European F3 championship leader Lance Stroll has had his first outing in a Formula One car, increasing speculation that the 17-year-old Canadian is at the front of the line for a race seat with the team in 2017.
With teams unable to conduct private in-season testing of their current car, Stroll was nonetheless able to get his hands on the 2014-specification FW36 as part of the Williams development program.
"It wasn't a test," a Williams spokesperson told Motorsport.com. "Lance has spent time in the Williams simulator configured to an F3 car designed to help him with the Euro F3 season.
"Stroll has also now moved into some work experiencing an older spec F1 car, a Williams FW36 in between his F3 racing."
A spokesperson for Stroll insisted that "Lance remains fully committed to his F3 programme and ultimately on winning the title," adding: "Any track days have been designed to fit around this."
Reports suggest that Stroll will be given the chance to drive on several tracks before the end of the year, including the Circuit of the Americas, Interlagos, Abu Dhabi and Suzuka.
Stroll exited the Ferrari Academy at the end of 2015 after Williams made a commitment giving him "extensive simulator time" as part of a program similar to that enjoyed by Valtteri Bottas before his promotion to a race seat in 2013.
"Williams has got me closer to my dream of Formula One in the bigger picture," Stroll told the Montreal Gazette earlier this year. "When I was with Ferrari, it was more like a school. That association did great things for me.
"With Williams, it gives me the opportunity to work a lot closer to an Formula One team and learn. I’ve gone from like a school to a university."
After nine wins so far this season, Stroll currently has a 68-point lead over Prema teammate Maximilian Gunther in the F3 championship with just six races at Imola and Hockenheim remaining. He also drove for Chip Ganassi Racing at the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona in January.
Unlike most drivers, finding sponsorship money won't be an issue for Stroll if he is handed a full time race seat next season, as his father Lawrence is a billionaire businessman in Canada.
Bottas is expected to stay with the team in 2017, but the race seat left vacant by Felipe Massa's announcement of his retirement from Formula One is a much sought after commodity.
Williams' current development driver, Britain's Alex Lynn, is another candidate for the race seat, but the 2014 GP3 Series champion looks increasingly an outside bet compared to Stroll after failing to make his mark in two seasons of GP2.