Stoffel Vandoorne says he remains confident that he will not suffer the same fate that befell his former McLaren counterpart Kevin Magnussen after he was dropped by the team following a year on the sidelines.
The GP2 Series champion heads into the 2016 season preparing to focus on a non-racing reserve position with McLaren, replacing Magnussen who was forced to assume the role for 2015 when he was relegated from his 2014 race seat.
Though the Dane hoped he would be promoted again for 2016, Vandoorne's ascension coupled to the desire to retain Jenson Button would see him released from his contract in October 2015.
For Vandoorne, who is hoping to race in the Japanese-based Super Formula series this year, he says that while Magnussen deserves to still be in F1, he doesn't expect his career to follow a similar route.
“Kevin is he a great driver and definitely deserves to be in F1 and maybe might still end up in F1. We are at different points in our career. I have not yet been in Formula 1 and I am working my way up there. Hopefully I will get there soon.
“This year I will be the reserve driver for McLaren and hope to combine it with racing in Super Formula and working with the team to get it right one day.”
“Do you have assurances you will be driving an F1 car in 2017?”
It's a question he has been asked umpteen times, but Stoffel Vandoorne shows no hint of being irked by the repetitiveness. In fact, when facing a conference call of several journalists, his answers were thorough and positive… but if it is indeed true that he has no assurances of a race seat, the fate of Kevin Magnussen will have crossed his mind numerous times and no doubt set the tone for any impending negotiations.
There are differences in their plight – Magnussen had a year of racing behind him and though his rookie approach may have been a little different if he had known the Fernando Alonso-shaped curve ball that was coming his way, McLaren-Honda at least had something to measure against.
For Vandoorne, he has done everything that has been asked of him to the point that he can be excused for thinking it is time for McLaren to fulfil their end of the bargain. If anything, Magnussen's exit puts pressure on McLaren to not let it happen again.
Though Super Formula will keep him race fit, all but those in know would likely expect him to waltz to the title against the relative standard of drivers – largely a blend of little-known locals and WEC drivers -, but it is going to be nowhere near that easy.
To McLaren's credit, they are very aware of the talent that they have in their midst and while it is regrettable that Vandoorne faces a year on the sidelines in 2016, it would be a travesty if this also happens in 2017. There is not much he can do but maintain his positive attitude and determined work ethic… and, as he prepares to conduct two days of wet weather testing in Paul Ricard, it is exactly what he is doing.