Stoffel Vandoorne is a rising star in Formula 1 circles. The 23-year-old Belgian won the GP2 Championship in dominant fashion in 2015 and this year steps into Kevin Magnussen’s boots as the McLaren reserve driver. It is not an easy place to be given what happened to Magnussen, but Vandoorne is optimistic that it will lead to a full-time F1 drive with McLaren in 2017. It remains to be seen if that happens because Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button, while older, still want to race – and both have been World Champion.
This year Vandoorne will be attending all the races, doing a lot of work with the McLaren simulator and, it seems, he will be racing in a Honda-backed team in Super Formula in Japan. Is that deal done yet?
“We are still working on that,” he says, “but it is no secret that we are going in that direction. I am confident that a deal will happen. It will be a very busy year for me, but a very good preparation for 2017. I think it is still important to race something. It keeps you race sharp and race fit. It gives you something to work for during the year. Super Formula may not have very many races, but the cars are fast. I tested one at the end of November in Suzuka. They have great cornering speeds so it is a good preparation in 2017. “
So what does he expect in 2017? Has McLaren promised him anything?
“Nothing is promised,” he says, “but I am working my way towards F1. I wanted to be there this year and I feel that I am 100 percent ready to be there. Unfortunately there were no places available so I have to work for 2017. I have showed that I am capable of winning championships and I feel the the team believes in me so I am going into this season to have the best possible preparation for 2017.”
How does he rate his chances?
“It is difficult to say,” he admits, “but I feel I am in the right place. There are no guarantees, but it would be a good place to be .”
What about what happen to Kevin?
“Kevin is great driver and he definitely deserves to be in F1,” Stoffel says. “He may yet end up in F1, but we are at different points of our careers. I am still working my way up there and hopefully I will get there soon. I think we are both very different and our positions are quite different. He was McLaren reserve driver without really the possibility to race. He didn’t have a lot of track time. Hopefully in my case that will be quite a bit different. People have different routes to F1 and some get there before others, but I still think I am quite young and have proven myself in the feeder series and that I deserve a chance to be there.”
Is there a Plan B?
“I am not thinking about that at the moment. I am just trying to focus on my job this year.”
There were some rumours of discussions with Renault?
“There have never been discussions with them,” he says. ” I am contracted to McLaren, I believe in this team and it is where I want to be. Hopefully we can have a good future together here.”
So how is the atmosphere down at McLaren after a horrible 2015?
“It is good,” he says. “Everyone is working hard on the new car. We will still have to wait and see how much we have moved on from 2015. I haven’t been told anything. We have got to wait until the first test, and maybe the first race, to see how far we have moved on compared to last year.”
If there were three identical cars, how does he think he would do against Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button?
“Hopefully I would beat them!’ he says. “Every time I get in a car I want to show that I am the quickest guy around. It’s difficult to say how I would place myself, but we are racing drivers, we are here to compete.”