By Alan Baldwin
LONDON (Reuters) – Stoffel Vandoorne said farewell to Formula One at Sunday’s season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix but McLaren boss Zak Brown would not be surprised to see the Belgian back on a future starting grid.
The 26-year-old, who dominated the 2015 GP2 championship but struggled in Formula One with an uncompetitive car, will debut in the all-electric Formula E series next month with the Mercedes-affiliated HWA Racelab team.
In two seasons with McLaren, Vandoorne managed a best result of seventh and was outqualified by double world champion team mate Fernando Alonso in all 21 races this season.
“I think Stoffel’s a great talent,” Brown told Reuters. “I think he did have a fair crack at it in a very poor race car but we gave him two solid years and we gave Fernando and himself equal equipment.
“He did have a pretty difficult team mate but sometimes things don’t click and I think he’ll go on to be successful in Formula E. I think we could see him back in Formula One,” added the American.
“I wouldn’t be surprised, it wouldn’t be the first time a driver struggled a little bit at first and then gelled a little bit later on. I think Stoffel is definitely a Formula One calibre driver, so you can see him back for sure.”
Vandoorne told reporters in Abu Dhabi it was hard to see how things might pan out but he was not ruling out a comeback either.
While his main focus would now be Formula E, he would be keeping the lines of communication open.
“I’m tying up with Mercedes, I’m going to be their simulator driver which will be a new experience for me as well so I will keep in contact with Formula One and I will still be involved in this world,” he said.
McLaren will have an all-new lineup in 2019, with Spaniard Carlos Sainz joining from Renault while F2 runner-up Lando Norris moves up from a reserve role to make his Formula One debut.
Alonso has kept open the possibility of a return, not entirely convincingly, but Brown said McLaren, former champions without a win since 2012, saw the pairing as a long-term one.
“We needed to make a change, a bit of a fresh start,” said the American. “We wanted to go with a young lineup that we can hold on to for a while.”
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin; Editing by Keith Weir)