MONZA, Italy (Reuters) - Canadian Lance Stroll will start Sunday’s Italian Grand Prix with the Mercedes of triple Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton alongside and a clear view of the Monza straight stretching out ahead.
Not bad for an 18-year-old rookie whose Williams was struggling for pace only a week earlier and who had barely driven a Formula One car in the wet before Saturday’s rain-lashed qualifying.
“What an achievement,” the team’s technical head Paddy Lowe told reporters.
”They say he’s the youngest ever on the front row. At Monza, one of the greats of the Formula One circuits. And beside Lewis Hamilton. You’ve got to get the photo, haven’t you?
“I remember where I was at when I was 18 and it was pretty much nowhere,” added the Briton. “I just find anything that someone can do like that at the age of 18 really, really impressive.”
On a record-breaking afternoon, with Hamilton taking an unprecedented 69th pole position to push Michael Schumacher off his perch as all-time top qualifier, the billionaire’s son wrote his own headlines.
Qualifying fourth fastest, he moved up to second after penalties were applied to the Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo.
Before Monza, Stroll had already become the second youngest driver of all time to score points - at his home Canadian Grand Prix - and, with third place in Azerbaijan at 18 years and 239 days old, the youngest rookie to make the podium.
“This is another high point,” he said, happily stating the obvious.
”I had a great time out there in the wet, really enjoyed myself, every minute of it. The car felt great and we were able to go out and deliver the result, which is awesome.
“It’s going to be a special experience,” he said of lining up on the front row. “There’s going to be no-one in front of me, just someone beside me. I‘m going to run my race, do my thing, and we’ll see what happens.”
Stroll still has plenty to learn, circuits included, but his progress since he started the season with three straight retirements and three more races without points, has been marked.
“He has the talent and he’s growing,” said veteran Brazilian team mate Felipe Massa, who has served as a mentor for the youngster this season.
“Definitely, he showed really a great job today in the wet. For sure today he’s a much stronger driver than he was when he started the season.”
The Brazilian, a winner of 11 races with Ferrari and championship runner-up to Hamilton when the Briton was at McLaren in 2008, also had some simple words of advice to his team mate about how to handle the start.
“Just go for it, man,” he said.
Editing by Ed Osmond