By Alan Baldwin
HOCKENHEIM, Germany (Reuters) - Double world champion Fernando Alonso has defended his struggling McLaren team mate Stoffel Vandoorne after the Belgian was slowest in German Grand Prix practice and qualifying.
Vandoorne has been out-qualified by the Spaniard in all 11 races so far this season and has scored only eight points to Alonso's 40.
The Belgian arrived in Formula One with an impressive resume, however, as a dominant GP2 (now F2) champion and winner in every series he had entered but this season his star has ceased to shine.
Alonso, champion with Renault in 2005 and 2006, told reporters he did not feel Vandoorne's reputation was on the slide.
"The car is what it is...the car is under-performing. We as a team are trying to find the problem and have both cars in the same condition and performance," he said.
"He’s OK and will be very close in performance as soon as the car is delivering the normal performance. You just need to see the results before Silverstone or last year in terms of qualifying.
"I think it’s difficult to beat me," added the Spaniard with a smile. "If you see previous team mates they were a lot further than Stoffel. In 2014 it was six or seven tenths to Kimi (Raikkonen) in every race. It’s less than that now."
Alonso and Raikkonen were team mates at Ferrari, when the Finn was around half a second slower than the Spaniard in 2014 and was out-qualified in 16 of 19 races. Vandoorne's average is around 0.3 of a second.
The Belgian's place at McLaren next season remains uncertain, with British reserve Lando Norris being groomed for promotion but Spaniard Carlos Sainz has also been linked to the team.
Sainz is currently on loan from Red Bull to Renault, whose engines power McLaren.
The word in the Hockenheim paddock was that Mercedes-backed Frenchman Esteban Ocon is heading for Renault from Force India with Sainz moving on to McLaren as replacement either for Vandoorne or Alonso, if the Spaniard decides to leave.
McLaren principal Zak Brown said having two Spanish drivers could have commercial benefits.
"For sponsors, what's interesting is having the two best drivers available, whatever country they are from. Carlos Sainz is a very good race driver," he told reporters.
Vandoorne said the team had seen some differences on the data between his car and Alonso's.
"It’s just a lack of general grip. Less downforce, a very tricky car to drive, a lot of oversteer. The data shows an under-performance of the car," he said.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Toby Davis)