Vandoorne knew reserve driver role did not guarantee chance to race – Wolff

2020 Sakhir Grand Prix

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Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff described reserve driver Stoffel Vandoorne as a “top team player” after he accepted their reasons for passing him over for a race seat this weekend.

The team chose to call up junior driver George Russell as a substitute for Lewis Hamilton, who has tested positive for Covid-19, at this weekend’s Sakhir Grand Prix.

Vandoorne is one of the team’s two reserve drivers, and the only one with a Formula 1 superlicence. He was already due to join Mercedes in Bahrain this weekend before the details of Hamilton’s condition came to light.

Yesterday Vandoorne said missing out on the opportunity to return to F1 “hurts”, but he understood Mercedes’ reasons for choosing Russell. Wolff told Belgian media the team’s decision was no reflection on the job Vandoorne has done for Mercedes in F1 and Formula E.

“Stoffel is doing great in Formula E and has done a perfect job this year as our reserve driver,” said Wolff. “He’s naturally disappointed not to be in the car this weekend and we understand and respect that. He’s a racer and we don’t expect him to be jumping for joy.

“But he’s also pragmatic and understands the reasons for our decision. As reserve driver, you go into the season knowing that you could be called on to race, but that it’s not a guarantee and also that you have a role to play away from the track in the simulator and doing development work.

“Stoffel has done a great job with that, as well as his main role in Formula E, where they have just completed pre-season testing. He’s an important part of the motorsport family at Mercedes and a top team player.”

Vandoorne, who raced in F1 for McLaren between 2016 and 2018, also missed potential opportunities to return earlier this year when Racing Point required substitutes for Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll. The Mercedes customer team had the option of calling on the reserve driver’s services, but chose to run their former driver Nico Hulkenberg instead.

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Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...
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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19 comments on “Vandoorne knew reserve driver role did not guarantee chance to race – Wolff”

  1. At least Vandoorne handled the news like an adult unlike Delatraz.

    1. Deletraz? When was that?

        1. Thanks. IMO it was fair so that Deletraz could focus on F2, but he should chill out.

  2. The header really is a non-sequitur isn’t it! But rest of the article is solid. Remains understandable Vandoorne is disappointed, and remains logical it went this way.

    1. It’s really a joke that some F1 teams have multiple reserve drivers but when needed, use none of them. It was the same with Force India. I’m glad they called Hulk, but again showed the uselessness of the reserve driver these days,.

  3. Having this role will become redundant in the longer-term if he can’t get back to being a regular F1 driver, the same with Kubica at Alfa Romeo.

    1. @jerejj I’m not sure that’s true. Quite apart from the other elements of the job which this commment ignores, if Hamilton had tested positive today, for example, it’s entirely plausible that Vandoorne would have had to fill in at short notice. It’s only because Hamilton’s positive test came on Monday which left time for negotiations to put Russell in the car and also fill the Williams vacancy that he wasn’t needed in this instance but that doesn’t make the role redundant.

  4. “Stoffel …. has done a perfect job this year as our reserve driver”

    That’s the sort of ‘perfect job’ I could do. Travel the world, enjoy full use of the hospitality, get to watch all the races from the best seat in the house….. :)

    1. That really doesn’t sound so bad haha. That is… unlesss you’re an actual F1 driver who can drive and compete

  5. Time away from F1 steering wheel, I believe that was the main criteria.

    Hulk was out for only six months. Russell, zero months. Vanddorne did not even drove today’s lower-rear-wing-front-inwash chassis. Straightforward decision.

    But it’s also too much of a golden opportunity to miss. Russell’s value may skyrocket after this weekend, and whoever manages his career may profit from it. Help me out here if someone knows: is it Toto?

    For Mercedes, they may find their own Leclerc If Russel pulls pole ahead of Bottas.

    It’s a win win! Unless it backfires and Russell finishes behind. But he won’t. That’s my bet.

    1. Even if he finishes behind Bottas, has it really backfired?
      Bottas is an amazing driver. One that has pushed Hamilton hard, especially in previous years. He has been with the team since 2017. He is a multiple race winner and very established in the team.
      Russell, meanwhile, seems to be a very exciting young talent, but is still only in his second year of F1, without a point to his name, catapulted mid-season into a car he has never driven before (you only have to look at Badoer/Fisi in 2009 to know how hard that can be).
      He certainly doesn’t need to beat Bottas to impress – quite frankly, if he can secure a 1-2 for Merc then that certainly be enough to impress me. If he can win – flipping heck, get this lad a championship-winning car ASAP.

  6. Appointing a new driver even for a weekend nowadays seems as big like appointing a new Pope. Can’t they be more relaxed like in the 70s?

  7. Having thought about this more, there is still a need for a formal reserve driver like Stoffel. It is that the timing worked against him.

    I get the impression that if Lewis’ test came back even 12 hours later then George may not logistically have been able to take the seat. Things like racesuits (George still didn’t have MB ones when he did his interviews yesterday), helmets, contracts can take days to sort and it seems like it has been a mad rush to get all done. In this case it would have been a slam dunk for Stoffel to take the seat.

  8. Vandoorne’s poor showing for McLaren was not entirely his fault. It was the Alonso factor, and the car built totally to Alonso’s specification. Solutions cobbled together at Alonso’s whim have always hurt Alonso’s team mates. Even Kimi, when he went to Ferrari had a diabolical time with Alonso’s car and was only able to improve that jalopy after Alonso was booted out.
    I feel sorry for Ocon next year.

    1. Nothing will ever be easy for Ocon…

  9. Honestly, this whole “reserve driver” thing is a joke.
    If you don’t put your reserve driver in the car when you need to replace one of your two, then don’t designate any reserve driver in the first place!
    Dammit.

  10. Now what if he was put at Williams then?

  11. What’s the point of travelling to race weekends?

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