LONDON (Reuters) - The pressure is building on 18-year-old Formula One rookie Lance Stroll, even if the Canadian continues to sound positive, and Monaco next week is likely to be his toughest race yet.
With five races done, a quarter of the season, the youngest driver on the grid has yet to score a point for his Williams team.
Monaco, with the wider 2017 cars hurtling ever faster around the narrow and twisty streets, will be a challenge even for the most experienced.
“I think Monaco will be tricky for everybody and for Lance it will be maybe one of the most difficult tracks for him because he doesn’t know the track,” Brazilian team mate Felipe Massa told reporters at last weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix.
Williams did not expect the billionaire’s son to light up the sport immediately, although Max Verstappen set a benchmark when he came in at 17 with Toro Rosso, and the Canadian’s retirements have not been all of his own making.
On his debut in Australia he started last after a penalty for a gearbox change and was halted by brake failure in the race.
In China he qualified 10th but made contact with Force India’s Sergio Perez on the opening lap and spun off.
Bahrain saw a lap 12 collision with Spaniard Carlos Sainz, who was handed a penalty, while Russia finally brought an 11th place finish after an early spin. Spain ended in 16th place after qualifying 18th.
“One of the very difficult things for Lance is the enormous pressure placed upon him,” commented Williams technical head Paddy Lowe.
“He’s a driver with a lot of expectation around him from not just people close to him but even more across the paddock, I think, because there’s a lot of spotlight on how he got here and ‘does he really deserve the drive?’ and all those things.
“Racing drivers are by their natures super-competitive, they are the best and the worst at beating themselves up if they don’t think they are performing as they should. So that cascades and creates its own pressure for him.
“There are no easy answers to how do you undo that pressure.”
Massa, the veteran who came out of a brief retirement when Valtteri Bottas moved to Mercedes in January as replacement for retired champion Nico Rosberg, has been offering guidance to his team mate.
Lowe, who joined from Mercedes this year, is also trying to help him along.
“I appreciate the challenging position he’s in so I’m trying to help him through that,” said the Briton.
“One thing that’s important is actually to just enjoy it. people love driving quick cars and actually if you’re not here enjoying it, it’s not going to go well. But it’s more easily said than done with all the pressure.”
Stroll, the first Canadian F1 racer since 1997 world champion Jacques Villeneuve, won last year’s European F3 championship.
He recognised when he was announced as a Williams driver in November that there would be questions about the level of support he has had from wealthy father Lawrence, who made a fortune from the Tommy Hilfiger and Michael Kors fashion brands.
“I don’t want to say exactly when I’ll be able to show everyone that I’m not just here for money because that depends on so many other things and details coming into place,” he said then. “But I’m just going to worry about my business.”
Looking ahead to Monaco, he was staying positive as ever last weekend.
“It’s going to be very challenging, for sure. Realistically, it’s going to be tough. I hope it changes, but our car’s also not been amazing there in the past,” he said.
“But you never know. You’ve got to always be positive and it’s kind of one of those races where whatever happens, happens.”
Editing by Greg Stutchbury
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