all you can do.”

But focus must run in the family? “Of course, I always try to be focused. Like all of us in this job. It’s just that, some days, I’m more focused than on others.”

Stroll, similarly to his fellow championship contenders, has developed unique ways to get himself geared-up and knuckled-down before races. Music, he reveals, is one of his key drivers — and his pre-race playlist shuffles around depending on his mood. 

“It’s hip-hop some days,” he says, “it’s soft-rock some days. I tend to like mellow tunes, but it varies — and depends on how I wake up that morning feeling. 

“It also depends on what I need from my playlist on that day, you know?” he adds. “On what’s going to give me the energy and focus to get in the car on that day and get the job done. And that changes day-to-day. Sometimes I need to amp myself up a little bit, and other times I jut kind of want to relax and calm down. And music gives me that, one way or another.”

Growing up, Stroll cites Michael Schumacher as a great inspiration; “a big role model and why [he] aspired to be a Formula 1 driver”. But, just as he avoids comparing his accomplishments with his father’s business achievements, Stroll also tries to refrain from comparing himself to other professional sportsmen.

“I did enjoy The Last Dance, though,” Stroll says, admitting he still admires certain athletes. “Michael Jordan is such an inspirational figure — not necessarily to me, I didn’t actually know much about him before seeing it. But, after watching that, I was just really impressed by his work ethic and the life that he’s lived — impacting millions of people across the globe.”

Stroll watched The Last Dance during lockdown — one of many distractions while the 2020 Formula 1 Championship was put on hold. It was an uncertain time — and especially confusing for Nicholas Latifi, a fellow Canadian and the sole newcomer to last year’s grid.

“It’s been great to expand the Canadian branch of Formula 1,” Stroll says of Latifi’s debut. “He’s making a name for himself at the moment in Formula 1, and I wish him all the best in his career. It’s great for Canada!”

So, other than watching Netflix like the rest of us, how else did Stroll occupy his locked-down time last year? George Russell told Gentleman’s Journal last year that he was finding it difficult to develop hobbies and pastimes. Did Stroll find it any easier? Perhaps he’s a talented instrumentalist, or a keen cook?

“No!” he laughs. “I wouldn’t want to be sitting at a dinner table made with my cooking skills! No, I definitely don’t brag about my cookery — it’s not something that I’m great at. I’m a pretty laid-back guy, really. I like to play a little golf and go out for a nice dinner and just kick back — putting a dent into the sofa. 

“But I also like getting my heart rate up!” Stroll adds. “Whether that’s jumping out of planes, jumping onto motorcycles, surfing a good wave or skiing down a big mountain. I love it.”

Motorcycles?

“Yeh, it’s a little hobby of mine,” Stroll nods. “I have a passion for motorcycles. I collect motorcycles. I enjoy going on road trips on motorcycles with some of my friends — I think that’s a way of escaping. If you ask me, jumping on a motorcycle and just taking off is one of the purest forms of freedom. So that is a passion of mine — I even like to get onto the track sometimes.”

"Jumping on a motorcycle is one of the purest forms of freedom..."

Aside from his native Canada, the racetrack is where Lance Stroll feels most at home. And, like his fellow Formula 1 drivers, he has dabbled in other forms of motorsport. When we spoke to Pierre Gasly earlier this year, the French driver recalled taking part in the virtual 24 Hours of Le Mans. But, despite Stroll enduring similarly long stints at the 2016 and 2018 24 Hours of Daytona, he says that nothing will ever beat Formula 1.

“I’m much more of a single-seater racer,” he admits. “I enjoy the competitiveness of single-seater racing and I enjoy having all the weight on my shoulders, rather than sharing that with three other drivers. But [Daytona] was a really fun experience. You know, it’s about going the distance and really just getting to the end of a race. It’s a marathon, whereas Formula 1 is a sprint. 

“And that’s the difference. That’s why I’m a Formula 1 man.”

iRacing, too — another hobby honed by several current F1 drivers over lockdown — isn’t something that appeals to Stroll. Lando Norris feels otherwise, telling Gentleman’s Journal last year: “Even if the driving isn’t real, it’s still a lot of fun. You can work hard on the set-up and driving style just like you would in real life.”

Yet, while they may not share an affinity for eSports, Stroll and Norris do share a nationality — both are half-Belgian. But does Canadian Stroll’s fondness for food extend to his European roots? Lando, I tell the racing driver, revealed a particular soft spot for French fries with mayonnaise…

“Mayonnaise not so much,” Stroll laughs. “But yes, French fries! I also like me some mussels. And a waffle — ain’t nothing wrong with a waffle! And maple syrup on that waffle, bringing Canada and Belgium together!”

Back to food; we’ve come full, syrupy circle. So, for one last culinary question — as the world opens up, and Formula 1 returns to Canada in June, what delicacies should visitors to Stroll’s home nation be seeking out?

“Poutine!” says Stroll — without hesitation. “Go for a poutine up in Montreal — that’s a must! It’s a really special speciality…”

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