McLaren: Vandoorne held back by junior career driving style
McLaren says new Formula 1 recruit Stoffel Vandoorne has been hampered by him sticking to the driving style he learned during his successful junior single-seater career.
Vandoorne was promoted to a full-time race seat in place of Jenson Button for this year, but has struggled compared to teammate Fernando Alonso so far, failing to escape Q1 at any of the first five races.
Before graduating to F1, Vandoorne won titles in Formula 4, Formula Renault 2.0 and GP2, and won multiple races in Formula Renault 3.5 and Japanese Super Formula.
Unlike Formula 1, these categories all use a single make of chassis, and McLaren believes sticking too rigidly to the driving style that served him so well in those categories has hurt Vandoorne’s form in F1.
“When you come from these kinds of [junior] categories, it’s the same car for everybody - so you have a driving style you have developed around this car to drive them,” explained McLaren racing director Eric Boullier.
“Formula 1 is different - every weekend we bring new front wing, new bodywork, new rear wing, new floor, so the car balance is very different.
“When you have been told during your young career to drive the car one way, in Formula 1 you have to be a bit more flexible and this is only experience.
“He is learning. The team has to move chassis-wise, set-up wise to go to his natural driving style - because every driver has a natural style - and at the same time he is moving out of that, trying to drive differently.”
McLaren summoned Vandoorne to its Woking HQ before the recent Monaco Grand Prix and the Belgian’s form improved after he'd held a special round of talks with his engineering group in a bid to better communicate his needs.
The Belgian driver made Q3 for the first time in Monte Carlo, before crashing at the Swimming Pool, and was looking good to score McLaren-Honda’s first point of the season in the race until crashing out under challenge from Sergio Perez after the safety car restart.
“I’ve been working hard with the team over the past couple of weeks to improve the relationship with the engineers and to get from the car exactly what I want and it’s a step in the good direction,” Vandoorne said.
“The result in qualifying was very encouraging, apart from the crash, but every time we were out on track we were fifth, sixth, seventh - we definitely had the potential to repeat that in Q3.
“It’s a continuous development. I’m still new in Formula 1 and it’s building that relationship with the engineers, trying to understand what you need from the car to be quick. It’s going in the right direction.”
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