The 2017 season will see the introduction of yet another new talent. Stoffel Vandoorne has long been touted as the best driver without a seat in Formula One. Yet the Belgian has had to patiently wait for his opportunity to take his seat at McLaren. It has been reserved for him since Lewis Hamilton left the team back in 2013, the same year he was inducted into the McLaren Young Driver Programme.
Since then, Stoffel has stormed to a comprehensive GP2 title in 2015 and made his Formula One debut in Bahrain last year. Replacing the man who will become the benchmark against which his performance will be measured, Vandoorne scored a point with a thoroughly impressive drive.
As Vandoorne now begins his rookie season, it would be difficult to find a team mate more formidable than double World Champion, Fernando Alonso. The Spaniard is still regarded by many as the best driver in Formula One, and while I think he his competitive drive may not be quite what it was, there is no denying that Alonso was consistently out-performing his car throughout last season.
For me, this season could be a watershed for both drivers. Fernando has a reputation to uphold, and being beaten by an inexperienced, albeit clearly talented, rookie would not sit at all well with him. Although I think he has mellowed a touch since his meltdown in 2007, I can imagine he would still take acceptance to such an outcome. Meanwhile, should Vandoorne be profoundly beaten by a man who is heading towards the twilight of his career, that could have some worrying implications on his career prospects.
Fortunately for Vandoorne, I believe he will prove to be more than a match for Alonso, and I am fully expecting these two to provide some thrilling action on track. The experience the youngster can gain from Fernando will be invaluable. He certainly has a future in this team that is beginning to climb back towards the front of the grid.
Looking at McLaren’s prospects for 2017, Honda appear to have been working hard on their power unit. This work needs to yield performance, they really need to start making headway on the front runners. Perhaps the introduction of Vandoorne will revitalise Alonso’s motivation and provide exactly the stimulus the team needs to get themselves back into podium contention. With a good enough car, there is no doubt that these two guys could get stuck right in to the likes of Hamilton and Verstappen.