Belgian Vandoorne, 24, is a highly-rated rookie whose full F1 career is finally beginning in 2017.
But it comes amid a so-called ‘crisis’ for McLaren, with the team’s works Honda power unit still notably under-performing and unreliable.
“It’s obviously not great for Stoffel, but I think nothing is lost either,” 1997 world champion Villeneuve told the Belgian broadcaster RTBF.
“All he has to do is beat Fernando Alonso. And it’s better to be at a team like McLaren than at home fiddling your thumbs,” the Canadian added.
“He is a professional driver, he does not have to bring a budget, which is rare today, and he has a driver next to him of great value to compare himself against and earn credibility.
“If he was next to another young driver and he beat him, it would mean nothing,” Villeneuve said.
Even McLaren team boss Eric Boullier admits that the current situation is “more difficult” for Alonso than it is for Vandoorne.
“The situation is more difficult for Fernando, because he wants to be competitive — it is what guides him in life,” he said.
“Stoffel is beginning his career, while if you like Fernando only wants to have fun, which is to say getting on the podium and racing for the victory.”
Indeed, Vandoorne himself insisted he is not down in the dumps about his current situation,.
“We didn’t do the laps we wanted to do,” he said of winter testing, “but I don’t give up.
“Once I’m on the track and doing good laps I can push hard and will try to do my best with the package I have available right now. But for sure we need to take a step forward for Melbourne,” Vandoorne added.