MANAMA (Reuters) - McLaren reserve Stoffel Vandoorne did his homework on the long flight from Japan to arrive in Bahrain fully up to speed for his Formula One grand prix debut on Friday.
The 24-year-old Belgian stand-in, who won the GP2 support series last year and has been tipped for great things in F1, ended the day 11th fastest in second practice and said it had been a good start.
“I have spent my time well on the plane,” he said.
“I did a lot of reading through all the documents on the plane and I felt very prepared today. I’ve done a lot of simulator work over the last months in the factory as well,” added the rookie.
Vandoorne, who was testing for the Super Formula series in Japan, got the call from McLaren racing director Eric Boullier to fly to Manama after Fernando Alonso failed a medical following his big crash at the Australian season-opener.
He had already been put on stand-by, but was not expecting to be summoned.
“Usually drivers pass those tests quite easily and when I got the call I was obviously very excited,” the Belgian told reporters.
“I think I have to enjoy this opportunity... I know a lot of the guys so it makes my life a bit easier to go and work with them. It’s definitely never an ideal situation to just jump in the car without any testing but so far this Friday it’s been very good.”
Vandoorne put in the laps and said he quickly felt comfortable in the car, but the main focus had been on basic “operational stuff” like performing pitstops, practising starts and working with the engineers.
Alonso, the double world champion who has won three times in Bahrain, lives in Dubai but decided to stay at the track to assist the team and advise Vandoorne on how best to approach the weekend.
“He’s been around all day, he’s been here beside me and next to the engineers as well and giving his comments about what we should try on the car set-up,” said the Belgian.
“I think it’s been very useful to have him here because he obviously knows the car better than me. It’s been good to have his help.”
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ken Ferris