Stoffel Vandoorne arrives in the paddock.

Vandoorne: I have worked to be on the F1 grid since I was a kid

Stoffel Vandoorne arrives in the paddock.

McLaren driver Stoffel Vandoorne has one Formula 1 race under his belt. the Bahrain Grand Prix where he substituted for injured Fernando Alonso and promptly scored points in his debut.

Since then the 24 year old Belgian has been biding his time racing in Japan and attending grands prix as a substitute ahead of the 2017 season where he will be on the grid for the entire season.

Vandoorne told The National, “It is great to be in the car full-time next year. It is something that I have been working for since I was a kid and to finally get there is great. I am massively looking forward to being on the grid in Melbourne.”

“”Ever since the decision came there has been a lot of things that have been changing and a lot of preparations that I have been through already. The winter will be very different for me in terms of preparation for next year, getting ready to step in for a full season.”

Vandoorne was a test driver for McLaren in 2014, the year in which he finished second in the GP2 Championship. A year later he won it, but in 2016 his season appeared to be in limbo despite being the McLaren reserve.

But through Honda he managed to secure a drive in the highly rate Japan Super Formula.

Vandoorne explained, “At the beginning of the year you have that mindset that you are not going to be racing as much as you’re used to so it has been OK unto now to be honest,” he said.

“There have been some weekends that it feels a bit long and some where it doesn’t feel so long which I guess is normal.”

“I am just happy that I have the opportunity to race something this year in Super Formula, which is a very competitive car and series, on great tracks in Japan and it has enabled me to build a great relationship with Honda, which is going to be very important for the future.”

“So it is not that I have been doing nothing this year. I have learnt a lot being at the grand prix as well and I feel as ready as I can be for the step up.”

As for his call-up to replace Alonso and make his F1  debut, Vandoorne recalls, “I was in Japan when I found out. It was actually Eric [Boullier] who called me and I had to take the flight back to Bahrain to step in for Fernando. It was a hectic weekend.”

Vandoorne qualified 12th ahead of teammate Button and went on to finish tenth. His quality and readiness for the step up to the pinnacle of the sport was evident.

“I wanted to get through the weekend without making any stupid mistakes and everything went very well. I out-qualified Jenson in qualifying and then on Sunday I scored the first point for the team.”

It was obvious to all that Vandoorne was deserving of a break, McLaren also knew that if they did not secure him a drive he would go elsewhere and no doubt land one pretty easily. Thus when Button, no doubt nudged by McLaren, decided to call time on his career Vandoorne was the obvious candidate to replace the British veteran.

Since then Vandoorne has been a constant in the McLaren garage, experiencing first hand how Alonso and Button, with three F1 world titles between them, go about their business.

Vandoorne acknowledged, “I get on very well with Jenson and Fernando and our relationship didn’t really change much after the announcement. I think we are a very strong team, and the important part is that is we all stay in the McLaren family.”

“It is great to keep Jenson’s experience and for me it is great to race the car next year with Fernando. I think I am in a strong position for next year.”

In Alonso, Vandoorne will be well and truly challenged, as the Spaniard I acknowledged as one of the best drivers of the current era.

Vandoorne accepts the challenge with relish, “I will try to do my best as I have always done and work closely with the team as the first priority is to get the team back up to the top and we have been making good progress over the last year and a half but it is still a long way to go.”

“Hopefully next year we can have a good step forward,” added Vandoorne.