Stoffel Vandoorne says he is feeling more pressure ahead of his debut season in the Japanese Super Formula series rather than when he was expected to take the GP2 Series by storm 12 months ago.
The McLaren third and reserve driver will remain as an understudy to Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso for 2016 and the team are keeping the Belgian driver sharp by entering him into the Super Formula championship with the Honda-powered Docomo Team Dandelion Racing squad.
Vandoorne feels it is an ideal opportunity to strengthen his ties with Honda but admits he is anxious building up to his Super Formula debut as it is a move into the unknown.
“Obviously after winning GP2 I really wanted to be in Formula 1 but sometimes it is like it is,” Vandoorne said. “There are no places available. Having a racing programme in Japan and linked with Honda will be a good opportunity to build a relationship with Honda and prepare for 2017.
“There is more pressure now because in GP2 everyone said I had to win it and pretty much dominate it. This year I am going into the unknown as I don't really know what to expect but it will be business as usual. I will do the work as I've always done over the past few years as it has worked pretty well for me. I'm confident I have the ability to do a good job and when the whole package fits together – driver, team, car, engine and tyres – I'm sure we can do a good job.”
McLaren's racing director Eric Boullier has ruled out giving Vandoorne runs during FP1 sessions this season as he does not see the value in it but hasn't ruled out giving him track time in the MP4-31 during the mid-season tests at Circuit de Catalunya and Silverstone.
“He is one of the fastest youngsters in the place, I am not worried about this,” Boullier added. “If he has the best car he will be on pole and win races. We want him to keep racing and a car with a lot of downforce and in Super Formula there is a lot of grip and it is good for him to have this training.
“He needs to race something alongside his role and this will keep him fit. He told me in sector one in Suzuka the cornering speed is faster than F1. It is good for him and next year if he has the opportunity to race for us.”