Debate: Vandoorne’s F1 Future

Earlier this week, Kevin Magnussen sparked speculation regarding both his and the similarly McLaren-backed Stoffel Vandoorne’s future prospects, with the Dane admitting; “Stoffel is doing a good job – he deserves to be in F1. There’s something wrong if he doesn’t.” With Vandoorne carving a pre-eminent figure in GP2, leading the championship by a commanding 44 points, McLaren could find themselves making tough decisions this winter as they have too many drivers for too few spaces in the team.

Will Vandoorne have an F1 drive for 2016,” was the question that I posed to my Twitter followers on Friday. As with all good debate questions, the complexity of the argument was evident in the responses.

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Kieran Swystun (@SwystunK)

No, since there is a disproportional amount of talent to seats in F1 so while he is good enough there’s no seat for him to go into.

Kicking off with the central argument to the debate, within F1 exists the constant battle to shoe-horn the best young talent into what is a small number of opportunities available. With the field decreasing from the 24 entries in 2010 to 22 by 2012 and now a mere 20 spots on the grid, young drivers now face fewer access points than in the past. Combine this fact, with the consideration that drivers are now extending their career’s at the top of the sport and entire waves of young drivers are essentially in danger of being overlooked because they are arriving on the scene at an inopportune moment.

In the case of Vandoorne, the latter is a prominent issue. Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso are approaching the twilight years of their respective career’s, but with the McLaren Honda project demanding experience over exuberance, (for now at least), their is a desire for the team to keep their current line-up which features 47 race victories. With Alonso reportedly tied to the team for three years, the intention of the team is somewhat clear.

Aaron #17 (@MrDangerDaysF1)

I would love to see him race in F1 but I very much doubt he will get a seat with the link of McLaren and where would he go? Very tricky.

David (@David_VDB)

Haas could snatch him if Vandoorne accepts departure from McLaren. Right now no perspective for him at McLaren.

With space at McLaren seemingly at a premium and the success of becoming GP2 champion excluding the title-holder from defending his crown, Vandoorne may need to look elsewhere for a seat in 2016, should he claim top spot in the championship. Stoffel will have to do what his three previous champions could not – make it into an F1 race seat. As @MrDangerDaysF1 has highlighted, the situation is a “very tricky” one.

The suggestion from @David_VDB that he could join Haas F1 in their inaugural season is an interesting idea. Haas are yet to announce either of their drivers, albeit the team’s ringmaster Gene Haas has expressed a desire to run an experienced American driver in one of the cars and when starting a team from scratch, experience is often an integral factor when it comes to electing a driver pairing. Heikki Kovalainen and Jarno Trulli’s partnership at Lotus, (a la Caterham) in 2010 and 2011 is a recent example of where this theory was applied.

Signing the GP2 champion, from under the nose of McLaren no less would, however, be quite a statement to make as a debutante team.

Smooth Racing (@JoshuaSuttill)

He defiantly should in my opinion! No one has ever dominated GP2 like this! But is there space at McLaren? Not for 2016, but if ART are In F1, then yes.

Jordan – #ForzaJules (@JSPF1_10)

He will either get a seat at McLaren in 2016 if Jenson Button or Fernando Alonso retires, or it will be at ART if they enter F1 as a Customer team. But that’s only if F1 get the go ahead for customer cars.

For those unfamiliar with GP2, Stoffel Vandoorne is currently the lead driver at ART, having joined the team in 2014. ART are funded by McLaren and therefore, provide the platform for their young drivers to gain experience. As such, Lewis Hamilton’s GP2 title success came from behind the wheel of an ART in 2006.

Earlier this week, the FIA announced that it was open to new team’s entering the sport in 2016 and 2017, reigniting the customer cars debate. As @JoshuaSuttill and @JSPF1_10 have alluded to, there is the possibility of ART entering F1 and becoming the sister team to McLaren, providing the opportunity for their youngsters to gain experience at the pinnacle of motorsport, in a relationship with the same structure as Toro Rosso and Red Bull.

If customer cars received the green light, it would pave the way for ART to enter the sport, using a one year-old McLaren chassis and surely placing both Stoffel Vandoorne and current McLaren reserve Kevin Magnussen behind the wheel. Such a scenario should theoretically appease both parties; McLaren would prevent another team swooping in to snatch their young superstars and both Vandoorne and Magnussen would have an F1 drive and be in with the best chance of replacing Button and Alonso when they retire. The cherry on top would be a McLaren Honda car which has been well-developed by the aforementioned duo, allowing the newbees to challenge for titles.

This is, however, purely theoretical at the moment and hinges on notoriously unpredictable F1 politics.

Thanks to all those who made contributions to this article. I hope to do more debate pieces in the future, so look out for questions posed on Twitter in order to get your opinions across.

Image Credit: "GP2 - ART - Stoffel Vandoorne"
By Jake Archibald (via Flickr) [CC-BY-2.0]
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