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Kart driver Lance Stroll of Canada is pictured during a training session at the South Garda Karting circuit in Lonato, northern Italy December 15, 2011. Photo: Alessandro Garofalo (ALESSANDRO GAROFALO)
Kart driver Lance Stroll of Canada is pictured during a training session at the South Garda Karting circuit in Lonato, northern Italy December 15, 2011. Photo: Alessandro Garofalo (ALESSANDRO GAROFALO)

Grant Robertson

The grooming of Canada's next Formula One driver Add to ...

But since Schumacher’s reign ended, the balance of power has shifted dramatically within the sport, and Ferrari has been losing ground to more cunning rivals. Two years ago, the Italians went back to the drawing board.

In 2009, Ferrari created its driver academy after realizing it needed to get better at developing talent from within. The original plan was to work with young men – 17- or 18-year-olds. It wasn’t until Ferrari found Lance that the blueprint changed.

Lance’s training program at Ferrari is an F1 regimen modified for a boy. The team of coaches and technicians watching over him includes gymnastics experts recruited specifically for this project.

“They are specialized in dealing with children,” Baldisserri says. “They know how to build co-ordination first, then the muscle.”

On a typical training day, Lance balances on an exercise ball inside a gymnasium at Ferrari and closes his eyes. A trainer hands him a steering wheel and tells him to concentrate. Holding his arms straight out in front of his body, Lance is instructed to visualize the courses he will race on in Europe, and to steer himself through the imaginary turns. Apart from the steering motion, he must remain perfectly still. It is an exercise to build balance, stamina and focus.

Later, he will visit a nutritionist before heading to a classroom session on racing strategy, and then to the “Mind Room,” where Ferrari teaches its drivers to stay calm under pressure. Computer programs help build Lance’s reflexes and hone his use of peripheral vision, while another machine quietly tracks his brain activity, breathing patterns and blood pressure.

During a race, the average F1 driver is subjected to extreme conditions, including force five times that of gravity. On a tight corner, or a long straightaway, that’s enough to temporarily arrest a driver’s breathing and make his head feel like a 50-pound weight. Sweating from the heat of a car straining to hit 350 km/h, a driver will lose up to three litres of fluid during a race, and his blood pressure jumps by half.

At Lance’s age, racing takes a similar toll. Fatigue slows reaction times, making wheel movements sloppy.

“After a lot of laps you start to get dizzy,” he says, in a voice that has not yet cracked. “Balance is really important for driving, so your head doesn’t go like this” – he tilts his head as if asleep – “when you get tired. So you have to always stay strong. We work on that a lot.”

Ferrari is starting Lance out slow. He won’t get in an actual race car until he is at least 15, and his workouts, for now, are limited to low-impact cardio and balance drills.

“I’m too young for weights,” he says with a shrug.

More than three decades after Gilles Villeneuve arrived in Italy, Lance Stroll is the new piccolo Canadese inside Ferrari.

NEW ECONOMICS OF RACING

The groundwork for the Lance Stroll experiment was laid in 1995, at a posh hotel in London.

That year, McLaren boss Ron Dennis was handing out trophies at an awards gala when a particularly brave 10-year-old informed one of racing’s most intimidating figures that he would some day race for him. The boy’s name: Lewis Hamilton.

Dennis laughed and told the boy to call him in about nine years. But after watching Hamilton clean out the karting ranks for the next three years, Dennis made a crazy bet in 1998, signing Hamilton to McLaren at 13. Jaws dropped across the racing world and controversy ensued.

It was an unprecedented move, and few people gave it much credence. But Hamilton began winning at every rung of amateur racing. Soon, he was knocking on the door of Formula One as an entirely new breed of driver – weaned on the go-kart circuit and bred by McLaren with an F1 ethic. With access to high-tech racing simulators and coaching that only professionals were previously afforded, Hamilton developed more rapidly than any driver who had come before.

Then, in 2007, everything changed.

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