Vandoorne point in Bahrain gives McLaren cloud silver lining
SAKHIR, Bahrain (AP) Stoffel Vandoorne's championship point on his Formula One debut provided a silver lining to another cloudy weekend for the McLaren team, and also advanced his quest for a full-time seat next season.
Vandoorne finished 10th on Sunday after an eventful race in the middle of the pack at the Bahrain Grand Prix, involving some close racing with rivals.
''The start was a little bit difficult,'' he said. ''But in the end we more or less maximized the opportunity. For my F1 debut I can be very happy with that.
''Since the beginning of the weekend I've felt comfortable. I just tried not to make mistakes,'' Vandoorne said. ''I came in without any expectations so to come away with one point is fantastic.''
The Belgian was called up at short notice when FIA medical officers ruled on Thursday that Fernando Alonso must skip the race due to broken ribs and other lingering injuries from his spectacular crash at the season-opener in Australia.
Vandoorne was in Japan for a Super Formula race when he got the call-up, and despite the long-haul flight he performed strongly throughout the weekend. He outqualified his more experienced teammate Jenson Button and then became the first reserve driver to score points on debut since Sebastian Vettel for BMW Sauber in 2007.
The performance boosted his chances of getting a permanent seat at McLaren next season. Button's contract expires at the end of this year.
''I showed what I'm capable of, and now I just need to wait and see what happens next,'' Vandoorne said. ''That's not for me to decide, so let's see what the future brings.''
Vandoorne's performance aside, it was another challenging weekend for the team. McLaren group chief Ron Dennis was angered by the FIA decision to rule out Alonso, and the governing body's refusal to conduct new tests on the Spaniard on Friday and Saturday.
In the race, Button suffered an engine failure on lap seven, prematurely ending a promising contest as he was keeping up with Romain Grosjean of Haas, and Max Verstappen of Toro Rosso, who ended up fifth and sixth.
''It's a real shame,'' Button said. ''Before I stopped, I was saving a lot of fuel, my tires were in good condition, and I was just cruising behind the cars in front.
''It's just been a tough weekend because we could have scored a good amount of points.''