Lance will be introduced to faster speeds and more imposing cars gradually. Ferrari is in no rush until he has an expert grasp of the road. One wrong move and he could end up in the wall.
“It’s good for him to do his mistakes now,” Baldisserri says. “Because mistakes when you are older, you will pay for them 10 times. He needs to understand that, because otherwise it can be dangerous.”
Baldisserri admits Ferrari officials have asked themselves if Lance was too young for the academy. “Yes, definitely,” he says. “But it’s something that at the moment he is responding to very well.”
SKILL, MONEY, LUCK
A sport that used to regard a 28-year-old driver as young may soon consider him over the hill.
Since Hamilton burst upon the scene, pro racing has been in the throes of a youth movement. Kids are getting better, sooner.
Hamilton was two months shy of his 24th birthday when he became the youngest driver to win the F1 championship in 2008. Sebastian Vettel bettered that mark last year, taking the title at 23 years 5 months.
But the youth revolution is not limited to the twisting tracks of Formula One, the oldest, fastest and most global of the three pro auto racing circuits.
In NASCAR, the stockcar circuit that dominates the attention of U.S. audiences, driver Trevor Bayne won the Daytona 500 this year, just one day after turning 20.
IndyCar, the predominantly North American oval circuit, is also seeing a surge of young drivers, including James Hinchcliffe of Oakville, Ont., who won rookie of the year this season, at 24.
Spotting talent at a young age is not easy. Some say it’s impossible. There are many factors that can scrap a racing career.
Drivers are usually 18 before Ferrari can tell if they are ready for F1 consideration, and it helps if they are piccolo. If Lance, who stands 4 foot 9, adds too much height or weight in his teen years, it will be difficult to squeeze into the cockpit of an F1 car, which is designed for aerodynamics, not leg room.
This issue has thwarted racing careers before: In 2005, Austrian driver Alexander Wurz lost his spot as McLaren’s backup driver when the team’s engineers designed a faster car that didn’t accommodate his 6-foot-1 frame. Wurz was replaced by 5-foot-8 Pedro de la Rosa of Spain.
Some aspects of Lance’s development are even harder to predict. Competitors who are fearless on the track at a young age may grow tentative when they graduate to faster cars. Hesitation may only add seconds to a lap time – but that’s enough to reduce a driver from great to just average.
Lance admits he sometimes gets nervous before competitions, but it’s the anticipation of the race that does it, not the speed. “Nervous can be good,” he says, repeating what his coaches and sports psychologists tell him about the rush of adrenaline that hits before a race. “It means I’m ready to go.”
Lance has a team built around him that extends well beyond Ferrari. Stroll has brought aboard Montreal sports psychologist Wayne Halliwell, who worked with NHL star Sidney Crosby as a boy. “He reminds me a lot of Crosby at that age,” Halliwell says of Lance’s intense focus.
For added coaching support, Stroll also contacted Mike Wilson, a British racing legend who competed as a teenager against the late Ayrton Senna, the Brazilian who many consider was the best F1 driver in history. Wilson figures he gets 100 calls a year from parents around the world who want him to coach their child.
When Stroll called, Wilson turned him down.
Stroll persisted and offered to fly Wilson to Montreal to watch Lance race. “I said to my wife, ‘Listen, I’ve got this Canadian kid I’m going to watch him,’ ” Wilson recalls. “ ‘I’ll be back in a week and that will be the end of it.’ ”
But after watching Lance turn a few laps in Montreal, Wilson signed on to the project long-term.