Stoffel Vandoorne: 'I'm never giving up anyway.'
Not everything is simple in the world of motorsport. Drivers often sacrifice their childhood and teenage years to dedicate their lives to something they see as a potential career, often something they’ve dreamed about once or twice. Maybe even more. Reaching that spot at the most prestigious level of motorsport seemingly makes everything worth it. But, once you’re there, it’s not necessarily straightforward.
Stoffel Vandoorne has driven in Formula 1, but made the move to Formula E in 2019. Since then, he’s experienced wins and losses, highs and lows, but if anything, those experiences have only made him stronger, as a person and as a racing driver. I spoke to Stoffel about the impact of COVID on Formula E in 2020, the 2021 season and his upcoming 24 Hours of Le Mans stint. He explained how not only did these factors have an impact on him as a racer, but as a human being, too.
Photo: LAT Images - Sebastian Kawka - Formula E
As we all know, the COVID-19 pandemic had a detrimental impact on the world in 2020 and motorsport was very much included in that. After the fifth round of the 2019/20 Formula E season in Marrakesh, the global situation involving COVID worsened. In March, Formula E announced that they had made the decision to ‘temporarily suspend’ the season. Naturally, this affected each member of every Formula E team, drivers included.
ELLIE: How did you cope with the postponement of the 2019/20 Formula E season as a result of COVID in the sense of maintaining a positive mindset and keeping fit?
STOFFEL: It was quite strange to have such a long break from racing. Initially, I was on the way to Melbourne to be a reserve driver with Mercedes [F1]. I was in the air when the Grand Prix was cancelled. So, it was kind of when everything kicked off with the whole COVID situation. At the time, I didn’t really know what to expect. The team said to me, ‘look, we’re going to book you on a flight, don’t leave the airport. Tell us where you want to go’. So, I flew to the US, which I thought was going to be a two-week break, but I ended up staying there for two months, and then it was another month or two months after that before we returned to racing. It was quite challenging because at the beginning, the motivation is still there, your mindset is still like you’re in the middle of a season. I was training every day and preparing like usual. At one point, motivation was fading away a little bit just because of not really knowing when we would resume racing.
"In motorsport, you always have more bad days than good days."
At some point I had a bit of time off as well and didn’t train too intensely, but I think the most difficult part was just to find the drive again to train for something because you always have a target and it was the first time when we didn’t a have much of a target. So once we fully knew when we were going to race again, obviously motivation was not a problem. Everything was running as normal, but it was quite unnatural.
Photo: Formula E
Asking a racing driver about their low points during a season isn’t necessarily the most exciting of interview topics. I made sure not to dwell on it too much. However, having a bad race can actually help you move on and push harder to be better at the next round or during the next race weekend. Of course, a bad result is never nice, but having that positive mentality to refrain from dwelling on a DNF or a position outside of the points standings is vital, especially for Stoffel in Formula E.
ELLIE: You’ve had multiple DNFs throughout the season so far; was it difficult to bounce back from them?
STOFFEL: You have to move on. That’s obviously a quality you need to have and obviously we had to deal with a few lows and we’ve also been able to turn it around quickly and translate it into a positive result. Rome, for example, is a very good example where on day one in the first race, we had a collision. I had Pole position and then I didn’t finish the race because of the collision. Then on day two, I managed to win the race. I think in motorsport, you always have more bad days than good days so you need to be quite good at moving on and analysing what went wrong and then translate that into something positive for the next day. I think with the experience you learn how to deal with that and how to move on.
"It's Formula E and a lot of crazy things happen."
ELLIE: After your incident with Oliver Rowland during round thirteen in London, you said it was a case of “wrong place, wrong time”. Looking back, do you still feel that way now?
STOFFEL: It was very painful. Everything was kind of under control and then to be taken out by someone when you are in the lead of the race… that just really hurts a lot. I think it was maybe more painful than other races because I realised that we were getting closer to the end of the Championship and if I had won that race, I would have probably been leading the Championship but now I am thirty points behind sitting in thirteenth. With only two races to go now here in Berlin, that’s something quite hard to overcome, but at the same time, it’s Formula E and a lot of crazy things happen so it’s not over until it’s over. That’s definitely my mindset going into this weekend and I’m not giving up anything. I’m never giving up anyway. There is a chance to recover; it’s going to require, from my side, a perfect weekend, and I have to have a little bit of luck on my side as well. It is possible to recover. It was just very painful [in London] because it would’ve put me in much better shape coming into this weekend.
Photo: Formula E
"I think we have every chance to finish this season on a high."
Discussing a driver’s successes is more interview-friendly. This season, Stoffel has been on the podium twice, qualified twice on Pole and gained extra Championship points for the Fastest Lap. His first win of the season came in Rome, only one day after starting the previous race on pole but not finishing the race due to a collision with his team mate, Nyck De Vries, due to a manhole cover. At the following round in Valencia, Stoffel qualified on Pole but his time was deleted due to a tyre infringement. He started at the very back of the grid. Despite his starting position and receiving time penalties during the race, Stoffel finished in third and took the last spot on the podium. Now that is a pretty successful weekend.
ELLIE: At the Rome ePrix (round four), you gained your best result this season. What is that winning feeling like, especially after not winning for a while?
STOFFEL: It’s always a bit different. Every race has its own characteristics, its own nature. Some races are obviously more eventful than other ones. I think the race in Rome felt easy at the time. We were very competitive during the whole weekend, I qualified fourth, managed to gain a couple of places immediately. We just had so much pace compared to everyone else so once I managed to extend a little bit of a gap to the people behind me, I was in control of the race. To be fair, in London, it was a similar feeling; I was in control of the race and then obviously, the incident with Oliver happened, so it just shows that it’s never over until it’s over.
Photo: LAT Images
As we head into the final Formula E race weekend of the season in Berlin, we have to pause and reflect on the six rounds at the same circuit last year, when the series was given the green light to begin racing again. With the amount of data and knowledge each team has about the Tempelhof Street Circuit, it would seem that every driver is on a similar level when it comes to racing in Berlin. However, at the final Berlin ePrix last season, Stoffel qualified on pole and finished in P1. Not a bad way to end such a crazy season of racing, but can he do it again this year?
ELLIE: Do you think you can repeat what you did here in Berlin last year to finish this season on a high?
STOFFEL: I think we have every chance to finish this season on a high. We have a competitive car, I did well here last season – winning the last race – and I think we will be competitive but so will everyone else because we spent six days here last year. Everyone has so much information, so much data, so much knowledge of this circuit that I expect everyone to be close. I’m looking forward to it and I think I have a good opportunity to finish this season on a high. From our side, we just have to focus on our job and do what we’ve always been doing and I think we’ll be up there.
Photo: Formula E
"I've really been enjoying these endurance races."
After one year off from in-person Le Mans and drivers from a variety of different racing categories involved in the virtual race in 2020, the popular twenty-four hour race is back this year. Once Formula E is over in Berlin, Stoffel is headed to France to prepare for Le Mans, in which he will race alongside fellow FE driver Tom Blomqvist and ex-F2 driver but popular endurance racer, Sean Geleal, for Jota Racing. Due to its completely different nature to a forty-five minute Formula E race, preparation for an endurance race like Le Mans is obviously going to also be very different.
ELLIE: Looking ahead to Le Mans - what is the preparation like for an endurance race like that?
STOFFEL: It’s obviously a very different format and a very different race. In LMP2 this year, there’s a lot of competitive cars and it’s almost going to be like a twenty-four-hour sprint race. I think every stint is going to be almost flat out and we’re going to be competing with other cars on track but it’s definitely a race where the approach is a bit different. The physical and mental stress on the body is very high during those twenty-four hours and you’re awake for so long because on race day you start at eight A.M., you have meetings and you’re preparing for the race. The race only starts at three, or four P.M., so already, the build up towards the race is quite long and then the race goes on forever, almost, and for us drivers it’s a long journey because we don’t get that much sleep in between our stints. Once you get out of the car, you need to cool down a little bit, you do a bit of physiotherapy with our physios and get some food, then there’s not that much time left to actually rest and recover. You need to try and sleep a little bit, but you don’t get proper sleep because the adrenaline keeps running and you need to be ready in case you need to jump in. It’s quite a different approach but I’ve really been enjoying these endurance races. Also the fact that you are sharing a car, you’re relying on two team mates as well and it’s a bit different so you need to give a lot of confidence to them as well, so it’s about compromising between us three.
And, when I asked if he’s looking forward to being back in the car alongside Blomqvist and Geleal, Stoffel said, “I’m definitely looking forward to it!”
Photos: svandoorne on Instagram
[Display Cover Image: LAT Images]