It’s been a long, long time since Stoffel Vandoorne scored a point on his F1 debut in Bahrain 2016 and showed the promise of a future champion as the stand-in for the injured Fernando Alonso, but where did it go wrong? We will take a look at Stoffel’s career to date and where it might lead.
Stoffel Vandoorne made his Formula One debut replacing an injured Fernando Alonso after the Spaniard had a massive crash with Esteban Gutierrez in the Australian Grand Prix. He came into the sport as the reigning GP2 champion and put in a solid drive to finish 10th and score McLaren’s first points of the season. This would be his only race that season with Alonso returning for the Chinese Grand Prix, he would then spend the rest of the season competing in Super Formula where he would win two races on his way to fourth in the championship. Stoffel would finally get his break when Jenson Button announced he would step away from the sport in 2017. Unfortunately Honda and McLaren slipped back and a lack of horse power and reliability squandered his chances of competing in the midfield let alone the top end of the grid.
A winter testing that was plagued by reliability issues made a massive impact into Stoffel’s start of season where he really struggled to adapt to the 2017 generation of F1 cars. Reliability issues hurt his chances of finishing races and scoring points but a mistake from Stoffel in Spain which saw him crash with Felipe Massa and a poor showing in Monaco meant he had to wait until Hungary to score his first points in an unconvincing 10th.
Stoffel would finally make his breakthrough in Singapore in a dramatic rain soaked Grand Prix where he finished P7 in a mature drive fighting with the Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas, albeit for a short period of time. He would then follow this up by out-qualifying his highly rated teammate in Malaysia and finished with another 7th place having the measure over Alonso all weekend. Stoffel was finally showing the form he had promised and with McLaren announcing they would switch to Renault power things were on the way up for the Belgian.
2018 was far from what anyone predicted and McLaren started off seemingly no more reliable than they did in 2017, McLaren chalked up the fewest laps of winter testing and appeared to be lacking the outright pace compared to the front runners of the field.
When the Formula One paddock arrived in Australia a lot of concern was held over McLaren’s pace, they didn’t look like they had the speed that they were so confident they would find with Renault power. Both cars failed to make it to Q3 and with all the expectations at their door the pressure was on, but come race day McLaren looked far more competitive and managed to have both cars finish in the points with Vandoorne finishing P9. This was followed up by two more points finishes in Bahrain and Azerbaijan but this would be the last time Stoffel would score points so far this season.
The car is way off the top teams and finds itself in the middle of a tight midfield battle with Haas, Renault, Toro Rosso, Sauber and Force India. Compared to his teammate who sits 9th in the drivers championship; Stoffel has struggled to hustle his car into the points and hasn’t been able to out-qualify his teammate once this season, a testament as to how tough of a season he is having. Stoffel had owed some of the problems to an issue with the chassis he had been running for the most part of the season, as such this was replaced in Germany and Stoffel did show improvements and was even running in the points in Hungary until a transmission failure ended his race.
There is now a lot of pressure as silly season hits full swing with many expecting Stoffel to be replaced by either Esteban Ocon or Lando Norris. Stoffel will have to raise his game and start beating Alonso if he has any chance of being retained by McLaren in 2019. A fresh start however may be good for Stoffel and Toro Rosso could well be where that fresh start may be, it would be a great shame if Vandoorne were to fall out of the F1 grid but it’s a tough environment and only the best can remain the sport.
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