For many people, Stoffel Vandoorne is a divisive figure: for some there’s a star in the making who’s a solid driver in the wrong car; for others he’s underperforming and occupying a seat young Lando Norris deserves far more. But is there a definitive answer to this question? We take the time to find out.
In the junior ranks Vandoorne certainly has the records of the best; he won titles in European Formula 4, Formula Renault and GP2 in his first or second season. Let me tell you, you don’t get a CV like that without having some serious talent.
Okay, Pastor Maldonado won the GP2 title and is more famous for crashing out than he is for Williams' first victory in 8 years, but Stoffel is not an erratic driver. Stoffel’s talents are consistency and he doesn’t hit the wall or spin out regularly. The supporters will say that this is why he’s a good driver to have, he keeps the car on the track and drives it relatively quickly. The doubters though will remind you that any player who is claiming consistency as his top strength is lacking some serious race craft.
So why doesn’t Vandoorne stand out to the fans? Well he is not an eye catching driver, more of a Prost than a Senna. To top this off he hasn’t ever challenged his team mate consistently. This hasn’t filled the community with confidence that he can challenge the best on race pace on any more than the odd weekend.
Yet is this a fair assessment of the Belgian? Well not entirely. He has the best GP2 record of recent years with exception to Charles Leclerc, beating Gasly and Giovinazzi en route to F1. Secondly, his team mate is the mighty Fernando Alonso... the double world champion and man regarded as one of the best on the grid, so beating him is certainly far from easy. The only one you struggle to argue with is the non-eye catching point because he is Mr Consistent. So was Alain Prost, Nico and Keke Rosberg amongst many other world champions so using it as a critique of his driving is not a really fair argument.
One other thing that is important to remember is that the Belgian showed great maturity on debut for McLaren at the 2016 Bahrain Grand Prix after Fernando Alonso had his major crash in Australia a fortnight previous which ruled him out of the race with concussion. Not only did he look natural in the McLaren, he even scored a points finish coming home in tenth place.
Since then he added to his tally last year and has finished in the points several times in 2018 already. Granted he has been out scored by Alonso although he did nearly beat the veteran Spaniard over the course of last season, something that only Jenson Button has done in the last decade, To put this in even more perspective Fernando has only been beaten by drivers in identical machinery twice over his career, the older occasion being by Lewis Hamilton in his debut season back in 2007.
So to call Vandoorne reject or outcast so soon in his career despite a reasonably strong start is highly unfair. While granted the Belgian has not set the world alight he has done more than enough to earn his place in Formula One for next year with or without Alonso. And finally, let us remember the days of McLaren being a front running team and competing for victories is now behind us. In fact this team is a midfield runner at best, and whether you rate him or not you cannot claim that he is not a midfielder driver and for that reason I believe he should not be replaced.
As with all our articles on this subject this is merely an opinion piece we would love to hear your thoughts on both Stoffel and the McLaren lineup for 2019.
Finally remembered to like us on Facebook or follow us on Instagram @Rach_F1
by Matthew Gannon