Most 20-year-olds would be beaming with excitement if they were lucky enough to get behind the wheel of a new car.
Canadian Formula One driver Lance Stroll was no different Wednesday.
In his case, of course, it was no ordinary car.
Stroll — along with dad and team owner Lawrence Stroll, fellow driver Sergio Perez and the rest of the Racing Point crew — made history when the pink-hued race car was unveiled at an event streamed worldwide from John Bassett Theatre inside the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.
Not only was this Canada’s first F1 launch, but it marked the start of a new era for a team once owned by Canadian Alex Shnaider.
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“It’s kind of like, you have to pinch yourself. It’s been a long wait over the winter, and now everyone is excited for this new chapter to begin,” said the Montreal-born Stroll.
His jump from Williams to Racing Point has been a family affair. Billionaire Lawrence Stroll helped rescue the Force India team from bankruptcy in 2018 and turned it into Racing Point F1 — with SportPesa Racing sharing the billing.
The Strolls gave instant credibility to a troubled operation. In 2017, the driver became the second-youngest to reach an F1 podium, finishing third in the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. Last season, though, a rash of car problems at Williams stalled his progress — fuel for critics who have claimed that he was only getting the chance to race at the highest level because of family ties.
Says Stroll: “I’ll do my talking on the track. No additional pressure here … I put my helmet on and I’m just like everyone else on the grid.”
The Strolls are part of a consortium and retained former Force India team leader Otmar Szafnauer as well as technical director Andy Green, who directed Force India to a fourth-place finish in the constructors championship last season.
“There’s been months of hard work … so it’s incredibly exciting to come to Canada and present our new identity,” Szafnauer said, referring in part to the construction of the new cars in Silverstone, England.
“The long-term aim is to take this team to the very top of the sport. We’re putting the building blocks in place, and it’s important to take a good step forward in 2019. We want to be fighting for podiums … and aiming for a top-four finish in the championship.”
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The F1 season opens in Barcelona with the Spanish GP, May 10 to 12, and the driver is already anticipating the chance to “explore” parts of race courses that were previously off limits with his Williams ride. The new Racing Point car reflects rule changes to the rear and front wings as well as bodywork over the cockpit, with the promise for more gains with additional changes down the road.
“There’s an incredible buzz in the factory over the potential we have with this team,” said Stroll, whose testing times in the new car in Azerbaijan last November were 1.5 seconds quicker than his previous times on the same track.
“It’s too early to tell how we (compare) to the other teams, but I believe we can fight for points in every race. My goal is to get back on the podium in 2019. We want to make our own history with this team.”
Stroll’s ride will be on display throughout the Canadian International Auto Show, which ends Feb. 24.
Mark Zwolinski is a sports reporter based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @markzwol