Stoffel Vandoorne, McLaren, Shanghai International Circuit, 2018

2018 team mates battles: Alonso vs Vandoorne at McLaren

2018 F1 season review

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Stoffel Vandoorne came into Formula 1 with an excellent pedigree from junior championships.

He beat Red Bull-backed Daniil Kvyat to the 2012 Formula Renault Eurocup title, finished runner-up in his first two seconds of Formula Renault 3.5 and GP2 (now F2), then stormed to the latter title in his second season in dominant fashion.

But that hasn’t counted for much up against Fernando Alonso in F1. In their second season as team mates, Vandoorne was comprehensively blown away.

Nowhere more so than in qualifying, where Alonso’s victory was total. Vandoorne not unreasonably pointed out that the gap was narrow at times – in Canada it was just nine-thousandths of a second. But a season-long average of nearly four-tenths of a second is too wide, however highly one thinks of Alonso.

It inevitably left Vandoorne at a disadvantage in races. While Alonso went out in Q1 on six occasions, Vandoorne only made it beyond the first round that many times.

It didn’t help matters that the McLaren MCL33 was fundamentally a poor car. On top of that, Vandoorne had a specific mid-season problem with a chassis which the team discovered was producing too little downforce.

In his first season alongside Alonso there were a few occasions when Vandoorne showed the potential which was evident before he reached F1. But this year, even with Alonso’s motivation plainly flagging at the end of the season, it was almost impossible to spot.

Alonso spoke highly of his team mate, calling him “one of the best talents” in F1.

“There are only two drivers who dominated Formula Two: [Charles] Leclerc and Stoffel,” said Alonso in Russia. “Both of them they have all the records: pole positions, victories etc… One will be fighting for the world championship next year and one is… not in F1 next year.

“That’s how Formula 1 is at the moment and how sport is at the moment. You need to be in the best place in the best moment possible and probably Stoffel was unlucky with the moment.”

Alonso’s comments can be self-serving at times. But they also reflect a widely-held view about Vandoorne’s performance before he came into F1 and the surprise at the difficulties he’s suffered since. As always, being up against a great driver in a poor car is the worst possible combination for a promising young F1 driver.

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Fernando Alonso vs Stoffel Vandoorne: 2018 McLaren team mates performance comparison

Season scores

Who was ahead?

The table below shows at which races Alonso qualified or finished in front of Vandoorne:

Fernando AlonsoQ

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Quotes: Dieter Rencken

2018 F1 season review

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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42 comments on “2018 team mates battles: Alonso vs Vandoorne at McLaren”

  1. There is no doubt that Vandoorne hasn’t been able to show what he is capable of with that McLaren. Being put in a car that is difficult to drive, and with Alonso as your teammate cannot be easy. But where I have less sympathy with him is that fact that it’s his second year in F1, and he seems to have gone backwards since 2017. He was disappointing in 2017 as well, but there were still flashes of promise. His race in Malaysia was seriously impressive, and he comprehensively beat Alonso that race. But to not even beat your teammate once in qualifying the following year, instead of building from your rookie season is seriously questionable. Yes, the car may be tricky to drive, but being beat by Norris in most FP1 outings, who was driving basically the same car with minimal experience, is poor. I wish him well in FE, and I hope he can do well there, as I can’t see any return to F1 in the future. Perhaps with Sauber in place of Raikkonen for 2021? Who knows.

    1. What he said

      1. @mashiat @johnmilk

        What I’m really interested in is a comprehensive article explaining all the in’s and out’s of how a driver can be seriously impressive before reaching F1 and then fall flat on his face. I can guess at some of the reasons but it would very interesting to read about it from those really in the know.

  2. A very disappointing season for Vandoorne. I don’t think he can blame the car or his teammate for not being in F1 next year.
    I hope he recovers himself next year(s) and who knows can have another shot at it some time.

    On the other hand, I do blame the car for the poor results of Alonso. Yes, he seemed a bit ‘over it’ at times, but he also showed us some spectacular racing over the season (on the few occasions where FOM showed us F1.5 rather than a cruising front-runner).
    Once again it will be difficult to slot Alonso in this year’s driver ranking.

    1. What I conclude from Alonso’s season is that he went on vacation after Hungary.

      He capitalized when the car was there at the start of the season, “now we can fight”, but when we McLaren failed to improve the car it feels like he stopped bothering. I would still rank him above the likes of Vettel for example, but behind Leclerc and Hulk

      1. @johnmilk he stopped bothering and also the car was not developed further, wasn’t it? making it even more difficult to either driver to be able to do anything about their position.

        I think if we go with points scored, the fact that Alonso beat the likes of Grosjean or Ocon, and came very close to Magnussen and Perez speaks for itself… the guy’s a beast, he was practically absent during the whole of the 2nd part of the season besides Singapore, and was still able to beat a guy in a Haas.

        Alonso’s might not rank too high this year, but should be considered for comparing other drivers. I think it shows very well how much K-Mag and Grosjean underperformed for example, specially in the beginning of the season. That car was capable of so much more!

        1. @fer-no65 yes definitely, it does show the weakness in other driver line ups or in the case of Perez/Ocon how poorly management of the drivers can influence the results. But surely not bothering for half a season has to have repercussions on the rankings, at least in my opinion.

          While the car didn’t improve throughout the season it was still better than the Williams, yet Stoff was fighting with those guys pretty much all year. But at the start pt the season they had a pace better than the STR, Sauber, Williams and were on par with the Force Indias, then enter the Haas auto-destruction, and until Monaco they should have been trailing Renault (which Alonso did), and here was when Stoff scored most of his points too, but was already behind his teammate a good chunk of points and it took him 14 GPs to score again, despite having a car to do so at least until the British grand prix

          1. @johnmilk yeah, I’m not justifying Stoffel’s lack of pace, just underlining Alonso’s performance.

          2. @johnmilk What has Hulkenberg done to really justify such a high ranking though? He was brilliant in the first half of the season, then was disappointing in the second half. If it wasn’t for Sainz’s retirement in Mexico and car problems in the final few laps in France, he would only have finished 2 points behind his teammate. Which, given Hulkenberg’s performance until Hungary, when the car was at its best, isn’t deserving of a rating ahead of Alonso in my opinion. Alonso may have lost motivation in the second half of the year, but as long as his performances were still strong, I see no reason to mark him down for “losing motivation”. You could argue equally that Ricciardo, Vettel, and Bottas lost motivation during the final part of the season

          3. @mashiat Hulkenberg was disappointing up till Japan, he really picked up his performances since USA and was generally comfortably faster than Sainz, averaging around 0.250 faster in qualy on average. He qualified ahead in Mexico as well, by that very margin but Sainz had a streak of great race starts from Russia to Brazil, including one in Mexico, which propelled him ahead of his teammate. Their race pace was identical in Mexico and Hulkenberg was faster in Brazil before he had to retire.

            it wasn’t for Sainz’s retirement in Mexico and car problems in the final few laps in France, he would only have finished 2 points behind his teammate.

            If it wasn’t for Hulkenberg’s retirements in Austria and Abu Dhabi (pretty much a racing incident)…
            And since we are talking about points difference, might as well include Baku as well, even though it was his own fault. If you retire 5 times less than your teammate and still finish 16 points behind, regardless of any circumstance, you didn’t do a good enough job. Sainz was comfortably outpaced this season overall…and while he did a better job in the second half compared to first half, the speed difference between them only increased towards the end of the season. Of course, we are talking about Hulk’s performances in particular and I’d never rank him that high either; 7th or 8th more likely, but still, he never lacked pace at any point in the season (except for Suzuka, probably).

          4. @mashiat, best of the rest more than anyone else, had 7 retirements, still finished P7 in the standings, from the races he finished only 3 were out of the points. Was perhaps the most consistent midfield driver, made Sainz look ordinary (he probably is though)

        2. I absolutely think vandoorne’s showing was extremely poor (and i don’t agree with the Rating most People here have of Alonso which makes it worse for him) . HOWEVER, if i was Haas, i’d definately Take a gamble on him. Guy is cheap, used to be alledged top notch talent, and there is simply no Way he’d srew up more than grosjean.

      2. but when we McLaren failed to improve the car it feels like he stopped bothering.

        You might be right, but that’s then quite a harsh statement about Vandoorne’s performance.

        1. @coldfly but a right statement though. Vandoorne’s performance was reminiscent of Pirquet Jr’s

          1. @johnmilk – “Vandoorne’s performance was reminiscent of Pirquet Jr’s” – So a move to Formula E sounds like a good idea.

          2. game, set and match – @tribaltalker

          3. At least Stoffel wasn’t ordered to crash deliberately? Just to drive more slowly than his teammate at all times.. ;-)

  3. Feel bad for Vandoorne. More than I feel for Mclaren.

  4. While Vandoorne was soundly beaten this year by his team mate, I think he’s still performed very well in a bad car up against arguably one of the all time greats in Formula1. His average deficit to Alonso in qualifying (-0.383s) is better than a former world champion managed in 2014 against Alonso (-0.528s). It was also tighter than the average qualifying deficits of teamates at Sauber, Force India, Red Bull and Torro Rosso. Even if he’s not a future world champion, I think he’s more than talented enough to be a solid driver for a midfield team like McLaren. I really hope to see him back in F1 soon.

    1. FI and RB? Those were two of the closest battles.

      1. RB qualifying battle was nowhere near close.

  5. It’s probably worth noting that Alonso, who has never been considered as a qualifying specialist, has obliterated Stoffel, whereas other drivers widely regarded as great qualifiers such as Vettel and specially Hamilton have comfortably beaten their teammates in qualifying battles, but still qualified behind them in some races.

  6. If Stoff simply had the stuffing knocked out of him by being in a shoddy car and having one of F1’s greatest for a team mate then I can truly feel sorry for the guy. Even so, I would have expected a bit more effort from a genuine F1 driver.
    It would be nice to think that he might get another chance at some point in the future.

    As for Mr Alonso – what can I say.
    In my opinion we are losing a remarkable talent, a great entertainer and possibly the most enthusiastic motor racer of all time (he just wants to drive any car that goes fast … any car!).
    He pretty much wrung everything out of that Mclaren this year and earned every compliment and bit of praise that he received.
    Yep – that’s right. I like the guy ;)

    1. You still see Alonso a a ‘talent’… Really?

      1. Everybody does. I mean, it’s not even two weeks since the season ended…

    2. @nullapax – re: Vandoorne, that’s how I read it too. Number two in a useless car with useless middle management up against a tough, charismatic magician of a driver in the other car. Career suicide.

  7. The defending that Vandoorne did at Abu Dhabi was the only time I saw the driver that others had raved about in past years. Had he shown that sort of driving through this season, things might have been different. Instead, he ended up driving mostly anonymous races, like Kimi on his off days.

    1. @phylyp I thoroughly agree with you. He indeed ended up driving mostly ‘anonymous’ races like Kimi when he hasn’t been at his best or Bottas, or even Perez and Ocon early into the season when their car wasn’t very competitive.

    2. @phylyp – I thoroughly enjoyed the Abu Dhabi dicing display. I wondered whether the cameras had just missed similar activity during the year, being glued to the top six most of the time. Then I wondered if Vandoorne had been told not to damage the car, at any cost (all season) but had thrown caution to the wind and decided to have some fun in the last race. It’s hard to understand where the smart, attacking driver from previous series went for the last two years otherwise.

  8. ”being up against a great driver in a poor car is the worst possible combination for a promising young F1 driver.”
    – The best way to sum it all up.

  9. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
    5th December 2018, 12:38

    I don’t know much about Vandoorne but I doubt he would have been promoted to drive a McLaren if he didn’t possess an ounce of skill. His performance at McLaren has been absolutely terrible. Is it possible that McLaren put such a terrible driver behind the wheel alongside Alonso? I venture the answer to that has to be no – I think Vandoorne’s inability to perform is most likely related to other factors.

  10. We can all sit here and say “yeah but he had a bad car” or “He was up against one of the best of all time”, but the fact of the matter is that he was regularly mixing with Williams of Stroll and Torro Rosso of Hartley – 2 bad cars with 2 mediocre drivers – while Alonso was often on the tails of the Force India’s and Renault’s.

    Alonso, even by his own recently lofty evaluations, has always said he was never a qualifying supremo, so to not get it hooked up ONE SINGLE WEEKEND is just inexcusable for Vandoorne.

    Ultimately, I think Stoff’s biggest issue is that he just isn’t hungry enough for it… A bit like Bottas, he just doesn’t have that extra 5% in his DNA that makes him special like Alonso, Hamilton, Vettel, Max etc.

    1. Alonso, even by his own recently lofty evaluations, has always said he was never a qualifying supremo, so to not get it hooked up ONE SINGLE WEEKEND is just inexcusable for Vandoorne.

      @joeypropane – I agree, this is probably the most damning statistic.

  11. Alonso’s comments about Vandoorne are quite similar to comments which Ayrton Senna made about Michael Andretti. Both highly respected F1 champions taking very favourably about very accomplished team mates who exited F1 without achieving expected successes.

    1. @georgeod Andretti at least won a title.

      1. @mashiat
        So did Vandoorne. The fact that GP2 is considered a junior category, while the IndyCar series isn’t, doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a significant difference in quality.

  12. Mclaren built a very weak car for this year, and its development was minimal.
    Alonso scored the vast majority of his points on the earlier races, while Vandoorne failed to score as many times, he was close to the top 10.

    Then the car was completely outdeveloped by other teams and they both couldnt get results anymore.

    And it is obvious that Mclaren wanted to keep Alonso and gave him the best they could offer, i don’t think they made the same effort to keep Vandoorne with Norris waiting to get the seat.

    It is a shame for Stoffel, but Mclaren as is, it really isnt worth the effort. Better luck to him next year with F-E.
    And Mclaren, they better do it better this year cuz Alonso won’t be there anymore to flatter their true performance.

    1. Ed – I really hope Sainz and Norris know something special about the 2019 McLaren. Otherwise, they are both on for a guaranteed fail.

      1. Indeed, it’s such a shame that most likely without alonso mclaren car will improve considerably, but given an even car, I’d expect about 25 points from both sainz and, if norris is a good driver, also from him, otherwise along the likes of vandoorne.

  13. One thing I will not miss is at all are Alonso’s self-serving comments like this: “I’m not a great qualifier / Vandoorne is one of F1’s best talents!” >> proceeds to destroy him.

    Alonso is always undermining himself and the car, and maximizing other drivers, in order to come up as a great driver himself.

  14. Meh. McLaren consistently gave Alonso the best parts and preferential treatment. The car was developed to suit Alonso’s driving style.
    They knew the car sucked and Alonso was their best bet for a result.
    Never a fair chance for Stoffel.

  15. This could be a similar situation to V Rossi v M Vinales in MotoGP. When the bike is underperforming Rossi beats Vinales almost every time. When the team reaches a track or when the tires/bike combo highly suits a particular circuit that is when Vinales’ youth and speed shine and Rossi’s age and his fading speed let him down. It makes sense that the more experienced athlete will be able to extract more from an underperforming machine.

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