Vandoorne says McLaren ‘negotiating with other drivers behind’ his back affected him

Stoffel Vandoorne endured a difficult two-year spell with McLaren in 2017 and 2018.

Stoffel Vandoorne and Fernando Alonso in 2018.v1

Former McLaren driver Stoffel Vandoorne has revealed that backroom “politics” at the team adversely affected his performance during his two full seasons with them.

Vandoorne entered F1 in 2016 with the Woking-based outfit, and instantly out-qualified Jenson Button in Bahrain while deputising for Fernando Alonso, who was recovering from his nasty crash at the Australian Grand Prix.

He would go on to score their first points of the season with a ninth-placed finish, and was then signed full time for the 2017 season when Button retired.

READ: Daniel Ricciardo hints he could retire at McLaren

Unfortunately, McLaren were going through one of the worst periods in history. They scored points 31 times in 61 races under Honda power upon the Japanese manufacturer’s return to F1 in 2015, and Vandoorne managed only four points finishes in 41 races in 2017 and 2018.

Further, he out-qualified Alonso just three times in 40 races, finishing behind the Spaniard in the standings in both seasons.

The 40-year-old outscored him by 38 points in the latter of those seasons, earning a clean-sweep over the Belgian in qualifying as well.

Stoffel Vandoorne at 2018 Abu Dhabi GP.v1

As a result, the 29-year-old was let go by McLaren, and would join the HWA Formula E team before eventually signing with Mercedes, who are now teams’ champions.

Asked in the aftermath of his final season in F1 if he felt the burden of McLaren’s attention being placed more on Alonso started to weigh on him, he replied: “Yes. Unfortunately, I have never been able to tell 99 per cent of what happened.”

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Both the Belgian and the two-time world champion left at the end of 2018, with Alonso contesting Le Mans with Toyota and attempting to qualify for the Indy 500 before returning with Alpine last year.

They were replaced with rookie Lando Norris and former Renault driver Carlos Sainz, and the perennial prospect of replacement persistently made the Belgian feel uneasy, he has revealed.

“You didn’t see everything that happened behind the scenes, all the politics,” he told Brussels daily Dernière Heure.

“It’s not easy to drive at your best when you know the team is negotiating with other drivers behind your back.”

Vandoorne has won two of his 39 races in the all-electric series since his departure from the pinnacle of motorsport, and admittedly would jump at the chance to race in a competitive car in F1, but is otherwise content with where his career is currently.

“My mindset is different now,” he said to RTBF.

“If there is an opportunity, obviously I would seize it – but only to do things with good conditions.

“I remain realistic that I will probably never receive a new opportunity and honestly that is not a problem for me. I focus on the future, on Formula E, on endurance – my future is here.”

Speaking on initially signing for McLaren, it was a dream come true for the 29-year-old but, due to an underperforming car and the conversations going on behind his back, it quickly turned sour.

“There are very few opportunities to get into F1 and despite the situation I found myself in with McLaren, I could not refuse the opportunity,” he said.

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“Unfortunately, it was the worst period in their history – the car was not performing well and the team was not politically stable.”

McLaren will line up with Daniel Ricciardo and Norris again in 2022, having achieved their first victory since 2012 at the Italian Grand Prix last year.

Norris finished second in that race, the result of which was their first 1-2 since 2010 en route to a fourth-placed Constructors’ Championship finish.

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