Stoffel Vandoorne says he found Fernando Alonso's presence in the McLaren-Honda garage helpful rather than additional pressure as he made his much anticipated F1 race weekend debut in Bahrain.
The reigning GP2 Series champion received a late call up to replace Alonso after the Spaniard was diagnosed with chest injuries in the wake of his mammoth accident during the Australian Grand Prix.
Forced to make a long haul trip back from Japan, where he was set to resume Super Formula testing, Vandoorne received his first taste of the Honda-engined MP4-31 in FP1, ending the day a solid 11th fastest seven tenths behind third place team-mate Jenson Button.
A chance to learn about the car and get acquainted with it, Vandoorne says he is thrilled to be getting the opportunity to compete in an F1 race, but says he is not setting himself any goals.
“It feels good to finally have the chance to take part in a Grand Prix. I had been waiting for this opportunity for a while now, I've been getting good results in the championships where I've been running and today things went reasonably well in both sessions.
“I had never tested this car, this was my first time on it but I adapted pretty quickly and I feel I made a lot of progress in the afternoon session. Let's see what the rest of the weekend will bring.
“Today I had to learn a lot of things about the car and the performance will come, as I have to get used to everything. There's potential to do a lot better but I'm not setting myself any goals. I'll just my best with the team and then we'll see what result we get at the end of the weekend.
With Alonso staying on to provide assistance, Vandoorne says it was welcome to have him watching his efforts, rather than pressure to perform.
“Having Fernando by my car didn't put any extra pressure on me, it was actually quite nice from him to be there and giving his opinion on the set-up changes we should do, so I felt he was helping me.”