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  • Writer's pictureBen Waterworth

Stroll in the Park: What happened when Lance's 'only fan' shadowed him in Melbourne

There’s no denying that I’m a massive Lance Stroll fan. In fact, I like to declare myself as perhaps the only Lance Stroll fan on the planet.

While that may be a bit of a stretch given there is a small fan base out there for the somewhat polarising Canadian driver, I for one have never hidden my admiration and fandom for him over the years, particularly when it comes to my various columns here.

So that then presented me with a unique opportunity last week at the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne. Covering the event for The Roar, I was able to get as close as I possibly could to Stroll and be witness to the man himself in person.

With that in mind I set myself a challenge: attend every media opportunity possible with Stroll to see if perhaps I could learn something new. Maybe I could steer a couple of questions his way in order to help defend his sadly lacking reputation in the sport? Or maybe I would just find myself in an area of purgatory, where there was no clear change in direction for my fandom of the man, or the fans?

No matter what the result, the challenge was set and I was committed to completing it.

It began on the Thursday in the Melbourne paddock. Every team puts up their driver for an open press call across the day for both broadcast reporters and written journalists. These sessions usually last for around ten minutes, and they only don’t happen if a driver is in the official F1 press conference on that day.

Lucky for me Stroll was not, with Aston Martin putting him up just before teammate Fernando Alonso at around 1pm outside the Aston Martin hospitality suite.

Arriving early, I positioned myself right next to the chair in which Stroll would be sitting in, which was perfect given he was dead on time and ready to answer the media’s pressing questions.

Now, one thing Stroll is known for is his often short and somewhat dismissive answers to the press. Never one for many words, he often comes across as uninterested in his responses, seemingly going through the motions with interviews as something that is simply required from him, rather than using it as a platform to give anything overly interesting our groundbreaking.

(Photo by Jawad Yaqub)

For me this only adds to the aura around Stroll. Dismissed constantly as someone who is nothing more than the son of a rich man who helped buy his son a seat in the sport, it is no wonder to me that Stroll is dismissive of the media given the constant criticism and questions that follow him about his ability and talent.

My initial question to him brought out this somewhat dismissive nature. On asking him how he was feeling coming into Albert Park, given that at the same race in 2023 he secured his best weekend of the year with a fourth place, he was straight to the point, casual and direct in his response.

“Yeah, I mean, new year, we will see how we go this weekend. But I like the track. I always like coming back here so yeah it’s fine,” he answered to my question.

After a few other laidback responses to questions from reporters around the form of the car and what had happened at the previous race in Saudi Arabia, I decided to change tack and go with a more local angle.

Stroll has a direct connection to Australia, with his sister Chloe recently marrying Aussie snowboarding icon Scotty James. So, I posed the question to Stroll: does Australia feel like a second home race to him, given this connection?

It took a moment for him to fully digest the question, but it led to perhaps the most in-depth answer I got from him all weekend.

“I guess more and more so, yeah,” he said after a moment of thinking. “It didn’t a few years ago but I guess now you can say kind of does feel like I have some family over here. I do love coming here. I love the sun shining and good energy in Australia. Aside from the jet lag and the flight time and all that stuff, it’s great when we’re here.”

So the mission had started off well. Stroll was typically aloof, relaxed and straight back into the hospitality suite once the media had gotten through their questions and moved on, and I was ready for the next opportunity.

That didn’t come until Saturday after qualifying. At the point of the weekend, Stroll had been going about his business in a typically unassuming manner that barely caught the eye of those in the F1 world.

In all three practice sessions he had been faster than his much more revered teammate, something to which I was the only one to constantly be pointing out in my coverage of the event.

This was followed up with Stroll out qualifying Alonso for the first time in 2024, lining up ninth on the grid for the race, one spot ahead of his teammate.

So it was down to the mixed zone after quali to get his reaction. And once again, in typical Stroll fashion, he was a man of few words to deliver his thoughts once I asked him how he felt the confidence was ahead of the race, given the performance of the car so far that weekend.

“Tomorrow is going to be all about managing tyres. So hopefully we can do that well,” he said.

Now before I continue, I should mention this wasn’t just his response to me. The very limited number of journalists who attended his post-quali mixed zone all asked a similar variety of questions, and all got a similar variety of answer.

What was apparent to me is that for the most part, these journalists were simply going through the motions. The majority of them were seasoned F1 professionals, attending every race across the year who no doubt deal with Stroll every weekend. They are aware of his relationship with the media, his constant short nature with them and his often uninterested manner when it comes to dealing with them.

But this only added an extra layer of appeal for me in my mission, given that I was experiencing this firsthand for the first time and no doubt was the only one amongst the group who was doing it for a much different reason than their standard ticking of boxes to get every driver’s reaction.

So that led me into the final day. Race day. My last chance to get something from Stroll that perhaps could help sell my opinion on him to the masses and give me more of a taste of his unique and enigmatic personality.

The race itself was pretty much the same as the whole weekend for Stroll. Fairly unassuming, uneventful and ended up with him ahead of Alonso on the track. Now this did of course come mainly due to the penalty handed down to Alonso after the race, however, had that not happened he would’ve still only finished one spot behind him and brought home double points for the team.

Ultimately, Stroll finished sixth in the race, securing much-needed points for him and Aston Martin in the process.

But with very limited action during the race to focus on for Stroll, what would my angle be? How could I get something from him to end out my mission on a bang?

Jostling through the busy mixed zone post-race and fighting for position over a variety of drivers as they came through, I spotted Stroll being brought over. Only a few of the waiting journalists moved towards him, much more interested in speaking with the likes of Sergio Perez, Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton.

(Photo by Pit Debrief)

But I had my man in sight, and waited for my chance.

The questions were put to him about his race. He felt it went alright. I posed a question around the pace of the car in the last stint. He replied that it was good but they “still had more work to do”. I needed to get one more in to try and close it out in style.

Then it came to me. His starts. Perhaps the strongest part of his talent pool. He is a great starter, and it was one part of his repertoire that I can’t ever recall seeing him questioned about.

His strong starting ability was once again on show in Melbourne, getting the leap on Yuki Tsunoda at the start and hounding the back of the Red Bull of Sergio Perez in the early stages.

My question to him was simple: “You got another great start, is that something you like to work on?”

His response came in true Lance Stroll style.

“I mean it’s better to get off the line fast than slow, so I try and get off fast,” was the reply.

I couldn’t let this go. I had to follow it up. So I did so in asking him if it was something that he always worked on, given that it was a real skill of his to make up positions constantly off the start line.

After a slight a pause to think about his response, he delivered perhaps the best answer I got all weekend from him to really add to the enigma that is Lance Stroll.

“I just dump it and floor it,” he said with a wink and big grin on his face.

With that answer, another smile was given and he was led away from the media, giving a perfect ending to my shadowing of the Canadian across the weekend.

Did it help in my defence of Stroll when it comes to my opinion he is severely underrated on the grid? Perhaps not. Did it help paint him in a different light when it comes to the opinion of his standoffish nature with the media? No. But what it did do was an add an extra layer to the unique aura that Stroll brings to the Formula 1 paddock through an often unassuming lens that goes very much overlooked each weekend he races.

And that to me was enough to only add to my already high opinion of him, and the enigma and uniqueness that is Lance Stroll.

This article was originally written for The Roar. You can read the published version here


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