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Spotlight firmly on Stroll after brilliant podium in Baku

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SPIELBERG, Austria (AP) The spotlight is on teenage driver Lance Stroll at this weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix following his brilliant podium finish two weeks ago.

The 18-year-old Canadian produced the drive of his young career to finish third at the Azerbaijan GP, answering his critics in style.

Having secured a podium in just the eighth race of his career, he now has a strong platform to build on.

“For sure he’s young, he has a lot to learn but he proved that he’s growing,” Williams teammate Felipe Massa said, with a “much better performance than (observers) were expecting.”

At 36, Massa is twice Stroll’s age and knows all about the pressures of F1. He was agonizingly close to winning the F1 title when driving for Ferrari – losing it to Lewis Hamilton on the last lap of the 2008 season.

Now in his last year in F1, Massa is committed to helping Stroll.

“I met him when he was seven or eight years old, so I really have no problem to pass on everything I can to help him,” the Brazilian said. “He’s a lot more confident.”

Stroll was once part of the prestigious driver academy at Ferrari where he first met Massa.

Although Stroll won last year’s European Formula 3 championship by a large margin, being the son of billionaire investor Lawrence Stroll allowed critics the freedom to speculate his seat at Williams was more down to financial backing than his own talent.

Failure to finish four of the first six races of his debut season gave those critics even more ammunition.

Stroll responded with ninth at his home GP in Montreal and followed that up with his brilliant performance in Baku – narrowly missing out on second place to Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas.

“Before, I just did not have the confidence to push the car, because the car was just not giving me what I needed,” Stroll said. “(The car) is also getting more from me.”

Massa’s experience, Stroll says, will prove vital over the course of the year.

“At the moment I am at a stage in my career where I do not always know what I need from the car and Felipe does,” Stroll said. “I need to start feeling what needs to be done with the car. Sometimes it might go in the wrong direction, but it is a learning process.”

Usain Bolt, Bill Clinton among headline guests for USGP at COTA

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The Circuit of The Americas paddock ahead of the United States Grand Prix may have been busy with teams and drivers preparing for lights out, but much of the attention lay with a number of headline guests including former presidents and Olympic champions.

As part of its plans to up the excitement levels ahead of Sunday’s grand prix and mirror other sporting events, F1’s new owner, Liberty Media, announced plans a couple of weeks ago to link up with iconic boxing announcer Michael Buffer and eight-time Olympic gold medallist Usain Bolt for the pre-race festivities.

Ahead of today’s race in Austin, Buffer will introduce the drivers in a number of groups before offering the call for drivers to start their engines, similar to the pre-race procedure for the Indianapolis 500.

Honorary race starter Bolt, who competed in his last athletic world championship event in London earlier this year, will appear on the start line to complete his signature victory pose before waving the green flags to launch the formation lap.

Bolt was also treated to a hot lap around COTA by Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton before the start of the formal pre-race build up program in Austin.

Liberty issued a list of celebrities and other public figures who are confirmed to be attending today’s race, including Verizon IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden and actor Owen Wilson among others.

One name that wasn’t on the list? 42nd President of the United States, Bill Clinton, who quickly became a focus for the paddock upon arrival three hours before lights out.

The United States Grand Prix is live on NBC and NBC Sports app from 2pm ET today.