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Formula 1

Vandoorne: Losing out on Mercedes race chance ‘hurts’

by Matt Beer
4 min read

Mercedes Formula 1 reserve Stoffel Vandoorne has admitted being overlooked in favour of George Russell for the role of Lewis Hamilton’s stand-in this weekend “hurts”.

Vandoorne will be present at this weekend’s Sakhir Grand Prix anyway, as it had always been the plan that he would travel there direct from testing with Mercedes’ Formula E team at Valencia.

But Mercedes has chosen to call up its long-time protege George Russell from his Williams seat instead.

Vandoorne had admitted on Tuesday that he had been informed about Hamilton’s COVID-19 test result early and was travelling to Bahrain knowing he had “a chance” of returning to the F1 grid after a two-year absence and doing so in the championship-winning car.

“Firstly I want to wish Lewis Hamilton a speedy recovery and hopefully he’ll be back in the car asap,” Vandoorne wrote on his social media channels.

“Nobody can really replace him!

“Obviously, I’m disappointed not to get the chance to drive for Mercedes AMG F1 this weekend.

Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren F1 2020

“After having spent the year travelling to all F1 races and dedicating so much time, physical training, commitment to this programme… it hurts!

“On the other hand, I respect the choice of putting George Russell in the car.

“He has been one of the standout drivers and he fully deserves this opportunity.

“It’s moments like these that make my drive even bigger and I can assure you I’m going to continue giving 100%!”

Vandoorne raced in F1 for McLaren in 2017/18 but struggled to maintain the momentum from his hugely impressive junior career and was dropped at the end of his second season.

He moved straight to Mercedes to take up his dual F1 reserve and FE racing role, and was runner-up in the 2019/20 Formula E drivers’ standings this season.


Click here for Edd Straw’s full column on Stoffel Vandoorne’s F1 anti-climax

Vandoorne’s two seasons with McLaren were in incredibly difficult circumstances and did not allow the Belgian to show how good he was.

But it would be overly-generous to suggest Vandoorne made the most of that opportunity and the struggles to compensate for the limitations of the car in 2018 exposed a weakness.

He’s not the first driver with great expectations to have fallen short at the top level, but that does not mean he’s not able to be a very capable grand prix driver. It simply means that hopes he might have the potential to be one of the very best in F1 were misplaced.

After all, a driver of the calibre or Alonso, Max Verstappen, Charles Leclerc or Hamilton would have found a way to make it work in the same situation. That Vandoorne lost his drive after his 2018 struggles is neither an injustice nor evidence of a lack of talent.

What is important is that the reasons for Vandoorne’s failure in F1 are clear. You can’t simply blame McLaren, for Vandoorne could not extract the potential that was in the limited car and there were question marks about his attitude and approach when the pressure on him ramped up, but you also cannot ignore the circumstances of the situation he was in.

Stoffel Vandoorne F1 2020

After all, he’s still the same driver who tore up the junior ranks. And, even more significantly, the same driver who showed well alongside Alonso in 2017 when you consider how high a benchmark that is.

In some ways, Vandoorne was perhaps 2018’s equivalent of Alex Albon. In a limited car and up against a great driver, both have been made to look poor when they are clearly extremely able drivers. While not blameless, the difficulty of their predicament must be factored in. Just because they have not given the best account of themselves does not mean they are no-hopers.

Had Vandoorne raced in the Sakhir Grand Prix, we could not have expected miracles and it would have taken something special for him to restore even a fraction of the reputation he had before F1.

But he could at least have reminded everyone of how good he is and stoked the dying embers of a once-promising grand prix career. Not to mention potentially picking up a very good result.

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