Lance Stroll lies second in the FIA Formula 3 European Championship after the opening event of the season in Southern France this weekend (1-3 Apr). The 17-year-old Canadian placed his Prema Powerteam Dallara F312-Mercedes first and fifth in two of the three races staged at the Paul Ricard circuit in Le Castellet sandwiching a non-finish after Lance became an innocent victim of an accident and was forced to retire due to car damage.
Stroll, who was selected by Williams Martini Racing to join its Young Driver Development Programme last November, began Race 1 on Saturday morning from pole-position having claimed his first F3 career pole the previous day in fast changing weather and track conditions. In the 25-lap race, Stroll led from the start of the second lap to the chequered flag. His quicker pace than his 20 rivals reflected with Lance setting the race’s fastest lap as he swept to his second F3 career victory in a race he totally controlled once out in front to record a debut race win at the 3.841 km Ricard track.
In the second race on Saturday afternoon, Lance started eighth, a few spots of rain quickly disappearing pre-grid with the entire field starting on slicks on the partially damp track. But Stroll was hit up the rear at the first corner on the opening lap, an incident involving multiple cars, and prompting a Safety Car period. Lance returned to the pits to retire with rear wing and suspension damage. It was of little consolation to Stroll that the Stewards of the Meeting ultimately imposed a grid penalty for the instigator of the accident that had deprived Lance the opportunity to increase his series lead.
Stroll began the final race of the weekend on Sunday morning sixth on the 21-car grid under a cloudy sky but a dry track, moving up to fifth place on lap 8. Lance spent the final 15mins challenging strongly for fourth but had to be content with fifth place at the chequered flag just 0.699s behind the fourth-placed car.
The next three races will be staged at the Hungaroring over 22-24 April.
« It’s been a good solid start to the season and going to Hungary second in the championship is very pleasing. It was a weekend of mixed emotions in some respect especially on Saturday. Achieving my first ‘pole’ in F3 was incredible but the race on Saturday morning didn’t start how I’d planned. The track was still a little damp and I didn’t get it right whereas Nick [Cassidy], starting P2 in the ‘sister’ Prema car, came past me like a rocketship. I overtook him going in to the first corner on lap two after it seemed he made some kind of mistake at the last turn going on to the start/finish straight. From there I was able to dictate the pace and cruise home to victory. The day’s second race was short-lived when I was hit from behind after making a good start. It was a ‘rookie’ error by the driver concerned which ultimately ended the race early for four cars and deprived me of adding to my points tally which was a great shame. I challenged for fourth place in Race 3 but as soon as I got close to the car ahead, it caused a handling imbalance. For the sake of just two additional championship points, I wasn’t prepared to throw a fifth place finish away in the opening event of the season. The Prema team did a phenomenal job over the weekend scoring three ‘poles’, five podiums and two fastest race laps. »