McLaren have decided to replace Stoffel Vandoorne with highly-rated British teenager Lando Norris as the team seek to arrest their slumping fortunes and rebuild for the future.
The 18-year-old, who has driven in free practice at the last two races in Belgium and Italy, is promoted from his reserve role to partner Carlos Sainz Jnr from next season.
“Lando is an integral part of our plan for rebuilding our Formula One operation for the future, and he has already developed a strong relationship with the team,” McLaren CEO Zak Brown said on Monday.
“We believe Lando is an exciting talent, full of potential, who we’ve very deliberately kept within the McLaren fold for exactly that reason. We already know he’s fast, he learns quickly, and has a mature head on his young shoulders.”
Norris is second in the junior Formula Two championship this season, behind Mercedes-contracted George Russell.
“My objective is to win the title before joining McLaren full-time, which will be tough, but I will fight as hard as I can for the remaining four races,” he said.
“I’ll also be working closely with McLaren at every opportunity to learn as much as possible from the drivers, engineers and mechanics to give myself the best preparation ahead of next year.
“To be announced as a race driver for McLaren is a dream come true. Although I’ve been part of the team for a while now, this is a special moment, one I could only hope would become reality.”
Congrats @LandoNorris on becoming an f1 driver next year with @McLarenF1 . Should I welcome you or should we welcome each other to the team...?Anyway lets get after it next year! pic.twitter.com/yL5xgi0x2p— Carlos Sainz (@Carlossainz55) September 3, 2018
Vandoorne joined the McLaren young driver programme in 2013 and won the F2 series two years later, when it was known as GP2.
However, the Belgian has not been able to build on the immense promise he showed in scoring a top-10 finish in his F1 debut the following year as a replacement for the injured Fernando Alonso at the Bahrain GP.
After being given a full-time seat in 2017 following Jenson Button's retirement, he scored 13 points and finished 16th in the drivers' championship in the team's final year with Honda engines.
He has had an even harder time this season since the switch to Renault power, scoring just eight points from 14 races as he has struggled to match team-mate Alonso – and his three top-10 finishes came in the opening four rounds of the 2018 championship.
Shame for @svandoorne... I’ve said it before and will say it again. There’s some very good talent there. Junior Formula record shows that. Will be good to see him get another chance in a fresh environment. https://t.co/KykwYEDUFY— Karun Chandhok (@karunchandhok) September 3, 2018
“It’s clear we haven’t provided Stoffel with the tools to show his true talent, but throughout our relationship he’s proved to be a fantastic team player,” Brown said. “His work ethic is impressive, he has a great reputation within the team and we’ve really enjoyed working with him.”
At 26, Vandoorne is facing a crossroads in his racing career – though he remains a contender for possible F1 drives at Toro Rosso, Williams and Sauber next year.
“I intend to give it my all for the remaining seven races of this season, and will announce my plans for next season in due course,” he said, a day after finishing 12th at Monza.
Brown had said at Monza last Friday that Norris and Vandoorne were among four candidates to partner Sainz in 2019, along with Force India's Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon.
Lance Stroll is poised to leave Williams after his father led the consortium that saved Force India from going under, and Perez is expected to retain his seat at the Silverstone-based team.
Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff has told C4F1 that Ocon – who is contracted to the German manufacturer – will definitely be involved in F1 next season.
Toro Rosso need to replace Pierre Gasly after the French driver was promoted to senior team Red Bull, while Brendon Hartley's future is in doubt – especially after yet another early retirement at Monza, as the New Zealander's bad luck continued.