When you?re a driver in today?s Formula One, your life is all about tires.
Nobody knows this more than Canadian rookie Lance Stroll, who readily admits that the Pirelli boots on his Williams race car continue to be his Achilles heel as he navigates his first F1 season.
?It?s been the trickiest thing for me. You have to adapt your driving style so the tires are happy,? said Stroll dressed in a short-sleeved Williams team shirt, dark grey knee length shorts and running shoes.
?There have been weekends where it?s been very easy to get the tires operating and I am just able to focus on driving and I have the consistent grip that I want every lap in every session. On other weekends, you just never know when the grip is going to come to you ? it could be on the second lap, fourth lap, sixth lap ? and those have been the weekends that I have struggled most.?
Essentially, drivers must keep the Pirelli tires in an elusive Goldilocks zone to get the most grip out of the rubber. Get them too hot or too cold, and the car can be seconds per lap slower than it should be.
That?s a long way from Stroll?s previous series ? European Formula 3 ? where the less sensitive, more consistent tires offered predictable grip and performance all the time.
?In F3, for example, where I come from, the tire is very consistent all the time. It?s just very forgiving, it?s very easy, you can slide the tire, you can do whatever you want, and then just focus on driving,? said Force India driver Sergio Perez, who is known in the paddock for his skill at getting the most out of his rubber.
?I?m finding it hard to know what?s going on with these (F1) tires. All the time, they are very different. Depending on which track, they work very different. Having them in the window to having them over the window, it?s a very little margin. So, certainly tires are something that rookies might find a little bit harder than experienced drivers.?
In fact, the 18-year-old from Montreal may have chosen one of the toughest years to join Formula One, with faster cornering, more demanding 2017 cars that are only quick when the tires stay within a small heat window. According to Haas F1 driver Romain Grosjean, drivers have to keep the rubber within four to five degrees Celsius of the optimum temperature or they go nowhere.
Even three-time champion Lewis Hamilton, who is considered one of the elite drivers in F1, has floundered at times this season. In the last race in Monaco, the Mercedes driver qualified 14th ? 11 spots behind teammate Valtteri Bottas ? and finished the race seventh. Bottas was fourth.
?When our car is in the tire window, it?s a rocket. When it?s a couple of degrees out of the window, or even worse, the front and rear are disconnected, it?s undriveable,? said Mercedes boss Toto Wolff.
?I think Lance deserves much more credit than he has been given lately. He has come into the sport when the cars are very difficult to drive against very experienced drivers. I think we need to give him time: He?s an intelligent boy who has proven he can drive cars fast, so let?s see where we are in 12 months.?
Stroll has loads of help behind him, including intricate data from the countless sensors on the car that are crunched by the team?s technical partner Avanade. The technology company delivers real time, corner-by-corner tire pressure, temperature, and load analysis that helps the team figure out how the drivers can adjust their approach to get the rubber working at its peak. Williams believes it is at the forefront with this technology, but so far it hasn?t given Stroll an edge.
While the slow start has been unsatisfying for Stroll, the good news is that he has the opportunity to score his first career F1 points at home on Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. The Catch-22 is the fact that Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is only used once a year for racing and will make getting the most from the tires even more important.
Although he was nine months old when the infamous Wall of Champions got its name, Stroll is keenly aware of the reputation of the barrier at the exit to the final chicane. In 1999, world champions Damon Hill, Michael Schumacher and Canada?s Jacques Villeneuve all crashed into the wall and out of the Canadian Grand Prix race. One memory Stroll wants to avoid is joining their ranks.
?The track will improve a lot throughout the weekend and it?s definitely one of those places when you get more confident you need to know when it?s the right time to risk and push in that area,? Stroll said.
?It?s tricky and I am going to build up to it. You just have to be on top of it.?
He also needs to be on top of media, especially during his home Grand Prix. Stroll completed about half a dozen late afternoon TV interviews in a row on Thursday afternoon before sitting down with the Montreal Gazette. All the duties outside the car are simply another new challenge and part of the job of being an F1 driver, Stroll said.
Despite the tire trouble, a bigger spotlight and an often hugely critical media, he scoffed at the suggestion that the additional pressure of life in F1 is too much for his 18-year-old shoulders.
?I guess you can say that, but I have to accept that I am 18 and I have to learn certain things and gain experience in certain areas before I can achieve my best performance and be the best driver I can be,? he said.
?I love what I am doing ? there are shitty days where I don?t like what I do ? it?s not only right now that I am living the dream but it?s been the last 10 years. I have had this opportunity to go on a journey and experience the ride of racing cars, of different championships around the world, go-karts, F3, F4, and now F1. It?s been so amazing to be able to experience that. There have been bad days, good days and it?s been a great ride.?