Interview: Vandoorne wants Formula E cars to make drivers look “more like heroes” | Interview


Stoffel Vandoorne’s arrival in Formula 1 was never in question after stamping his authority on many junior categories, culminating in a dominant GP2 title win in 2015.

After deputising for Fernando Alonso at the 2016 Bahrain Grand Prix, and impressing by out-qualifying team mate Jenson Button and finishing in the points, he was duly ushered into a full-time F1 seat the following year.

But just as he burst onto the scene, the team’s form nosedived in what proved to be its final year with struggling engine supplier Honda. Vandoorne failed to pick up a single point until round 11 in Hungary and finished the season with a points tally of 13, just four off his team mate, a lowly 16th in the drivers’ standings.

Matters improved somewhat in 2018. Vandoorne started strongly, taking points in three of the four opening races, including an impressive recovery drive in Bahrain to eighth after wheelspin at the start dropped him to last place. But what is more often remembered about his final year in F1 is that Alonso out-qualified him every time.

Vandoorne won the FE title with Mercedes last year

Amid a change of management at McLaren, Vandoorne was swept aside. He followed a well-worn path of ex-F1 drivers before him, moving over to Formula E. However he made an undoubted success of his spell at Mercedes short-lived team, while keeping his hand in F1 as their reserve driver.

Having finished runner-up in his second season in 2019-20, Vandoorne clinched the Formula E world championship last year. However Mercedes chose to exit, selling up to McLaren, and Vandoorne also decided to move on. He’s joined the Penske team which struggled last year, but has now teamed up with the DS brand, a major force in the series previously with Techeetah.

But having achieved so much success elsewhere, and seen his team mate of the last three seasons, Nyck de Vries, land an F1 seat at AlphaTauri, does Vandoorne still regard that series as unfinished business?

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“My main focus is Formula E because that’s where I’m racing and where I can prove myself on track,” he told RaceFans ahead of this weekend’s Diriyah EPrix. “So that’s obviously the most important thing and that’s what most people are always looking at, the last race that you’ve been [competing] at, but Formula 1 is Formula 1.

The champion switched to DS Penske for 2023

“It’s obviously a huge sport and a huge business, and it’s grown massively over the last couple of years.”

Vandoorne acknowledges “it’s hard to say” if Formula 1 is still an option for him, “because I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future.” But he knows as well as anyone that in grand prix racing having the right car matters more than in Formula E.

“It’s a very different approach because, in Formula 1, you have two or three teams that can really fight for the prizes, let’s say, and all the others are, I wouldn’t say just participating, but they’re there. It’s very hard if you’re not with the top three teams when you have your best results is just about a top ten or not even scoring points.

“I think it’s a completely different approach. And that’s why Formula E I think is quite nice. If you do your job and you’re in one of the top teams that you can you can fight for victories and championships.”

However the nine-year-old series is still in its infancy. Attendance and viewer numbers are growing, but not at the rate we have been seeing in Formula 1 over the last few years.

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Mercedes F1 CEO Toto Wolff, a one-third owner of the team, said their exit from FE was partly due to the viewing audience being too low for the amount of investment the team were putting in, despite winning the teams’ title twice and taking Vandoorne and De Vries to a championship apiece. FE’s cumulative audience in 2021 was 316 million, F1’s was 1.55 billion, though the seasons were of different lengths.

Stoffel Vandoorne, Mercedes, Yas Marina, 2020
Being an F1 reserve driver is “tough”

“You can’t forget that Formula E is still a start-up,” explained Vandoorne. “We’ve only been around for eight years. It’s the ninth season now, so it’s still a very young championship.

“If you look through those eight and nine years, it’s definitely come a very long way, but it needs to go to the next step, that’s for sure. Everyone agrees on that.”

The series has introduced its third generation car this year, which is more powerful and lighter, but Vandoorne believes the spectacle can be improved further.

“What is exactly needed? I’m not 100% sure, but I think personally what I would like to see is the cars be a bit quicker. I think if we can display kind of ultimate performance with electric cars, I think that will naturally attract a little bit of public, let’s say, and maybe make us look a bit more like heroes.

“Also the transfer of technology between Formula E and the road cars that the manufacturers are developing. If we can really put that into the picture then I think it will naturally grow a bit.”

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New ‘Gen3’ FE car divided opinion

Vandoorne’s split from Mercedes in FE and F1 presented him an opportunity to link up with another grand prix team. He is now working alongside his former team mate Alonso at Aston Martin as one of their reserve drivers, in addition to one of his successors as GP2 (now F2) champion, Felipe Drugovich. Vandoorne admitted it has been a “hard” decision to step away from the eight-time F1 world champions.

“It’s always easy to stay within your comfort zone. Obviously Mercedes have given me a great opportunity in Formula E. It’s the same with a reserve driver role there. But when you’re in the reserve driver position, it’s a tough position to be in because you’re travelling to the races and you’re not actually having any opportunity almost to drive.

“So constantly got to look for things that motivate you and they need to challenge you to perform at your best. And I felt like with Aston Martin, it’s a completely new challenge, a new team again, they’re investing a lot in the future, and hopefully I can help a little bit to develop their car.”

Despite the upheaval involved in changing teams in both F1 and FE, and a somewhat disappointing 10th place in his first race as reigning champion two weeks ago, Vandoorne is pleased with how things are going so far.

“It’s definitely a big change [with the team] but so far I’m settling in rather well. On the Formula 1 side, I could have only stayed with Mercedes if I wanted to as a reserve driver. But I felt like a bit of change as well.

“When some change is happening, it’s sometimes quite nice as well. And I’m very excited to be part of Aston Martin and to join them on their journey as a team in a completely different position then Mercedes was.”

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Driving for a different team in Formula E’s much-changed ‘Gen3’ car, Vandoorne faces a stiff test to retain his championship. This weekend he has the benefit of returning to another familiar track, the Diriyah circuit in Saudi Arabia, but the next three races will increase the challenge for the drivers as they tackle new venues in South Africa’s Cape Town, Hyderabad in India and Portland on the Western cost of the United States.

Vandoorne expects improvements after 10th in Mexico

Vandoorne’s remarkable consistency last year – eight podiums and just a single point-less finish – ultimately delivered him the title. He sees “really great potential” in DS Penske’s car. “It is going to be able to fight for podiums and victories.

“It’s more just a question of embracing and making things right when it really matters. I think we just didn’t really optimise that in Mexico, so we’ll see how we go in Saudi.

“We’ve learned from Mexico a huge amount, especially with the tyres and how to use them. I think they are the biggest change compared to last year.”

This weekend’s two races in Diriyah will provide a vital pointer to whether the reigning champion has a realistic chance of holding onto his crown.

Stoffel Vandoorne was speaking as an ambassador of Saudia, the national airline and National flag carrier of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. For more information on Saudia’s partnership with Formula E and how you can get access to exclusive content and prizes visit

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