Q: Mad magical Monaco: It’s your first F1 outing here Stoffel - how did Thursday practice go for you?
Stoffel Vandoorne: Let me go back in time: the last time I have driven here – in GP2, two years ago – I won the race. That is a fantastic memory to build on. Racing here is one of the biggest challenges for drivers. To build up for qualifying you constantly push your own limits - and then comes qualifying: for me, the best in Formula 1! When you have done a good lap here, that is the real ‘buzz’. And in practice I have done some really promising laps - for our situation.
Q: Qualifying is very important here, but you arrive with a penalty…
SV: …yes, a three-place penalty from the incident with Felipe (Massa) in Barcelona. Not ideal, but we should be able to deal with it.
Q: Tell us why, against all the odds, McLaren could in theory do well here?
SV: Because it is not such an engine driven track - that could come to be our advantage, as our chassis is going in the right direction. So my hope is that here we will be able to show a different level of competitiveness.
Q: So under these circumstances, what should we expect on Sunday?
SV: Well, the ideal is to replicate what you have done before - and that would be a win. But being realistic, that will not happen - and to be honest we haven’t set ourselves a target, as this race is so unpredictable. Making the most of our situation is the parameter - and then let’s hope that we get rewarded!
Q: McLaren are bottom of the standings, which has only one positive aspect: that the only way is up. Or is there anything else that could sugar coat that situation?
SV: Yes, a bit. It’s been a difficult start of the season for us. We know that. But there are plenty of positives as well. We are bringing new parts to the car nearly every race weekend - and we are progressing, slowly. I am staying very optimistic. It’s my first season in F1 and I am only five races in, so there is a long time ahead of me and my career - and what I can personally do is work as hard as possible to build on the future.
Q: You no doubt had a vision of how your F1 career would start. Can you tell us about that - and how far away from it the reality is?
SV: Honestly, I didn’t put myself under any kind of expectations. Partly because I have been with McLaren for the last couple of years and I knew how difficult the sport is - sometimes. So many unpredictable things can happen that you cannot control yourself. Of course I was hoping that we would go into the season in better shape - unfortunately we are not. Now I have to deal with the situation. Not having set any expectations probably helps me to stay very positive.
Q: Formula 1 tends to have a very short memory, which means that you are only as good as your last race. Right now everyone knows that you are still a rough diamond, but will they still understand that at the end of the season?
SV: Ha, good question. I am very confident in my abilities. This is very important in a situation like this. I feel that I have enormous support from the team - and together we want to push it in the right direction. Hopefully the results will improve throughout the season so that we can show some positive signs.
Q: Going through such difficult times together can produce a very strong bond. Is your hope that if you can overcome things together then you will go a long way together?
SV: I think it is, yes. When I think back in my career I have always been able to fight for wins. It is the first time that I am going through a bit of a difficult time. It feels very different - you have to focus on different things, like how to extract the most out of a difficult situation, and I believe that ultimately it will make me better.
Q: Sometimes a bad season can have more learning potential than a good one. Is this your ‘character-building’ moment?
SV: Probably. I have always been a calm person - and I still feel that this has not changed. Think: so many people ask me the same question about difficult times every race weekend: Am I frustrated? And so on. No, I am not frustrated.
Q: So there is still a beauty to being in F1? Or would you like to have a button to push with ‘Delete 2017’ written on it?
SV: F1 is still F1. It is the pinnacle. And for me it is still fascinating to see how development goes. It is never at a standstill. It is a world that never stops developing. The technology is amazing.