2017 F1 season could be considered the year of the rookie in terms of number. We had 6 new drivers including McLaren’s Stoffel Van Doorne.
In 2016, Van Doorne did step in for Alonso at Bahrain, who had been temporarily sidelined after his shunt in Melbourne, but really 2017 should be considered a rookie year for the young Belgium who raced his first full season in F1.
Many would acknowledge their ‘rookie of the year’ for 2017 to be Force India’s Esteban Ocon, who regularly challenged the better experienced and reasonably well rated Sergio Perez, often with spectacular results. Yet, McLaren’s rookie could be considered a close runner up to Ocon or perhaps better when considering the dual challenge of an unreliable and slow McLaren plus a certain ‘Spanish Samurai’ as a team mate. The Belgium finished his season on 13 points to Alonso’s 17 – a decent showing when both McLaren’s would often struggle to finish a race distance, blighted with ludicrous grid penalties week in week out.
Add to this, the statements recently issued by team boss Zak Brown, who admitted that Alonso’s better results were mostly due to fact that he had a superior engine / chassis package. The Spaniard also had priority for new parts, which made it difficult for Vandoorne to drive at the same level as the former Formula 1 World Champion.
“They did not always have the same parts,” Brown said. “Both cars were looked after identically, but sometimes we only had one update available.”
Nine out of ten updates would go to the more experienced driver, therefore, the distance between the two cars in some races looked larger than it actually was.
“The gap was created by the car and not by the skills of the drivers,” explains Brown. “We are very satisfied with Stoffel’s performance.”
Further, add to the mix that due to Honda’s engine problems, the McLaren’s had to miss some practice sessions, denying vital seat time to the inexperienced rookie.
“It was not an easy start for [Stoffel] as we had problems with the reliability of the vehicle, he was a freshman who has been driving some circuits for the first time in his life.”
“Stoffel had missed sessions on tracks he had never been to before,” added Brown. “He only had five laps to set a good time, so of course it’s difficult if your teammate is one of the best racers in the world.”
And yet, the most remarkable feat for the Belgium was his ability to make up places during the races, often catching up to his team mate. Furthermore, Brown points out that by these factors and race data, that actually “He’s close to Fernando.”
Hats off Stoffel.