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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 ...

Like Ferrari, Wilson is putting his venerable name on the line with Lance. But if anyone knows the razor-thin margin between becoming an F1 driver and fading into the background of the sport, it’s him. Wilson had the chops to race at the highest level, but he lacked the means. Formula One requires money and timing, and he had neither. With a baby on the way when he was in his early-20s, Wilson abandoned his dreams and opted for paying gigs, and the F1 window closed.

Though Canada has produced more than its share of talented drivers, money counts as much as ability. At 22, Toronto-born Robert Wickens is considered good enough for the F1 circuit. But unless he can crack a top team like Ferrari or McLaren, Wickens will need to bring sponsorship dollars to the table – cash that is akin to buying your way onto the grid.

It’s an unforgiving reality of the sport. With only 12 teams in today’s Formula One circuit, and two cars for each, there are 24 spots on race day. And even with money and talent, getting there takes one additional element that no driver can control.

“Luck,” says Wilson, jamming his hands into his jean pockets as he watches Lance spin around the track at the Circuito. To make it, every driver needs skill, money “and a lot of luck.”

‘A BULL’S-EYE ON MY BACK’

Before Lance goes to bed each night, he opens up a small coil notebook and scribbles a few paragraphs about his day at the track.

This is his training journal, which Halliwell has asked him to keep just as Crosby did nearly a decade ago, when he was a hockey prodigy with a world of pressure bearing down on him.

The handwriting is that of a child, but the language is a race car driver’s. “Yesterday was a good day,” Lance writes. “We easily have a good three-tenths of a second in the chassis and that will make us top three.”

Turning through the pages, one phrase in particular begins to stand out in the diary. Lance jots it down many times: “I know I am fast. I know I am fast. …”

This is a confidence exercise. Before each race, Lance flips down the visor on his helmet, closes his eyes, and repeats to himself. “I know I am fast.”

They are reassuring words, especially as Lance finds himself at the centre of a gathering storm. Ferrari’s decision to sign a boy – a Canadian boy at that – does not sit well with many European competitors.

Not long after Ferrari’s announcement went around the world, Lance began to notice something different during his races. First, he shrugged it off. Then, it was undeniable. It was as though the other kids were trying to run him off the track. Was it because of the Ferrari deal?

“It couldn’t have helped,” Lance says with a shrug. “But I can’t do anything about it. I’m not going to not accept the offer” just to make other people happy.

With the eyes of the racing world upon him, Lance is now trying to keep a low profile. When Ferrari welcomed Lance to its team, Baldisserri presented him with the rarest of gifts: a bright red Ferrari racing suit, just like the one Villeneuve wore. It is the most famous uniform in racing.

But Lance told Ferrari it’s probably better if he doesn’t wear it. “It’s like having a bull’s-eye on my back,” he explains. “The other kids are going to be saying: ‘He’s a Ferrari driver – go and get him.’ ”

Baldisserri agreed. Everyone is chasing Lance Stroll.

So on race day, the famous red suit stays at home and he zips himself into an anonymous blue-and-white uniform. Only a small yellow sticker on his helmet – the prancing horse logo of Ferrari – signals his potential as a Formula One driver.

On the track, the logo is hard to spot. At 127 km/h, this tiny symbol of a sport in transition is little more than a blur.

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