MONTREAL — Lance Stroll feelshe'sfinally driving a car that can compete with the best on home soil.
The 24-year-old from Montreal heads into this Sunday's Canadian Grand Prix driving for an Aston Martin team that's third in the Formula One constructors' standings and viewed by many as the second-best team behind Red Bull this year.
"Yeah, it is, for sure," Stroll said when asked if he was driving a good car in Montreal for the first time. "Definitely some more opportunity this year than maybe in other years."
In four Canadian GP's, Stroll's best result is ninth place (2017, 2019). He's off to the best start of his career this year, currently eighth in the drivers' standings.
Despite that, and the quality of his car, Stroll hasn't yet proven he can drive it to its full potential. Meanwhile, teammate Fernando Alonso has.
The 41-year-old veteran and two-time world champion is having a career resurgence in his first season with Aston Martin, outclassing Stroll with five podiums to zero and 99 points to 35.
Alonso is third in the drivers' standings behind Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez of Red Bull, and his success is putting added pressure on Stroll to get results.
Aston Martin team principal Mike Krack said he believes those will come.
"Well, first of all, he needs a bit more luck, which he didn't have," Krack said, noting a mistake made by the team in Miami and some damage to the vehicle in Monaco. "We have a car that can do it, and he will do it. So I think if the car is there, he will be there."
Krack also believes Stroll hasn't received enough credit for returning so quickly from injury early this season and making the best of a bad situation.
Stroll missed pre-season testing after crashing his bike while training in Spain on Feb. 18 and fracturing both his wrists. However, he recovered in time to race in the season opener in Bahrain.
"I think it showed a side of Lance that was maybe not known. He's a fantastic fighter," said Krack. "It would have been easy to say 'I'll wait three races, I'll get everything back into place, and I'll come back,' … the fact he really tried hard to get back into the car, despite all the pain, and I can assure you there was a lot of pain that he had, shows what kind of fighter he is.
"I'm not sure if we are aware of what kind of performance that was … I think great credit for bringing the points home in these (early) races, despite these injuries."
Alonso echoed that sentiment, adding that Stroll's commitment to returning shows his passion for the sport.
The Spaniard said the next step in his teammate's career is improving his consistency.
"I think Lance is showing the speed in the car," he said. "I think we saw many times in the past, sparks of Lance in qualifying and races … and then some other weekends that maybe the result was not coming or you get bad luck.
"But as I said, with the motivation, the commitment that he has on the team that Aston Martin is building now. I think it's a matter of time that will come."
Although Stroll and Alonso are far apart in the standings, the two drivers seem relatively close off the track. Their relationship dates back to 2012 when then-Ferrari driver Alonso met Stroll, who was in the academy, at an event in Montreal.
Krack says both drivers help each other, whether it be communicating over the radio or in debriefing sessions, to better understand the car.
"They try to encourage each other," he said. "It's a level of maturity between these two drivers that I have not seen many times in all my career with racing drivers because they're normally very selfish."
Stroll, who says he still feels some aches from his pre-season injury, came sixth at the Spanish Grand Prix, beating Alonso for the first time this season.
Now he'll try to build on that result and do something special in Montreal, where no Canadian has won since Gilles Villeneuve in 1978.
"It's a race that I have a lot of memories of, I have a lot of memories of when I came here when I was a kid watching (Michael) Schumacher and even Fernando," said Stroll.
"It would be very special (to reach the podium). A dream come true."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 16, 2023.
Daniel Rainbird, The Canadian Press