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Vandoorne: A conversation with the Mercedes megastar

Being a highly regarded race car driver can be a gift and a curse. There aren’t many other drivers on the planet that suffer with this like Belgium’s Stoffel Vandoorne. Making his full-season debut in Formula One in 2017, and then being ousted by McLaren at the end of 2018, his first foray at the very top of single-seater racing was a short lived one.

But since joining HWA Racelab for season five, it appears that Vandoorne has found a new home in Formula E. And now joining the ‘three-pointed star’ for season six, his intentions are very clear – lead Mercedes to electric glory.

We caught up with him at the IAA Motor Show in Frankfurt for the launch of the Mercedes EQ Formula E Silver Arrow 01, and he was in good spirits, looking forward to the challenges that await him in Riyadh and beyond.

When asked about his approach to his second season of Formula E, he was very candid in admitting that he can definitely draw from his experience and extract the most from the car in season six.

“Obviously I have a year of experience which definitely helps to guide the team with future developments, and I’ve had some good results last year, so hopefully the target will be for me to build on that and improve those results,” said the Belgian.

“At the moment it’s a little too early to tell, but I’ve been testing the new car a lot, and the first impressions are very good. However the conditions are so different, we’re testing on permanent tracks without any competition around us, and it’s kind of hard to judge where we are in terms of pace, so we’ll have to wait and see, but the feeling is positive.

“You can see the dynamic in the team has really changed a lot with a manufacturer behind it, and there’s so many more people involved. There’s a big push behind the scenes to make this successful, but it’s a bit of ‘let’s wait and see’ and put it to the test in Saudi.”

Confident as ever, he then began to tell us how sure he is in his own and the team’s abilities and what his personal targets were for Riyadh and the rest of season six.

“I’ve got high ambitions personally, because I can deliver well for the team. I think I’ve shown some good results last season and I’m definitely taking a good step forward, but where we will be is very hard to tell.

“I think we have to go without any expectations to the first race, and if we manage to get through that weekend without any operational problems then I think that’ll be a big achievement for the team already,” admitted Vandoorne.

In what will now be one of the most dynamic driver pairings on the grid for season six, Mercedes have also acquired current Formula 2 championship leader Nyck de Vries, and Vandoorne was soon to report a good working relationship between the two.

“Yeah, it’s going well, I’ve known Nyck for quite a long time already. We’ve raced together in Formula Renault 2.0, so it helps that we have that sort of relationship already.

“I think it’s a good line-up, with me having a year of experience, I’ll be able to coach him a little bit on the tricks of Formula E which will be important for the team to bring everyone up to speed as quickly as possible, so it’s promising.”

The final bit of information we got out of the Belgian was wondering what it feels like to be representing the famous Mercedes brand. He would go on to state how they’ve managed to be successful at every discipline they’ve raced in, and that he hopes he can guide the Mercedes team to glory in this all new venture in Formula E.

“I’m very honoured to be a part of this unique brand. If you look at the history they’ve had in motorsport, they’ve always managed to win in every single category they’ve entered, and they’ve been successful. It doesn’t mean that Formula E is going to be successful for them, but I think ultimately it will be in the future, but It’s hard to put a time frame on it.

“But like I said, I feel the potential behind this project, the resources and the experience they have from the past. I feel like I’m in a great place to be able to fight for victories again very soon, and hopefully for championship as well, so it’s an honour to be a part of it,” Vandoorne concluded.

And who can blame the ex-McLaren man’s morale and determination to reach the peak of Formula E with the famous Mercedes name, coming off the back of a relatively successful debut season and ready to push the team forward in season six.

Formula One closed the door on him, but you haven’t seen the last of Vandoorne fighting for glory on the global stage.