After making his official début here in Bahrain this weekend as stand in for the injured Fernando Alonso, McLaren protégé Stoffel Vandoorne was extremely pleased with how the Friday practice sessions went, and has a good feeling for the rest of the weekend.
After a quiet start to proceedings in FP1, the Belgian was much improved in FP2 as he became more familiar with the MP4-31. Finishing just seven tenths off the pace of team-mate Jenson Button, matching the Briton’s times in the final two sectors of the lap, he ended the session in P11 happy with his progress so far.
“I turned 24 on Saturday so this is a very good birthday present! ” said Vandoorne. “Today has been great – I wasn’t expecting to drive this weekend, but I’m very happy for this opportunity. I’m going to try and do as good a job as possible for the team.
“I feel 100 per cent ready for this and today was a very good day for me. I haven’t driven this car before but I quickly felt comfortable in the car, progressed quite a lot through FP1 and then had quite a good feeling through FP2 as well.”
Vandoorne revealed it was important for him to learn as much as he could during the running on Friday as he builds up to his debut race having flown back from Super Formula testing in Japan to replace the injured Alonso.
“The most important thing for us was to do a lot of laps; we did a lot of pit stops, practice starts, the operational stuff, really, to cover all the things I have to learn,” said Vandoorne. “During my trip here from Japan I had a lot of preparation work and learning to do – the engineers sent me a lot of stuff and I’ve been through it all – I spent my time well on the plane! There’s still a lot of things we have to go through tomorrow and definitely before the race, but so far everything has been very good.
“I really want to enjoy this opportunity and I’m very excited about the chance I’m getting. Fernando has been around all day beside me and with the engineers, and has been giving me some great advice. We have a great team and I know a lot of the guys around here so it makes my life a little bit easier to come and work with them.
“It’s definitely not an ideal situation to just jump in the car without any testing, but so far this Friday has been very good during both practice sessions. I’ve been feeling more and more comfortable, and tomorrow I think that progression is going to continue. I felt very prepared today – I’ve done a lot of simulator work over the last few months at the factory.
“Since I got the call, I’ve done a lot of learning with the engineers, about how to set up the car, and also how to operationally bring the car home during the race. It’s been a busy day, but everything went fine. Bahrain is a track I really enjoy and I’m really looking forward to the rest of the weekend.”