Zak Brown: F1 calibre Stoffel Vandoorne deserves a seat

McLaren chief Zak Brown says Stoffel Vandoorne is a “Formula 1 calibre driver” and hopes the Belgian lands a seat on the grid next year.

Vandoorne has been affiliated with McLaren since 2013, during which period he finished runner-up in Formula Renault 3.5 and claimed the GP2 crown, before graduating to a race seat for 2017.

But Vandoorne’s step up coincided with two of the most difficult seasons in McLaren’s history, with the 26-year-old also struggling to match double World Champion team-mate Fernando Alonso.

McLaren confirmed on Monday that Vandoorne will leave its Formula 1 team at the end of the year and shortly after announced current reserve and F2 title challenger Lando Norris as his replacement.

Vandoorne’s options to remain on the grid appear limited, though neither Toro Rosso nor Sauber, whose team boss Frederic Vasseur guided Vandoorne’s title-winning GP2 season, have confirmed its 2019 line-up.

“I definitely think he’s a Formula 1 calibre driver and if I was Toro Rosso - who appear to have two open seats - I’d put Stoffel in in a heartbeat,” Brown said on Tuesday.

“I think we’ve had a very poor race car for two years. Someone like Fernando can adapt quicker, he’s got so much experience.

“Stoffel was very close to Fernando, a lot closer than some other team-mates, as Fernando commented. Stoffel is an outstanding race car driver. Ultimately we look to the future and feel Lando’s a future star.

“I think in a different environment Stoffel may excel more, and with a better race car.

“If I look at his debut races, beside Bahrain which was an impressive debut, but the 2017 season he was going to race tracks and losing practice sessions … so I’m not sure he ever really got the opportunity to get into a groove.

“When you have a team-mate like Fernando who can draw on that experience and I think is recognised as one of the best guys out there, Fernando’s going to adapt to that situation quicker.”

Brown added that he has already made a few calls in order to aid Vandoorne’s prospects, and stressed that he is not averse to the Belgian remaining within the organisation.

“Anything we can do to help Stoffel, we would help him in a heartbeat,” he said.

“We consider him family, he’s been outstanding to work with, hopefully he lands in Formula 1, that’s where I think he deserves to be.

“But we have some other racing activities that you guys know we are reviewing and I wouldn’t hesitate to keep Stoffel in the McLaren family if there was a seat available and he had a desire to race in it.”