Vandoorne column: Austin upgrades, Alonso deal a boost for 2018
Motorsport.com columnist Stoffel Vandoorne feels he made the most of a tricky situation at the United States Grand Prix - and takes heart from the the performance of McLaren's upgrades.
The United States Grand Prix may not have delivered any points for McLaren Honda, but I had many reasons to leave Austin very happy with the weekend.
First about my own race performance, after a pretty decent charge from the back of the grid to finish 12th. And secondly, about some encouraging car developments that will carry us forward into 2018 and show the progress we are making.
Definite step forward
Friday practice had begun with me discovering a new circuit again – and I have to say the Circuit of the Americas is a great track. The first part of the lap with the Esses is very, very fast and very enjoyable to drive.
Conditions in the beginning on Friday were a bit tricky with the rain though. We also tested some different intermediate tyres before things dried out and we could get some proper running done.
A new aero package had arrived for us and because my teammate Fernando Alonso had a problem and was stuck in the garage, I had to do all the aero work on it. It proved to be a good session.
The car felt very good, and it was a definite step forward with the upgrades. I had a very good feeling and we finished fifth during the session, so it was very positive.
For Saturday, knowing that we had decided to take an engine penalty so would be starting further back, it made more sense for Fernando to get the upgrade. I reverted to the older-spec front wing and, from then on, it was quite tricky all weekend to find the balance.
It was extremely difficult to feel comfortable, and things were not helped by it being pretty windy all weekend, so conditions kept changing.
I never really had the same good feeling that I got in FP1, even with trying a lot of different set-up changes, and in the end I was not able to bring the balance together like I had in first practice.
I think that perhaps proves that the new package we introduced this weekend was a very good step forward.
A strong race
Thanks to another engine change needed before the race, I was forced to start from the back – but I kept my head down, kept my focus and delivered what was one of my best races of the season.
Starting from the back in Austin with the power deficit we have, I didn’t really expect to be able to overtake so many cars.
But we were very aggressive in the laps prior to the pitstop to get ourselves into a reasonable fighting position again.
While I was pushing, I also had save the tyres as well, because we were trying to make the one-stop strategy work. After the pitstop we had very, very good pace, we overtook quite a few cars on track, and all of them in the corners, when we were trying to be very inventive with different lines.
In fact, I was so focused on doing well that I didn’t really notice that exciting moment when Sebastian Vettel had to dive between me and Valtteri Bottas as they came up to lap me. All I was focused on was trying to get out of their way!
It was a very strong result in the end to finish 12th. We had lost a bit of time behind Romain Grosjean and in the end we made a bit of a ballsy move to get past him. I think that getting so close to the points was probably the maximum possible.
The other bit of good news from the weekend was that Fernando Alonso confirmed he would be staying with McLaren. I am definitely happy to remain teammates with him.
He is one of the best benchmarks in F1 and especially with all the changes happening next year in the team, it is good to have this stability.
Lately we have shown some very good performances and we are definitely ready for the next year.
Russian racer Shwartzman joins Ferrari's junior programme
Strategy Report: How Verstappen’s charge shook Ferrari into action