Stoffel Vandoorne says his McLaren Formula One car handled like "a rally car" during the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, after encountering damage early on in the race.
While Fernando Alonso rounded out a difficult 2017 campaign with a points finish in ninth place, Vandoorne finished three positions and over a minute behind his McLaren teammate in 12th.
The Belgian lost ground at the start and was seen running wide in the final sequence of corners at the end of the opening lap. Vandoorne reckons the damage he picked up on the first lap ultimately led to the handling issues he faced throughout the grand prix.
"It was a very difficult start to the race," he explained. "There was some damage to the car -- we were really struggling and something felt very wrong. It was a bit like driving a rally car out there! There was no grip at all, the car was sliding around a lot and it felt like a big problem, so it was very tough from the beginning.
"I didn't have a nice feeling in the first stint, and even after the early pit-stop to assess what was wrong, I was continuing to struggle. Gradually everything got a little bit better and we recovered a bit, but I still felt very uncomfortable in the car and the pace was nowhere near where it should have been."
Vandoorne said McLaren needs to analyse what was the cause of his handling problems and insisted he could have done no more with the ailing package at his disposal.
"We need to check what exactly happened there. I was happy to see the chequered flag and close off the season. I think we maximised everything we had to see the finish and keeping the cars in the pack behind us was the best we could have done under the circumstances."
McLaren racing director Eric Boullier was impressed by Vandoorne's performance in Abu Dhabi and said the significant loss of down force Vandoorne had suffered left his McLaren "all but undriveable".
"Stoffel had an extremely tough race and did an incredible job to maintain 12th position to the end after he was faced with a serious handling issue from the start of the race. While we still don't know exactly what caused it, we could see from his data he was suffering from a huge loss of down force which made his car all but undriveable.
"He put in a sterling performance not only to keep the chasing pack of five cars behind him for the duration of the race, but bring the car home in one piece."