WOKING, England, Feb 24 (Reuters) - McLaren rookie Stoffel Vandoorne is keeping an open mind about his first full Formula One season because, with new regulations that could shake up the grid, he has no idea what he might be able to achieve.
The 24-year-old Belgian, whose Spanish team mate Fernando Alonso is 11 years his senior, has time on his side but is still hoping success comes sooner rather than later for a team starved of victory since 2012.
“I don’t have a specific target,” he told reporters at the launch of the new orange and black-liveried MCL32 car at McLaren’s Woking headquarters on Friday.
“It’s the first time I actually go into a season without really knowing what is possible in terms of results,” the 2015 GP2 series winner said.
“This year is going to be very different. It’s Formula One where constructors fight against each other. We’ll have to see how the car will perform.”
Replacing the injured double champion Alonso in Bahrain last year and finishing 10th, Vandoorne became the 62nd driver to score on his race debut since the championship started in 1950.
It took two more races before either of the regular McLaren drivers, Alonso and 2009 world champion Jenson Button, joined him on the scoresheet.
Button has now left, ostensibly for a year’s sabbatical but with nobody really expecting the veteran Briton to return, and Vandoorne has stepped into his shoes after a year as reserve.
McLaren finished sixth overall last year but Honda say their engine has closed the gap and should start the season with performance comparable to Mercedes at the end of 2016.
That is still not enough to win, with champions Mercedes sure to have made another leap, but still a sign that the team is moving in the right direction.
“We know that the last few years have been not easy for McLaren-Honda but it’s a period where we are making progress,” said Vandoorne.
“The new regulations gives an opportunity for us to keep building on that and that’s my main focus, working very hard with the team. I will use a similar approach as I have done in the junior series.” (Editing by Louise Ireland)