By Joey Barnes, Editor-in-Chief
After scoring points in his debut Formula 1 race in the Bahrain Grand Prix, it is time for the McLaren-Honda F1 Team to explore the option to run Stoffel Vandoorne for the 2016 season.
Vandoorne, 24, substituted for Fernando Alonso after the two-time F1 champion was not medically cleared to race at the Sakhir International Circuit.
Alonso was the focal point following a horrific crash that saw his McLaren MP4-31 collided with Haas F1 driver Esteban Gutierrez before flipping violently in the Australian Grand Prix. The Spaniard suffered a broken rib and lung issue known as pneumothorax, an issue that develops when air is trapped between the lungs and chest cavity.
In place for the injured Alonso, Vandoorne qualified a solid 12th, then ran a flawless race to beat teammate and former F1 champion Jenson Button en route to finishing 10th, scoring a lone point in his debut. Other notable drivers that have scored points in the F1 debut include Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg, Jean Alesi, Alain Prost, and Jackie Stewart.
Vandoorne, the 2015 GP2 Series champion, is already older than six current drivers and in an era of Formula 1 that sees youth trump experience the Belgian is seasoned with both. The decision to cut ties with Kevin Magnussen, who scored a podium result in his debut race at Albert Park in 2014, has made it obvious that McLaren-Honda is fully behind Vandoorne.
The team elected to keep experience in its program with Button and Alonso, making it two consecutive seasons McLaren-Honda elected to go with the same driver lineup. It is also the second-consecutive season that an injury has sidelined Alonso, forcing him to miss races.
But now that the team has shown it has become more of a mid-pack team and not the back-marker of last year, so the time is now to grow, build, and expand around a driver they believe is could be a future champion in Vandoorne.
The original plan is for Vandoorne to run Super Formula with Docomo Team Dandelion Racing, but with the first round not scheduled until April 23-24 at Suzuka, McLaren-Honda could elect to run him in China regardless of if Alonso is declared fit to race.
For two reasons this makes sense – it gives Alonso more time to heal from a significant injury and it allows the team more time to develop Vandoorne in order to make a clear decision on whether or not to run with the Belgian for the rest of the season.
McLaren-Honda continues to build its program for the future, and that future could be now with Vandoorne.
Image: McLaren-Honda F1 Team