Williams Martini Racing’s deputy team principal, Claire Williams, has hit back at former world champion Jacques Villeneuve regarding his criticism of rookie Lance Stroll as she cites her driver’s hard work behind the scenes as reason to have confidence in him.

Claire Williams

Villeneuve, the 1997 F1 champion, described Stroll’s start to his Formula 1 career as “one of the worst rookie performers in the history of F1” shortly after the Canadian Grand Prix. Stroll shrugged off the criticism and silenced many doubters by scoring a maiden podium in the Azerbaijan Grand Prix two weeks later.

The 18-year old became the youngest rookie to ever step on to a grand prix podium but it’s his work behind the scenes, away from grand prix race weekends that Claire Williams says gives her confidence in the young Canadian.

“With regard to Jacques’ comments, he’s obviously been pretty vocal in the media,” Williams said to the media at Silverstone. “I don’t want to go into a huge amount of detail about it. I don’t think there’s any need. 

“The way that Lance describes it, he just wants to get on and let his track performance do the talking. I think that’s what we should do because that’s when the critics will stop. When Lance proves he deserves to be in Formula One, which we all at Williams believe anyway.

“You may have only just seen the results on the race track but if you could see the hard work he’s put in behind the scenes over the course of the year, it’s been really impressive. This is a big step-up from the junior formula. I think people can underestimate that step at times.

“He’s delivered against everything we expected of him and I’m looking forward to seeing how he’ll move forward for the rest of the year. It’s great to now have two cars that are scoring points for us in the Constructors’ Championship.” 

Villeneuve entered Formula 1 in 1996 where he finished as runner-up to his Williams team-mate, Damon Hill. The Canadian then claimed the title the following year before his career ran into slow decline until he finally left the sport in 2006.

At the halfway stage of the 2017 season, Stroll has scored in three races, including that third place in Azerbaijan, and currently sits just five points behind his more experienced team-mate, Felipe Massa.