Ferrari signs 11-year-old Montreal driver

The Ferrari Driver Academy has signed 11-year-old Lance Stroll of Montreal, who's the youngest driver to enter the Formula 1 team's program in Maranello, Italy.

The Ferrari Driver Academy has signed 11-year-old Montrealer Lance Stroll, making him the youngest driver to enter the program in Maranello, Italy

"He is very young, but he has already shown in karting that he is exceptionally talented," Luca Baldisserri, who runs the Ferrari Driving Academy, said on the Ferrari website.

"We will follow him step by step in his forthcoming events in North America and he will soon also take part in our courses at Maranello."

Stroll's multimillionaire father has a close business relationship with the storied Italian automaker.

Lawrence Stroll is a collector of Ferraris, said Natalie Bibeau, a Montreal-based public relations spokeswoman hired by Ferrari Quebec. Several karting experts in Quebec say he also imports Ferraris into Canada. 

Forbes magazine says Lawrence Stroll co-founded Sportswear Holdings Limited in 1989 to acquire the Tommy Hilfiger business. 

On its website, Forbes says the 50-year-old Stroll is the chairman of the board of New York-based Global Brands Acquisition Corp. He was listed as 74th among the 100 richest Canadians in 2004 with a net worth of $472 million. 

Formula One is an expensive sport, with some drivers bringing sponsorships as well as driving skills to the table. Ferrari, however, has long been the gold standard of F1 racing.

Gary Wurve, who helps runs the SH Karting track at Mont-St-Hilaire where the younger Stroll has raced, described the 11-year-old as a "natural talent."

"In the first year he got here he was already a front-runner," Wurve said. "He's been racing for three years now and has always been a front-runner. He's a really dedicated racer, he's very intense and always looking to be the fastest out there." 

Bibeau said the young kart racer was not available for interviews.

"He's a great driver," said Hugo Mousseau, team manager of Scuderia Karting. "He has a little extra that makes him the top race driver for his age."

The young Stroll already has two wins in the Canadian national championship in karting's Rotax Mini Max category. He also has victories in the Coupe de Montreal and Coupe du Quebec Micro Max Championship in 2008 and both Mini Max Championships in 2009. 

Ferrari set up its academy in December to "to find and support talented young racing drivers from around the world, with the eventual aim of getting them into the Formula 1 arena."

There are five drivers in the program, Bibeau said. 

Ferrari has had ties with Canada before. Gilles Villeneuve drove for the Italian team from 1978 until his death in 1982.