McLaren doesn’t put rookie grand prix
drivers into Formula 1 seats very often. The
last was Lewis Hamilton in 2007, but before
that you have to go all the way back to
1980 and a 25-year-old Frenchman named
Alain Prost. In both cases, McLaren’s
decision was more than vindicated.
Joining this rarefied company of
mult-time world champions, Stoffel
Vandoorne has forced his way into a
full-time race seat for 2016. But he hasn’t
done so by chance, or just on the evidence
of a debut point in Bahrain, when he stood
in for a bruised and recuperating Fernando
Alonso, following his Australian GP roll.
The 24-year-old Belgian was signed by
McLaren ahead of the 2013 season, after
winning the ultra-competitive Formula
Renault Eurocup. Its backing was crucial as
Vandoorne, whose interest in racing was
sparked by his father designing a restaurant
at a kart track, was far from a moneybags
driver on his way up. At times, prize money
was crucial to him taking the next step,
particularly when moving into cars for the
first time in 1.6-liter Formula Renault
NO ORDINARY ROOKIE
said McLaren racing director Eric Boullier.
“We knew how good he can be, but he had to
show he could dominate in his second year.”
Vandoorne did. Utterly. So much so
that he should have been in F1 this
season, but McLaren with its all-star
Jenson Button/Alonso lineup didn’t have
capacity, and was unwilling to splash the
cash to place him with a smaller team.
McLaren believes Stoffel Vandoorne is a special talent, which is why he’s taking Jenson Button’s seat in 2017.
Stoffel Vandoorne (MAIN) follows in the
illustrious footsteps of Lewis Hamilton
and Alain Prost as rookies getting a
full-season F1 ride with McLaren.
machinery, and then the two-liter class.
In 2013, he finished second to fellow
McLaren junior Kevin Magnussen in Formula
Renault 3. 5 (already, the team had the
suspicion Vandoorne was a better prospect),
and did the same in GP2 in 2014. But for his
second year in GP2 in ’ 15, even winning the
title might not have been enough.
“We told him he must be the boss in GP2,”
A program in the Japan-based Super
Formula Championship, including two
race wins, kept Vandoorne sharp in 2016.
Sitting in for Fernando Alonso, Vandoorne
qualified 12th, ahead of Jenson Button,
and took a point for 10th in his debut GP.