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.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.
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.
“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.
“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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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’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 www.takeyourseat.saudia.com
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14 comments on “Vandoorne wants Formula E cars to make drivers look “more like heroes””
27th January 2023, 11:41
Give them sprint races.
27th January 2023, 11:52
Hahahahaha. I can’t see Batman driving one of them silly little electric cars. But I can see Deadpool making a joke or two about them. That’s as close to a super hero as I can imagine them.
Oh wait, Mr Bean could drive one!
27th January 2023, 12:44
Making Stoffelke look like a hero will take some doing :D
27th January 2023, 12:45
I don’t for one second believe FE got 20% of the views F1 did. My guess (for no special reason) would be 5% of the F1 audience would be generous. FE had 16 races last year and F1 had 23, so you would have to apply a correction factor of about 1.4, making (for an equal number of races) 440 million equivalent FE views. Nope. Mercedes quit for a very good reason, no one was watching.
27th January 2023, 14:28
Did you take into account the fact that FE is on FTA TV in most places, while F1 is locked up behind paywalls in most major markets?
Or that FE goes to markets that F1 has priced itself out of?
How about the basic race concept – FE being typically a short race that’s all done and over with in well under an hour, rather than dragging on for double that? That’s a factor for a lot of people.
Then consider that a lot of F1 events are just plain dull and monotonous, and everyone knows they will be long before the teams even arrive at the venue. That inevitably hurts viewing figures for many GP’s.
Add the much more common timezone issues with F1 (who wants to watch a boring race at 3am?)….
Even if the numbers aren’t completely right, they probably aren’t all that far from wrong either.
27th January 2023, 14:29
Even if the numbers aren’t completely right, they probably aren’t all that wrong either.
Or far from right….
28th January 2023, 19:23
I follow both series and think 5% is a very generous estimate for FE. Look at their reddits, look at the media attention, look at the crowds.
29th January 2023, 7:05
Youtube highlights and full replays must get a lot of views.
Yes races can be less than exciting, it’s still pretty much a spec series so there’ll always be trains. The sooner they give up tracks consisting of 75% undifferentiated advertising canyons the better.
They’ll need a few more races to figure out the best tools to give the teams to play with strategy this year – 1/2/3 minute boosts and the charging pitstop has some potential (if Williams AE can sort it out).
27th January 2023, 16:53
Those numbers are meaningless without some lengthy explanation, anyway.
In Ecclestone’s day, they used to count the ‘cumulative audience’ of individuals by coming up with a number of people who supposedly came into contact with F1 for something like only 15 minutes per year. That’s enough to include basically every viewer of every sports round-up program or brief main news mention.
F1 race highlights usually get around 4-6 million views on YouTube. Other main videos tend to be around 600-800k, while the more specific stuff about one thing or driver in particular gets about half of that.
27th January 2023, 14:14
Driving whiny cars that like look like paper planes on terrible tracks on road tyres is always going to look slightly less than heroic.
The fact that even the BBC dropped FE tells you all you need to know.
27th January 2023, 15:19
Then paint them red, pay them zero or as much as a police officer and everytime there is a fire, they have to drive as fast as they can and extinguish the fire. There and then you can call youself a hero.
Flyinf around the world being paid in milions to run in circles dont make you a hero.
27th January 2023, 16:36
2 things need to happen, and I really think it’s either will do rather than necessarily both.
The racing needs to get better. The tight street circuits combined with the nature of incredible braking and acceleration capability mean corners get taken dreadfully slow, from an external view at least. This leads to what looks like bumper cars as cars jostle through the corners rather than in F1 where it’s terrifyingly exciting when two cars even get close to each other in the corner. I’d rather watch anything else than FE as far as race-craft goes.
The technology needs to be bulletproof. To really unseat the ICE and drive the manufacturers motivation as Vandoorne says, there needs to be no question at all that electric vehicles are the future. This will all come from battery R&D, how they are created, destroyed and charged. For sure there are a lot of arguments for, but there are still too many arguments against for it to be an absolute no-brainer.
28th January 2023, 8:23
It’s already one of the better open wheel series in that respect. Certainly puts F1 in a very dark shade.
Are we watching the same F1? F1 is yawnfest much more than it is excitement. If you find it exciting that two cars are near each other in a corner, it’s probably just the rarity and novelty value of it…
Confirmed – we are definitely not watching the same things. FE is at least as much about racecraft as F1 is. Even if for no other reason than because car performance is essentially identical throughout the entire field. Opportunity for gain/loss exists primarily within the driver and their driving – not their machine’s inherent capability.
It really doesn’t. Reliability will naturally increase over time – but it won’t make the series any better to watch. Unreliability breeds unpredictability – and who doesn’t want unpredictability? Only race teams….
There is no way that will happen in the near or even medium future.
FE and any manufacturers who wish to be involved really just need to focus on putting on good racing. If the racing isn’t interesting and exciting, people simply won’t watch it, resulting in it having no value at all.
It won’t make a jot of difference to what happens in mass-production – this is purely a brand awareness exercise.
27th January 2023, 18:40
They do already with these small, nimble but tricky to drive Gen 3 cars. Its the F1 bloated barges that have looked ridiculous over the last decade!
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