Stoffel Vandoorne: “Our focus this weekend has always been on the race”

Stoffel Vandoorne has concentrated on race pace in Azerbaijan - Credit: Steven Tee/McLaren

Stoffel Vandoorne was slowest of those who set a time during qualifying for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix on Saturday, and coupled with a grid penalty for engine and gearbox changes, the Belgian admitted this weekend has been a struggle.

The McLaren Honda Formula 1 Team racer had a thirty-place penalty hanging over him heading into qualifying, so focused his attention on race pace, although he hopes to keep it clean on Sunday and take advantage of any opportunity that may present itself to move forward.

Vandoorne will start ahead of team-mate Fernando Alonso due to the Spaniard’s forty-place grid penalty, but he feels the pace has not really been in the MCL32 this weekend.

“I think I was always destined to start 19th this weekend!” admitted Vandoorne. “There were no big surprises for us in qualifying today. Our focus this weekend has always been on the race – today doesn’t mean too much, really. We always expected to struggle a little bit around here; we’ve not been on the pace all weekend, so let’s just see what happens tomorrow.

“This is a tricky circuit – the long straights mean the brakes and tyres get cool, so the braking zones are very difficult to get right. There are definitely some opportunities to be had out on track – we’ve seen drivers going off in every session, so we’ll be looking to benefit from those.”