Stoffel Vandoorne: Formula 1 or Formula E, where does his future lie?
Formula 1 has been around for over seventy years now, while Formula E was born only a few years ago, with its inaugural season taking place from 2014 to 2015. While Formula 1 uses a hybrid engine, Formula E relies entirely on a battery to power the car. Formula E are promoting Change, Accelerated (that literally is their slogan) and they’re doing it successfully, too.
Formula E drivers can have previous experience in Formula 1, like Felipe Massa or Pascal Wehrlein, even Pierre Gasly who is currently driving for AlphaTauri had a stint in all-electric racing. However, do we see drivers move from Formula 1 to Formula E and back again? Is that a possibility? I guess there’s always ‘never say never’, but are some drivers just better suited to one series compared to another?
Stoffel Vandoorne was first linked with F1 in 2013, when he joined McLaren as part of their junior driver programme. In 2016, Vandoorne was called up to replace an injured Fernando Alonso for the Bahrain Grand Prix after an incident in the previous round left the Spanish driver unable to compete for McLaren. Vandoorne qualified in twelfth and finished the race in tenth, taking one point for his Championship, which, for his first race in Formula 1, is hardly bad at all. Vandoorne was announced as McLaren’s full-time driver for the 2017 season, when the team were lacking competitiveness, finishing only sixth in the Constructors’ Championship in 2016.
In 2017, Vandoorne finished the year with thirteen points, sitting in P16 in the Drivers’ Championship, with his team mate, Fernando Alonso, only one spot higher than him with seventeen points. The following year, his fate was pretty much just the same; twelve points left him in sixteenth again, while Alonso had a stronger fifty points, finishing just outside the top ten in P11.
It was announced that Stoffel and McLaren would be parting ways at the end of the 2018 season. McLaren CEO, Zak Brown, told Autosport that ‘we haven’t provided Stoffel with the tools to show his true talent’. His departure from the team was announced on the same day McLaren informed the motorsport world of his replacement in the form of Lando Norris. Questions are raised, right? Is that not too soon to be announcing their next driver, especially when there’s still the second half of the season to work through? Vandoorne’s talent cannot be argued, both now and then, so why was he dropped by McLaren at that point in his career? Did he even have enough time to showcase what he can do?
Three weeks after leaving Formula 1, Vandoorne made his Formula E debut with HWA Racelab, partnering British driver Gary Paffett for the 2018-19 season. His first podium in the all-electric series came in Rome, round seven of thirteen, when he came third and joined Mitch Evans (P1 – Jaguar Racing) and André Lotterer (P2 – DS Techeetah). Was this the start of his success away from Formula 1? Was this the break Vandoorne needed?
Since 2019, Stoffel has been tied to Mercedes, both in Formula 1 and Formula E. He was named as a simulator driver for Mercedes (F1), then, alongside 2019 Formula 2 Champion Nyck De Vries, he was given a full-time race seat for the Mercedes-EQ Formula E team. A huge step forward for him and for Mercedes. Especially because he found success so quickly. In both round one and round two of the 2020 season, in Diriyah, Saudi Arabia, Stoffel secured two consecutive third place podiums. Impressive, right? First race with a new team, there can’t be too much expectation placed on the shoulders of anyone in that position, but it all worked out. Despite an interrupted season because of the global COVID-19 pandemic, Vandoorne finished P2 in the overall Driver Standings with eighty-seven points, compared to De Vries who scored sixty points and finished P11. The difference in finishing position is currently raising questions amongst Formula E fans, with many struggling to understand how the overall position of a driver can change so suddenly across a round of racing. Maybe the Group Qualifying format needs some rethinking to make the Championship battle that little bit tighter…
When news broke of Mercedes Formula 1 driver Lewis Hamilton testing positive for COVID-19 after the 2020 Bahrain Grand Prix, questions arose - who will take his seat in the Mercedes for the upcoming Sakhir Grand Prix? - being the most prominent one. In theory, it should be an official Mercedes reserve driver, right? Stoffel Vandoorne or Esteban Guttierez would be the most likely contender to act as reserve, as their literal contract states. But then there was George Russell… driving for Williams in Formula 1 and with ties to Mercedes since 2017, and for 2021 in regards to a full-time seat. He was very much an option. His selection by Toto Wolff to step in at Mercedes for the Sakhir race weekend provoked delight but disappointment. What’s the point of having a reserve driver if they won’t actually be used if a reserve is needed?
With only two rounds left of the 2021 Formula E season, Stoffel sits in P13 in the Driver Standings, with sixty-three points. Meanwhile, his De Vries occupies the top spot with ninety-five points. The standings are so close, literally anything could happen over the final rounds in Berlin (14-15 August). In Vandoorne’s case, we saw that in London, with good luck and bad luck following him around during the weekend.
He definitely should’ve won that second London EPrix.
The big question that remains is this: will Vandoorne stick with Formula E for the foreseeable future, or will there be another shot at a seat in Formula 1? It’s a question that has an array of different answers.
It seems that, in Stoffel’s case, Formula E is the place to be. With Hamilton’s seat already secured for 2022 and beyond, plus the ever-persistent rumours about Russell being his team mate, it looks like there won’t be any space for Stoffel in that top Mercedes seat in F1 just yet. With multi-year deals sealed for both drivers at McLaren and Aston Martin, another two potentials are crossed off the list. Rumours are surfacing about Nyck De Vries snatching a seat at Williams, and while there is no confirmation of Latifi’s stint continuing with the team, the list of drivers with a shot of a Williams seat is long, but there’s no sign of Vandoorne. Silly season is just about to begin in Formula 1.
Maybe if the Group Qualifying system in Formula E was tweaked, the possibility of more success in a Mercedes would be there for Stoffel. It is difficult, with a system that changes the qualifying group in each round, to produce a consistent Qualifying result. It just shows why the Driver Standings are as tight as they appear. There is no clear winner just yet, and honestly? It’ll come down to the line in Berlin. I can hold my hands up to being biased and state who I want to win the Championship, of course, but there really is no way I can predict who will actually take that title. We complain when it comes to Formula 1 about the Championship battle being too easy to predict and the drivers are never that close points-wise, but then in Formula E, with pretty much every driver in with a shot, people complain that it’s too tight, and maybe even somewhat unfair.
I guess the pros and cons are debatable, but as Formula E grows in popularity, it makes sense to sit tight and enjoy the highs and lows with one of the best teams on the grid. Plus, with that Mercedes link, the F1 door will always be open, even if it’s more ajar than anything else.
In a sport as fast paced (literally, fast paced) as motorsport, you never really know what’s going to happen next. Imagine if Toto Wolff actually decides to steal Stoffel Vandoorne from Mercedes-EQ to put him in a Mercedes in F1 for 2022…
Photo Credit: svandoorne (Twitter)