Stoffel Vandoorne eyes F1 qualifying gains amid slump

Stoffel Vandoorne has targeted improving his one-lap pace at this weekend’s Russian Grand Prix as he bids to return to the points-paying positions.

Vandoorne has endured a dreadful second season in Formula 1 and will be replaced at McLaren by Lando Norris next year, with his options to remain on the grid elsewhere limited.

Vandoorne has not scored a point since the fourth round of the year in Azerbaijan and has dropped out in Q1 at each of the last eight Grands Prix.

“After the last race, I hope we can continue to make progress in Russia and keep moving forward,” said Vandoorne.

“Although I had a disappointing qualifying in Singapore, we once again showed that our race pace is stronger.

“So it’s important that on my side I can get the best result possible on Saturday to give us the best chance on Sunday.

“I felt very comfortable in the car, we had pace and I felt like we could keep pushing.”

Analysis: Vandoorne’s wretched run

Stoffel Vandoorne’s failure to score a point in 10 Grands Prix is one of the worst runs in McLaren’s history, and one that has contributed to the team’s decision to axe him for 2019.

Vandoorne has been unfortunate to endure McLaren’s lowest ebb in Formula 1, but in the same vein has been out-qualified 15-0 by Fernando Alonso, who has scored 50 points this year to the Belgian’s eight.

Vandoorne is one of only three drivers who has failed to reach Q3, and has not set a time quick enough to seal a Q2 spot since Canada.

In a season where the midfield group (which encompasses most of the teams) is closely-matched, Vandoorne’s qualifying pace – or lack of – has proved an anchor to his ambitions, accentuated by McLaren’s lack of straight-line speed, meaning making ground in race trim is even harder. He has, on average, started three to four places behind Alonso.

There have been mitigating circumstances – for example, in Hungary, where a gearbox problem halted his car while he was set for ninth place.

Vandoorne was also beset by a mysterious loss of downforce that wrecked his weekends in Britain and Germany, struggled with tyre degradation in Monaco, and was caught up in first-lap clashes in Canada and Austria.

But all too often this season a poor qualifying result has left Vandoorne firmly on the back foot and unable to recover into the top 10.