After a strong period from Malaysia onwards towards the backend of 2017, Belgium's Stoffel Vandoorne would have come into this year with more confidence that he could get much closer throughout the season. However, that most certainly hasn't been the case as Fernando Alonso has put him well and truly in the shade. We're witnessing the incredible talent and speed of the Spaniard yet again.
Head-to-head: Alonso 5-0 Vandoorne
If there's one tiny weakness in Alonso's game, it's probably qualifying. In 2018 though, he's wiped the floor with Stoffel in this department.
The closest the Belgian got to outqualifying his stablemate was at the opening round of the season when he was within 0.161 of Alonso. The biggest gap was at Baku where the Belgian was 0.479 down on his team-mate. As usual, Alonso has done everything he can to extract the maximum out of the car and himself.
Vandoorne has been eliminated four times in Q2 and once in Q1 during the five qualifying sessions in '18 – while in contrast Alonso got into Q3 once and knocked out in Q2 on the other four occasions.
This is an area where Stoffel has to improve urgently to at least have any chance of keeping close to Alonso on Sunday's.
Head-to-head: Alonso 5-0 Vandoorne
Points: Alonso 32-8 Vandoorne
Unless you're a new fan of Formula One, you won't need to be told about how good Alonso is over a race distance. Ever since his debut in 2001 with Minardi, the Spaniard has been always utterly relentless on a Sunday. Vandoorne has been the latest to find that out since the beginning of the 2017 season.
Alonso has once again been the most consistent and best driver in the field on race day – and he's scored points in all five races so far in 2018 and beaten drivers in better machinery too, e.g Verstappen in Australia and Sainz in China. A ruthless overtake on Sebastian Vettel in China shows and a breathtaking move on Ocon in Spain last weekend gives us clear examples of how good of a racer he is and how hungry and determined he is to win in F1 still. If only he had the package to match his talent...
Vandoorne has a tough run on Sunday's. To be up against probably the best driver on the grid in races is unquestionably not helping his cause – but his Sunday showings have a left a lot to be desired so far in 2018. Much like with qualifying, his strongest race showing was at Albert Park when he finished only 7.0s behind his stablemate and posted a faster time than Alonso in the Grand Prix by 0.020s.
However, that's as good as it got. He's made very poor starts in Bahrain, China and Spain. He lost 4, 2 and 3 places respectively on the opening laps of those three races mentioned. Credit must be given for his superb recovery to 8th in Sakhir following a terrible beginning.
However, his failure to beat Alonso who had a severely damaged car after a first lap incident with Sirotkin in Baku is not a good sign for him at all.
Norris waiting in the wings
As well as facing the almost impossible task of beating Fernando Alonso over the course of a season, Vandoorne is surely looking over his shoulder with concern as young British star Lando Norris continues to impress in lower formulas. He won the FIA Formula 3 European championship last year and he currently leads the FIA F2 Championship after 6 races. He is exceptionally talented and a bright future in F1 is ahead of him all being well.
The 18-year-old is McLaren's current test and reserve driver and he'll be testing for them in Barcelona this week and Vandoorne will be driving on the other day. A perfect chance for McLaren to see who the quicker driver might be at present.
Can Vandoorne keep his McLaren drive for 2019?
Make no mistake about it, the 'Stoff' is under big pressure right now. He was the flavour of the month after romping to the GP2 title back in 2015 – but how times have changed.
For sure it isn't helping that he has Fernando Alonso alongside him – the Spaniard has shown he can demolish most drivers. A fine example is when he did it to fellow World Champion Kimi Raikkonen back in 2014. Let's be clear too that Alonso has scored more points than the McLaren deserves.
But, even leaving aside the fact that he has one of F1's greatest ever drivers as his team-mate, his efforts in the current season have not been good enough. Average qualifying performances and in particular some dreadful race starts have put him under the microscope.
On his day, Vandoorne is an extremely quick driver as he showed in Malaysia last year and he has the speed and potential to do a lot better. He just needs to unlock it – and soon. Otherwise, his time in F1 may end after two seasons in the sport. The next few races are critical for his season and career.