Stoffel Vandoorne says entering F1 at a time of change in the regulations will be an advantage – albeit a brief one – as he prepares for his full McLaren debut in 2017.
The Belgian already has one grand prix under his belt, having taken tenth place in this year's Bahrain Grand Prix while substituting for the injured Fernando Alonso, but believes that he will be able to approach next season with a clear mind after spending much of 2016 racing in Japan.
Despite winning last year's GP2 Series title at a canter, Vandoorne was passed over as Alonso's 2016 team-mate when McLaren decided to stick with Jenson Button, but the Belgian insists that, while the decision was frustrating at the time, it might allow him to hit the ground running next season, when F1 introduces wide-ranging technical changes.
“This is a probably a nice opportunity to perform well for me, as I don't come with the 'baggage' of the old F1 car experience, [so] it could actually be a bit of an advantage for me to have a big reshuffle next year,” Vandoorne told the official F1 website, before acknowledging that the sport's veterans have proven adept at accepting change, “F1 drivers are all so massively talented that any change will be immediately absorbed and implemented. The reality of F1 is that almost every race, cars are changing with updates - so drivers are used to that. And those who are right now in F1 are those who have shown that they can adapt very quickly - otherwise they wouldn't be here.”
Newcomers to the McLaren fold have not always had time to settle in before being moved on, no matter how talented they are – see Heikki Kovalainen and Kevin Magnussen as recent examples – and Vandoorne is under no illusion that he needs to produce results to ensure that remains a fixture in the top flight.
“Keep doing the job that I've always done,” he said when asked what his gameplan for 2017 would be, “This is an environment where you have to perform and I am used to that demand, so [there are] no surprises in that respect. I had to win championships to move forward, otherwise I would not be here. You might say that I grew up in a pressure environment [and, while] F1 is a bit more in every respect, I have enough self-confidence to know that I can handle it.
“Fact is that I didn't race this year - and fact is also that the team is improving massively - so let's see what that makes the 2017 season. For sure, it is always better to join when the team is on the rise, no doubt about that.”
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