Fernando Alonso may have been wringing the MCL32 to decent points finishes, but McLaren CEO Zak Brown hailed an underrated Stoffel Vandoorne. Brown praised Stoffel’s ability to come through in his rookie season in Formula 1. The Belgian had a tough start but as they say, after you’ve hit rock bottom, the only way to go is up. To be frank, the Vandoorne rookie season was fairly impressive given the calibre of his teammate.
Vandoorne was eliminated in Q1 in seven of the first eight races of the season. All this was while he adjusted to life in Formula 1. The performance level of the MCL32 did little to help his cause. However, Vandoorne secured his first point of the season with a tenth place finish in the Hungarian Grand Prix. Consecutive points finishes in Singapore and Malaysia helped his morale. It also temporarily put him ahead of team-mate Fernando Alonso in the Drivers’ Championship.
Brown was delighted to see the Belgian bounce back from his difficult start to the campaign. What made the Vandoorne rookie season even more impressive was that he was up against one of the best in the business. It was also a learning curve as he was unfamiliar with some of the circuits. Particularly those outside of Europe where he had not raced before.
Brown said, “It was a very difficult start for him with our reliability issues. He’s a rookie, he was going to a lot of tracks for the first time. Fernando has the benefit of 15 or 16 years, so if he had an issue and it was kind of ‘you’ve got five laps to do it’, he could draw on 15 years’ experience. Stoffel would miss some sessions, having never been to the track before, and he’s got five laps to do it, oh and by the way your team-mate is one of the best drivers in the world. If you look at the pressure and circumstances, his attitude was great, his speed is getting better and better, he’s very close to Fernando now.”
Brown also admitted that most of the updates were initially exclusive to Alonso’s car. It had an effect on Stoffel’s relative performance compared to his Spanish team-mate. He said, “They’ve not always had the same equipment. We run both cars identically but there have been times that you have only one development piece so nine out of 10 times you give that to the more experienced driver. There were some races where the gap may have looked larger than they were but that was a car gap more than a driver gap, so I’m very happy with him.”