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Vandoorne scores maiden Super Formula victory at Okayama

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Future McLaren Formula 1 driver Stoffel Vandoorne scored his maiden victory in the Japanese Super Formula series at Okayama on Saturday.

McLaren announced last weekend at Monza that Vandoorne would step up to an F1 race seat in 2017, partnering Fernando Alonso.

The 2015 GP2 Series champion has been racing in Super Formula this year as a stop-gap with the Docomo Team Dandelion operation, as well as working as McLaren’s reserve driver, leading to his F1 debut in Bahrain in April.

Vandoorne qualified third for Saturday’s race at Okayama, but rose to second before the start after pole-sitter Kazuki Nakajima lined up in the wrong grid slot, prompting race officials to send him to the back of the field.

Vandoorne shot off the line and sped past new pole-sitter Yuji Kunimoto, moving into a lead he never relinquished before crossing the line almost five seconds clear of the field.

Super Formula is the sixth different championship that Vandoorne has won a race in, following successes in GP2, Formula Renault 3.5, Formula Renault 2.0 NEC, Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 and the F4 Eurocup.

The anticipation surrounding Vandoorne’s arrival in F1 in 2017 has been great, and is surely only set to grow after this latest victory.

F1 2017 driver review: Lance Stroll

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Team: Williams

Car No.: 18
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 1
Best Finish: P3 (Azerbaijan)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 0
Points: 40
Championship Position: 13th

Lance Stroll’s arrival in Formula 1 at the start of the 2017 was a far from smooth one despite a significant private testing program being undertaken in the months leading up to his grand prix debut.

Even with older hand Felipe Massa at Williams, Stroll looked uneasy behind the wheel of the FW40 car through the opening run of races as he failed to reach the checkered flag in any of his first three starts.

The Canadian was left deflated after his first decent effort in Bahrain was cut short after a clash with Carlos Sainz Jr., calling it his “rock bottom” moment – but things would turn around on home soil.

Stroll produced a stunning fight through the field to take an excellent P9 in Canada, proving his talent seen in Formula 3 the previous year and shushing many of his critics.

Better would follow two weeks later in Baku when Stroll became the youngest rookie in F1 history to score a podium, dodging a crazy race to finish third. It would have been second had he not lost a drag race against Valtteri Bottas to the line.

Stroll’s form then fluctuated greatly. He was sublime on occasion, the best examples being Monza, when he started a remarkable P2 on the grid and ended as the top midfielder in P7, or Mexico where he took a brilliant sixth.

But there were too many weekends he was a little anonymous. Sure, Williams didn’t have the best car this year, but perhaps a little better was expected from Stroll.

2018 will be an even bigger challenge as he looks to the lead the team when a new teammate arrives – and at only 19, it is a lot to handle. Nevertheless, there are positive signs to be found; you just need to look for them a little.

Season High: Taking a shock podium in Baku after dodging chaos in front.

Season Low: A poor opening two races in Australia and China.