In the words of his McLaren team, it was always less a matter of ‘if’ Stoffel Vandoorne would race in Formula 1 than ‘when’ - and the ‘when’ arose after he was called up from his reserve role to deputise for the injured Fernando Alonso in Bahrain 2016.
Born in Kortrijk, Belgium, in 1992, Vandoorne began his motorsport career aged six and earned his first race and championship victories in national karting series, going on to finish runner-up in the KF2 World Cup in 2009. In 2010 he graduated to single-seaters, winning the F4 Eurocup series at his first attempt, scoring six victories as he wrapped up the title with two rounds in hand.
He moved into Formula Renault in 2011, winning the 2.0 Euro series the following year with Josef Kaufmann Racing after securing four wins and 11 podiums. Stepping up to the 3.5 series in 2013, he became vice-champion with four wins and also joined the McLaren Young Driver Programme.
McLaren signed Vandoorne as their Formula 1 reserve for 2014 and he combined his growing F1 duties with a maiden GP2 campaign with ART. After winning first time out - as he had done in Formula Renault 3.5 - he ultimately finished second to Jolyon Palmer after four victories and 10 podiums.
His GP2 momentum building, Vandoorne proved unstoppable in 2015, taking seven wins, 16 podiums, four pole positions and five fastest laps as he landed the series title in dominant fashion.
And Vandoorne didn't disappointment when his big Formula 1 opportunity came up in early 2016, scoring a point in his one-off Sakhir outing in place of Alonso. He then combined his F1 reserve role with a season contesting Japan's highly competitive Super Formula, finishing fourth overall after two wins. His biggest prize of the year, however, was landing a full-time race drive with McLaren for 2017, stepping into the sizeable shoes of Jenson Button.
Being compared with a team mate of Alonso's stature was always going to be tough, but he acquitted himself well as an F1 rookie. He scored 13 points to the Spaniard's 17 in what was a tough final year of McLaren's revived Honda partnership - and duly retained his drive alongside the two-time champion for 2018.?