Vandoorne’s Super Formula switch confirmed

2016 F1 season

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Stoffel Vandoorne will compete in the Japanese Super Formula championship this year, Honda has confirmed.

Honda have had few victories in Super Formula of late
The McLaren development driver will race for the Honda-powered Docomo Dandelion team in the series, which features some of the fastest single-seater cars outside Formula One.

Vandoorne dominated last year’s GP2 championship and is considered one of the most promising junior F1 talents. He has 105 superlicence points – more than any driver bar Andre Lotterer – and finished runner-up in his first season of GP2 to Jolyon Palmer, who makes his F1 debut this year with Renault.

The Japanese Super Formula championship features eight races held over seven weekends, beginning at Suzuka on April 24th and ending with a double-header event at the same track in October. Honda-powered cars compete against Toyota in the championship but have only won one race in each of the last two seasons.

The Japanese manufacturer also confirmed junior driver Nobuharu Matsushita will spend a second season at GP2 team ART and former Japanese F3 racer Nirei Fukuzumi will be placed in GP3.

Yesterday Mercedes confirmed GP3 champion Esteban Ocon will move to the DTM series.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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35 comments on “Vandoorne’s Super Formula switch confirmed”

  1. What a waste. Not only is he (yet again) being stuck onto the side by McLaren, he now has to go to Japan and learn a bunch of tracks he will probably never need to use again should be reach F1. His debut (if it actually does happen in 2017) will arguably come 3 years later than it should.

    Super Formula may have slightly quicker cars than GP2, but the driving talent is nowhere near as strong. I really don’t understand what Vandoorne will learn over there.

    1. @craig-o If the alternative was a year in the simulator or peddling DTM cars around the Lausitzring like Ocon, this is the lesser of various evils. I’d like to see him in an F1 car too, but there’s only 22 of them and that’s not McLaren’s fault. Besides, I think you’re doing Lotterer, Kobayashi and co. a bit of a disservice.

      1. @keithcollantine but we know what the alternative was for Vandoorne – an actual F1 drive at Renault via a loan deal. Renault wanted that, but McLaren blocked it. What better way to prepare your driver than to drive in actual F1 machinery for a year?

        1. @mattds And If Vandoorne got the drive, MAG……

          1. @davidnotcoulthard harsh as it may be, McLaren have released Magnussen and have no further obligations towards him. Magnussen has a place in F1, probably, but I want to see Vandoorne in F1 before anyone else now.

        2. @mattds That doesn’t sound like a realistic option to me. Would Renault be willing to take Vandoorne on the condition that he would return to McLaren at the end of the year, or immediately should Alonso or Button be injured? Vasseur said McLaren “did not want to let him go”, which doesn’t even indicate Renault were looking for as little as a temporary arrangement.

          1. @keithcollantine, I would agree that the terminology Vasseur used seems to suggest something more than a temporary loan.

            The way he has phrased it suggests that Renault were trying to break Vandoorne’s contract with McLaren, when most drivers on loan are normally still contracted to their parent team (see Ocon, for example, who is on loan to Renault but still employed by Mercedes). I wouldn’t have thought that Renault would need to break Vandoorne’s contract with McLaren if they just wanted to “borrow” him, but McLaren’s behaviour would make more sense if Renault were trying to hire Vandoorne on a long term basis rather than just as a temporary driver.

      2. @keithcollantine Indeed there is Lotterer and Kobayashi and a few others who are rather good, but Super Formula is not their primary series in 2016. Overall though, I struggle to see how this field is any better than GP2’s last year.

      3. I think that we also should not underestimate The Honda factor. Him getting to know people at the HQ,and getting a bit their style might be of great value for Stoffe, Honda and McLaren in future years in F1 @keithcollantine, @craig-o, @mattds

      4. @keithcollantine I agree. Vandoorne is a very intelligent driver and I’m sure McLaren will consider him for 2017.

    2. for my money, its the best place to learn F1, without actually being in F1.

      the cars aren’t much off the pace of F1 already, with similar aero and mechanical. A decent race driver will learn a track in the simulator and the remainder of it in practice.

    3. Super Formula is the quickest single seater series outside of F1 and it’s fantastically competitive. Arguably, it’s a better proving ground than GP2.

      Good work McLaren!

      1. @andybantam GP2 has DRS, Pirelli’s, and race on the same tracks as F1. I think all of this holds more weight.

        In Super Formula, you’re racing (mostly) on irrelevant tracks with tyres that bear no resemblance to those in F1. I also have some doubts about the driver field – a few drivers are OK, but that’s about it. Look at Nakajima: couldn’t cut it in F1, didn’t win a race in GP2, but has been the top driver in SF since he started to race there. And he could have been the 2015 SF champ if he hadn’t missed a race.

        1. @mattds

          Yes, but there will be many alleged rule changes by the time he’s ready for F1. So the experience he will get will be of limited value. Plus, he has already won the GP2 crown in a very convincing manor indeed. I suspect he already knows his stuff.

          You mention irrelevant circuits. He’s a professional racing driver. He doesn’t learn the circuits in the same way us mortals do when we get home from work and switch the Xbox360 on. Factor in the fact that Monza, for example, in a GP2 car is a different proposition than Monza in an F1 car, I don’t really see how much more valuable experience he’d get from another season in GP2 that he doesn’t have already.

          What he can do, though, is join a series in Japan and pitch it against a very strong driver line up and possibly get some wet weather driving experience.

          I, for one, trust in McLaren’s decision here.

          1. Vandoorne can’t drive in GP2 anymore as he won it. I was just responding to the idea that SF is a better proving ground than GP2.

            As for McLaren, I don’t trust them at all. These last years they have been terrible with their young drivers. Ask Perez and Magnussen. And they have blocked a loan deal with Renault that would have seen Vandoorne for a year in the best proving ground possible: actual F1. THAT is what they had to do with him instead of sending him to Japan.

          2. @mattds

            I agree that McLaren have been terrible in recent years with regards to drivers decisions. But this is the right decision, given the Honda effect.

            There is a reason why McLaren didn’t let him race in F1. We might not know what the reason is, but there will be one. Perhaps they expect Renault to struggle. SV hasn’t had many seasons of struggling cars, so they don’t want to knock his confidence. Whatever the reason is, he’s their promising talent and they want to protect him.

          3. @andybantam OK Andy, you say there’s a reason McLaren is keeping Vandoorne without letting him race in F1. Then tell me, what was the reason they kept Magnussen in 2015 without giving him a race seat?

            I do hope you’re right, and everybody’s right, but I’ve grown overly pessimistic over the years.

        2. @MattDS, you are quick to dismiss Super Formula as “irrelevant” but why does it have to be relevant??? a great driver will jump in an f1 car and be quick. your trying to be a bit too smart here, so just can it. Super Formula is much better then you think it is, and does not have to be relevant to F1 “AT ALL” as it is not a feeder series, it is its own series, which I see as more interesting then f1 in so many ways, any good driver can swap series, just look at Lotterer doing well in Super Formula and doing well in WEC. tracks don’t need to be “similar” to f1, as any good race driver learns a track in a few laps, it is not like WRC, where you need pace notes for every corner… you really are looking into it too much, and it almost comes across as if you have “hate” in your heart for other racing series, like “F1” is the be all and end all, when it IS NOT, certainly not in this era.

          1. @kpcart first of all, before telling me to “can it”, do some proper reading yourself please. You are reading way too much into what I said. I just didn’t agree that SF is a better feeder series to F1. That’s all.
            And you are saying it is not a feeder series at all (and I agree), so how is that so far away from what I’m saying?

            No I don’t hate other series, at all. I have no idea how you would come to such a conclusion.

        3. @mattds

          For me, it looked like they didn’t know what to do with Button, so they kept Mag’ as an option.

          Quite odd though. They were quite unkind to Kevin. They’ll be a few drivers determined to beat McLaren throughout their careers at this rate.

    4. You miss the point: he has a seat, he gets paid, and he can get podium places (which means he gets a bonus as well). Okay, he won’t get paid as well as Lewis Hamilton, but at least he will be well paid and he will be driving in fast cars at the same time. If F1 wanted him then they would have made sure he got a seat in an F1 car, but they didn’t, so he has moved to another series.

      1. @drycrust

        If F1 wanted him then they would have made sure he got a seat in an F1 car

        F1 wanted him: Renault tried to get him. But McLaren wouldn’t let him, and so they had to go for Magnussen.

    5. I HATE it when people talk about it being a “waste” for a driver to go to a great series like Super Formula or Indycar. they offer better racing then f1, and f1 is your only dream, gives you race practice and an opportunity to “win” instead of being a backmarker or a test driver. plus you get to race at Suzuka 3 times in one season!

  2. Seemed like only yesteryear that Eddie Irvine was battling Heinz-Harald Frentzen for a Formula 1 title, Mika Salo was subbing for Michael Schumacher at Ferrari, Ralf Schumacher was making a name for himself at Williams, and Pedro de la Rosa was a rookie standout at Arrows.

    And all of them graduated to F1 via the Japanese top formula category. This is going to be a very, very fun year and I really can’t wait to see what Vandoorne can do as a rookie.

  3. I respect Stoffel’s decision to want to race in 2016, and this is certainly a innovative solution to the need to stay in high-power single seaters, but what he actually achieves in Super Formula ought to be completely irrelevant. As a GP2 and FR2.0 champion, having won on debut in both GP2 and FR3.5, he has already marked himself out as one of the defining single seater drivers of the modern era and as deserving of an F1 seat since 2013.

    It is astounding, as the team that brought both Kimi Raikkonen and Lewis Hamilton to the attention of the world, that McLaren have been so reluctant to promote a young driver with better credentials than both of them. 2015 showed the world what a seventeen year old can do in an F1 car, and yet McLaren continue to doubt that Vandoorne could quickly be performing at similar levels as Jenson, and soon after better.

    If 2017 again looks to be battle with McLaren for Stoffel, he must consider approaching the FDA to put his hat in the ring for Raikkonen’s seat. I have no doubt, together with Esteban Ocon and Max Verstappen, that Vandoorne could be a champion of the next generation.

    1. Peppermint-Lemon (@)
      12th February 2016, 10:56

      Sauber brought Kimi into F1 initially, then McLaren poached him before Ferrari got first.

    2. well if he is running midfield in Super Formula, mclarens choice “might” be justified, as it is a super competitive series, probably more so then the series he has already raced in, ie rookie series.

  4. Put him in the remaining Manor seat already.

  5. Such a shame Honda are not yet supplying a second team where they could then place one or two of their junior drivers, much like Mercedes placing Wehrlein at Manor and Ferrari placing Gutierrez at Haas. Bring back Super Aguri, I’m sure they can find that 2002 Arrows chassis lying around somewhere that Honda can convert into 2017 spec rules!

  6. From the article sounds like the title will be a tough ask unless he was in a Toyota. Why are Honda so rubbish in modern motorsport, they would struggle to win in a one make Honda series they are that bad. This should be a good learning experience for him, he will learn Honda are rubbish and he should avoid anything related to Honda for the rest of his motorsport career unless of course he wants to ride motorbikes.

    1. Honda is having troubles with their Motogp standard ECU. Honda has for a while now put faith in the wrong people, every project they have tackled lately has not wielded any results.

  7. I like it. Versatility, different tracks, different tyres – these are all things that will only polish the skills of a champion.

    And he is not allowed to do GP2 anymore because he won.

  8. Well, atleast he will have good tires and aero. And gets to drive awesome tracks.

  9. Well, it is about time Formula 1 teams started taking other championships seriously. And Japan’s domestic racing scene is one of the best on the planet. Super Formula is, of course, a professional championship led by incredibly experienced drivers – not just a conveyor-belt feeder series like GP2. I’m looking forward to seeing how he does, and certainly don’t expect him to walk it like he did with GP2.

    1. well said, the drivers there are great and the racing is fast and intense, it should be shown on world television, maybe with a couple more western drivers it will be televised, right now it has a couple solid ex f1 drivers plus Lotterer – an alltime great in motorsport and now Vandoorne, names ringing to westerners ears. watch some onboards of the series on youtube, they are awesome cars also.

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