Zak Brown was full of praise for Stoffel Vandoorne for the way he came through his rookie season in Formula 1 after the Belgian endured a tough start only to get stronger and stronger as the year progressed.
Vandoorne was eliminated in the first segment of Qualifying in seven of the first eight races of the season as the McLaren Honda Formula 1 Team racer adjusted to life in Formula 1, although he was not helped by the level of performance of his MCL32, and in particular the strength and reliability of the Honda power unit.
However, Vandoorne secured his first point of the season with a tenth place finish in the Hungarian Grand Prix, and consecutive seventh place finishes in the Singapore and Malaysian Grand Prix temporarily put him ahead of team-mate Fernando Alonso in the Drivers’ Championship, although the Spaniard edged back ahead in the closing races of the season.
Brown, the Executive Director of McLaren, was delighted to see the Belgian bounce back from his difficult start to the campaign, particularly as he was up against one of the best in the business in Alonso and was also learning some of the circuits, particularly those outside of Europe where he had not raced before.
“It was a very difficult start for him with our reliability issues,” said Brown to GPUpdate. “He’s a rookie, he was going to a lot of tracks for the first time.
“Fernando has the benefit of 15 or 16 years, so if he had an issue and it was kind of ‘you’ve got five laps to do it’, he could draw on 15 years’ experience.
“Stoffel would miss some sessions, having never been to the track before, and he’s got five laps to do it, oh and by the way your team-mate is one of the best drivers in the world.
“If you look at the pressure and circumstances, his attitude was great, his speed is getting better and better, he’s very close to Fernando now.”
Brown also revealed that at times during the season, updates were initially only applied to Alonso’s car, which often had an effect on the relative performance of the Belgian compared to his Spanish team-mate.
“They’ve not always had the same equipment,” said Brown. “We run both cars identically but there have been times that you have only one development piece so nine out of 10 times you give that to the more experienced driver.
“There were some races where the gap may have looked larger than they were but that was a car gap more than a driver gap, so I’m very happy with him.”