The F1 rumor mill is bubbling – and makes for much speculation about the future of McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne.
The paddock whispers indicate that there’s a real chance we’ll see Vandoorne removed from his seat at his own home Grand Prix in Belgium, with Lando Norris taking over the reins, partnering Fernando Alonso.
The 2018 season is difficult one for Stoffel Vandoorne, up until Baku the Belgium has collected points for McLaren but since the race in Azerbaijan, Stoffel has had continual failures to finish in the top 10 scoring positions. Even considering the circumstances, 8 races with no points is a bitter pill to swallow.
Currently, Stoffel has 8 drivers championship points placing him 16th, compared to team mate Fernando Alonso’s 44.
Many of the problems facing Stoffel this season haven’t been of his own doing admittedly. The 26 year old raced over several weekends with a bent chassis, the team admitted as much and Alonso confirmed saying:
“We see that clearly in the data, something is wrong with his car,”
Super disappointed today, did everything right and got ourself in for a point finish… Want to thank my boys @McLarenF1 for the work they have put in to change my chassis this weekend and get our pace back! Summer break calling now ☀️✌️👊 pic.twitter.com/QYJQ5HMDRD
— Stoffel Vandoorne (@svandoorne) July 29, 2018
The Woking team gave Vandoorne a new chassis for the recent race at the Hungaroring, but a gearbox problem prevented him from seeing the checkered flag.
It’s still unclear if the new chassis will improve the performances going forward.
McLaren’s boss Zak Brown spoke to the French publication “La Derniere Heure” this week, and made comment on the paddock rumour regarding a change mid season for the unfortunate Belgium.
Tongues wag, and it is thought that we might actually see the last of Vandoorne, and he won’t be in the seat for the season restart for his home race at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium.
McLaren junior Lando Norris has impressed many and is currently sitting second in F2 with eight races to go. Norris joined McLaren’s young driver scheme last year and swept to the Formula 3 title, before stepping up to Formula 2 this season.
The lad is impressive. When asked about his plans, Norris gave an indication that due to uncertainty with Alonso, his future with McLaren is uncertain. Certainly rumours indicate that Norris has been linked with a move to Toro Rosso as a replacement for Brendon Hartley.
“I think ideally I’d be with McLaren next year, that’s the perfect situation, but it’s not up for me to decide, it’s up to the bosses and Fernando…”
McLaren would surely not want to loose a potential rising star to a Red Bull team but when asked if a driver swap was possible, Brown said, “That’s unlikely.”
A pretty comprehensive answer. But then when asked if this something he’d rule out as ever being possible, the American rather confusingly replies: “It’s very unlikely.” but goes on to confirm that they are indeed speaking to “other drivers”, emphasising that this is perfectly normal for this time of the year.
Vandoorne is bullish about the rumour and Zak’s answer.
“I am very confident that I will be in the starting grid at my home race in the McLaren.
“After two bad races, everything is bad, and after a good performance, you’re the god.
“That’s just the way it is in Formula One.”
The season restarts in Spa on Friday 24th of August to Sunday 26th.
The Belgium Grand Prix through the years
The origin of the circuit at Spa date back to 1920s. The track was conceived by Jules de Thier (manager of the newspaper La Meuse, which had backed races prior to World War I), Joseph de Crawhez (the mayor of Spa) and Henry Langlois van Ophem (the President of the Sports Commission of the Royal Automobile Club of Belgium – RACB).
They decided to utilise the roads connecting the towns of Francorchamps, Malmedy and Stavelot, giving a track almost 16 km in length. The new track scheduled its first race in 1921 – but this had to be cancelled after only a single car registered.
Undeterred, the track staged a motorbike race instead, and the following year in 1922 the RACB held the first race to carry the title Belgian Grand Prix, an endurance race won by the Baron de Tornaco –Bruyere. In 1924, inspired by the Le Mans 24 Hour Race the RACB held their own 24 Hour race at Spa (now the 24 Hours of Spa).
The first Grand Prix in the modern sense was staged here in 1925, designated the European Grand Prix and won by Antonio Ascari in an Alfa Romeo. The Belgian Grand Prix featured in the inaugural Formula One world championship in 1950, with Fangio taking the victory for Alfa Romeo.
Spa continued as the home of the Belgian Grand Prix, and although a few years were missed to financial reasons, serious problems for the track arose due to concern, both public and from the driver’s association, about its safety. Always a very fast track, Spa saw its share of fatal crashes in the early years.
In 1960 however its reputation took a hammering. In practice, Stirling Moss was thrown from his car after a high speed crash caused by an axle failure, and ended up lying unconscious on the race track with broken ribs and legs. Later that day Mike Taylor would suffer serious injuries that would end his racing career after his steering failed. Worse was to follow in the race, when two drivers, Chris Bristow and Alan Stacey lost their lives in separate incidents.
The clamour for safety was threatening the existence of the old track. The reduction in engine capacity for the 1961 F1 season saw speeds reduced at the circuit, but then in 1966, Jackie Stewart suffered a serious crash at the start of the race.
Stewart’s BRM aquaplaned off the road at the Masta Kink and crashed off a telegraph pole and bounced into a ditch, Stewart trapped by the steering wheel inside the bent frame of the car while fuel leaked on top of him for 25 minutes.
No marshals were on the scene, and it was Stewart’s team mate Graham Hill and Bob Bondurant, who had both slid off in the treacherous conditions, who managed to finally free him from the car with the aid of a wrench borrowed from a spectator!
The incident had a profound effect on Stewart, who would go on to play a key role in the push for safety in the sport. For Spa this would come to a head in 1969, when the GPDA boycotted the event, causing the Belgian Grand Prix to be cancelled for the year.
The Grand Prix returned to Spa in 1970 with modifications having been made to the circuit, but in 1971 it was off again, with the GPDA wanting the venue moved and the CIS (the regulator of F1 for the FIA at the time) eventually cancelling the race.
This led to local driver Jacky Ickx withdrawing from the GPDA in protest against the boycotting of events (Ickx would say he was not against improvements to safety, just the uncivilised methods he felt was being used to achieve them).
From 1972, the Belgian Grand Prix would leave Spa to alternate between the circuits of Nivelles and Zolder, although Nivelles only held 2 races in 1972 and 1974 due to financial trouble and issues with the track.
Emerson Fittipaldi won both the races staged at Nivelles, with Jackie Stewart taking the first race in Zolder in 1973. The tracks were however considered bland relative to the majesty of Spa.
Following the tragic death of Gilles Villeneuve during qualifying for the 1982 Belgian Grand Prix at Zolder (a race won by John Watson in a storming drive through the pack for McLaren, passing Keke Rosberg’s Williams on the second last lap to take the win), Formula One returned to a shortened Spa in 1983, with Alain Prost taking the first win at the new Spa for Renault.
After one more race in Zolder in 1984 (won in a lights to flag drive by Michele Alboreto for Ferrari), the Belgian Grand Prix returned to Spa for good in 1985, despite the race being put back a few weeks due to trouble with the track surface (when the race was staged Ayrton Senna would win the first of his 5 Belgian Grand Prix in a wet/dry race for Lotus), and has remained there ever since, although there was no race held in 2003 (due to F1 being still hooked on tobacco sponsorship at the time) or in 2006 (with the race cancelled due to ongoing modifications at the track).
The Spa track has seen numerous changes down through the years. The original circuit devised in 1920 was a blast across public roads. The track left the modern track at the end of the Kemmel straight, blasting out towards Malmady, curving back at the Burnenville and diving down through the Masta Kink, from there on towards Stavelot where the track bent back around and headed back up to rejoin the modern track at Blanchimont.
The track was a high speed journey across open roads, with houses, telegraph poles and unprotected drops into fields in wait for drivers who ran into trouble. The original layout saw the track turn left at Eau Rouge, following the public road and returning to the Kemmel straight via a hairpin.
In keeping with the vision of the track as a high speed venue, the Raidillon corner was created in 1939, giving us the iconic section through Eau Rouge and curving back up to Raidillon onto the Kemmel Straight. The original circuit used to double back on itself via a tight corner at the town of Stavelot, and this was given a curved bend in 1951 to improve the flow of the circuit.
After the boycott of 1969, the track was altered with a chicane included in place of the fast right hander at Malmedy for 1970. When the Belgian Grand Prix returned in 1983 the old track was no more – the new track bending in from Les Combes at the end of the Kemmel Straight and diverting through the new section of track through the wonderful double left hander Pouhon and rejoining the old circuit heading into Blanchimont, with the all new Bus Stop chicane greeting the drivers before coming on to the start/finish straight.
1994 saw Eau Rouge modified with the inclusion of a chicane, but this was gone for 1995, with the Eau Rouge/Raidillon section seeing further minor modification over the years since, with gravel removed and run-off areas extending and the moving of the outside wall, but the layout of the track is fundamentally the same.
The Bus Stop chicane was modified in 2004, with a new right handed bend installed just before it. Having missed the 2006 season, the track returned to the F1 calendar in 2007, with revised pit facilities and more changes to the Bus Stop chicane, with the current format of the corner introduced and the start/finish straight extended to allow a greater run into the first corner.