Fernando Alonso backs Stoffel Vandoorne amid McLaren struggle
Fernando says Stoffel closer to him on pace than some ex-team-mates
By James Galloway
Last Updated: 06/12/18 2:45pm
Fernando Alonso has thrown his support behind McLaren team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne amid the Belgian's recent struggles.
Vandoorne goes into this week's Hungarian GP hoping McLaren have been able to resolve the problems on his car which badly hampered him at Silverstone and Hockenheim, where he qualified slowest of all as he battled a lack of downforce and grip.
The Belgian, a serial title winner in the junior series before landing his full-time F1 break last year, is the only driver on the grid yet to outqualify his team-mate this year after 11 rounds and scored his last points at the Azerbaijan GP in April.
But Alonso says the former GP2 champion insists has already proved he belongs in F1 and Vandoorne will be closer to him once McLaren get to the bottom of the problems afflicting his MCL33 car.
"I don't think it [Vandoorne's reputation] is going down, the car is what it is," said Alonso. "In Silverstone it was the same case, the car is underperforming. We as a team are trying to find the problem and to have both cars in the same condition and the same performance.
"He's shown his talent already. No need to prove [anything]. Being champion in every single series before Formula 1 and he arrives now in a difficult car with some difficulties last year and this year as well. He's okay and he be will very close to the performance as soon as the car is delivering the normal performance.
"For his reputation, or for you guys [the media], you need to see the results before Silverstone or last year in terms of qualifying."
Alonso has outqualified Vandoorne at 16 consecutive races stretching back to the Malaysia GP last September, but the Belgian's average 2018 qualifying deficit to the two-time world champion had been a respectable 0.236 seconds up to the British GP.
At Silverstone and Hockenheim, Alonso's advantage grew to nine and eight tenths respectively - gaps described as "unusual" by team chief Zak Brown.
But Alonso argues Vandoorne has generally proved closer to him on pace than a lot of his past team-mates - citing Kimi Raikkonen as a particular example.
"I think it's difficult to beat me!" quipped Alonso
"But if you see previous team-mates they were a lot further back than Stoffel. 2014 it was six tenths or seven tenths to Kimi every race. It's less than that now."
Vandoorne's points drought comes amid a period in which McLaren are beginning to evaluate their options for 2019, with Brown confirming at Hockenheim that the team are "talking to a variety of drivers".
However, while the 26-year-old's future at the team is not yet secure beyond the end of this year, Brown has backed Vandoorne to turn the situation around and said the onus was on McLaren to "give him a better race car".
"As Fernando said, I don't think there has been a team-mate that has beaten him yet. So anyone who races against Fernando is getting compared to who we think is the greatest driver in the modern era," said Brown.
"Stoffel has been very close to him for the season-and-a-half he's been with him. These last two races have probably been the largest gap, so it's been unusual. There is clearly something going on with Stoffel's car that's not to his satisfaction that has created a gap which is larger than we've seen in the last year and a half.
"What you have to do with a driver is support him both technically, understand why isn't he happy with the car and try to give him a better car, and emotionally. They all have ups and downs.
"He's a very calm individual so you don't see him acting differently when he's had a bad session, he keeps his head up. That's one of his greatest strengths, so we'll just rally behind him and try to give him a better race car."
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