Debutant Stoffel Vandoorne out-qualified experienced team-mate Jenson Button during qualifying for the Bahrain Grand Prix as the Belgian continued his weekend in place of the injured Fernando Alonso at McLaren-Honda.
Vandoorne set a best time of 1m31.934s during Saturday’s qualifying session and will start his first Grand Prix from twelfth on the grid, with the Belgian insisting he was happy with the outcome of the session.
“I think I can be pretty happy with today’s result,” insisted Vandoorne. “I didn’t really know what to expect, but from yesterday onwards I’ve felt quite confident in the car and today was all about fine-tuning it.
“Free practice earlier today was quite good; I still knew there was a bit more time to come, and I think we more or less maximised everything in qualifying today. It was a close call in Q1, but then in Q2 I had a clean lap without mistakes.
“We could see it was very close in front of us, and if we’d gained one or two tenths we could maybe have got into Q3. So unless you’re on pole there’s always some margin for improvement, but overall I’m very happy with the qualifying I just had.”
Vandoorne felt his pace was on par with that of team-mate Button in practice, and feels the former World Champion is a good benchmark for him as he learns about racing in Formula 1.
“I knew after yesterday and this morning that I had quite similar pace to Jenson, and that if I improved a little bit I could maybe therefore challenge him,” insisted Vandoorne.
“He’s a world champion, and an excellent driver obviously, so he’s been a really good benchmark for me this weekend. I have a lot of respect for him.”
Vandoorne revealed that it is still sinking in that he’ll be making his Grand Prix debut on Sunday for McLaren, and is looking to do the very best job he can achieve on a track he knows well but in a car he is still learning about.
“I’ve won here in Bahrain before, and I like the circuit,” said Vandoorne. “I know it well – and it definitely helps if you know a circuit before you make your grand prix debut there. Obviously I didn’t know the car before getting here this weekend, but it helped that I knew the circuit.
“It’s a good feeling to have done a decent job, but now our focus in only on tomorrow: to try to have a good race. It’s not really sunk in yet that tomorrow I’ll drive my first grand prix – I’ve just been focusing on qualifying so far – but now I’ve got some time to think, prepare for the race and do my very best to make a good job of it.
“There’s lots to analyse before tomorrow, lots of different strategies to go through, but I feel confident I can do an okay job. What it will bring us, I think it’s still too early to say, and I don’t want to make any predictions. So we’ll see.”