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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.”

Reviewing Danica Patrick’s highs and lows at Indianapolis Motor Speedway

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So much of Danica Patrick’s fame can be traced to Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

It’s where she became a household name 13 years ago when she became the first woman to lead the Indianapolis 500 and emerged as a transcendent athlete.

It’s where everything started. This Sunday, it’s where everything will end, too.

In her last warmup before starting the final race of her career, Patrick had a bumpy final practice Friday on Carb Day. She was eighth fastest, but her Dallara-Chevrolet was in the garage most of the session because of an electrical problem in the engine. After returning during the final 10 minutes of the session, Patrick’s No. 13 seemed to be OK.

“At the end of the day, these are things you’re actually glad for, because if this had happened Sunday, we would have been done,” she said. “I’m glad to get the issues out of the way early on. Overall, today felt good. We made some changes when I went out the second time, and I’m feeling good about starting seventh on Sunday.”
Though she has had her share of success – along with a fourth in her debut, there was a third in 2009 and six top 10s in seven starts — Patrick has learned well how to handle frustration at the 2.5-mile track, too.

Fuel mileage might have kept her from winning her debut, a pit collision ruined 2008, and an unstable setup made 2010 a wild ride.

For a review of her up-and-down history at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and her legacy in racing, watch the video essay above that ran during Friday’s NASCAR America Motorsports Special on NBCSN.