Stoffel Vandoorne on his recent victory and future in the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship
RIYADH: Stoffel Vandoorne is gearing up for the rest of the season and discussing his racing future after the Mercedes driver stormed to the top of the driver standings with a victory at the Monaco E-Prix, where he finished ahead of Jean-Eric Vergne in second and Mitch Evans in third.
The Monaco race weekend was a successful one for the Mercedes-EQ Formula E Team, with Vandoorne claiming his first win of the season, and Nyck de Vries securing further points and finishing in 10th place, giving the team a clear lead in the team championship with 120 points.
1. Victory in Monaco must have been special. Can you let us know more about your experience winning in Monaco compared with the usual races?
Monaco races are special in any series and in any category. I’ve raced here in the past for a couple of different series, such as the World Series by Renault GP2, and Formula 1 as well. I won in the GP2 in 2015, which was quite a special feeling as well.
Last weekend was my first win in Formula E, which was also my first one of this season, which makes it a very special one. I think this is definitely a race that everyone wants to have in their racing career, with all the hype around it as well as the circuit’s history. I was obviously extremely very happy and so was everyone in the team.
2. What are your feelings on the upcoming race in Berlin? How do you like the Berlin track and what are your experiences so far there?
Berlin is a home race for us, and I’m looking forward to being back on track.
Berlin historically has been quite good to us. It’s where I had my first victory in Formula E. It’s also a very particular one. Maybe it’s because of the way the track is over there with the concrete — it’s on an old airfield. The concrete is very abrasive and aggressive, which means we need to maneuver carefully and get the car in at the right window to be able to perform there. Though we’ve had some good races, we have also had some races where we have struggled a little. It’s a challenging race, but I’m looking forward to it. It’s a track that suits me as well, and hopefully we manage to get it right again.
3. Are there any tracks more suited to Mercedes in the rest of the season?
When you look at all the circuits that we have to race in, there are certain circuits where our performance has been stronger and yet other circuits where we have struggled. The championship is a bit different now with the different qualification format. It provides a little more opportunity to equalize the field and to play at the front.
I don’t really know if there are any tracks in particular that suit us. It’s just the nature of the championship and the competition being so intense, that if you miss out by a tiny bit, it’s very easy to find yourself on the back foot. I believe it’s all about maximizing every weekend and gain an edge to fight at the forefront on any circuit.
4. How important is it in the first half of a race to hold back and conserve energy?
In the past few days, we’ve seen the drivers who hold back end up winning.
It’s always a difficult balance to make obviously, because in an ideal situation you don’t want to fight too much. But when you’re in the top position, you also don’t want to lose out on that position, requiring you to strike a very delicate balance.
For example, in Rome when I was leading the race and competing with Robin, we ended up wasting energy and then Mitch came through with the energy. I think it’s just the nature of the championship right now, where it’s so competitive, and it’s more about being efficient initially.
5. Since Mercedes is going to retire from Formula E, do you believe you will be part of the team’s future plans once the season is over?
There’s still nothing confirmed on the team’s side, but I think a lot of people know regarding what’s coming. From my side, I would say that there is a lot to analyze in terms of what the best and most competitive package will be, and there are quite a few opportunities out there.
In the end, I have to decide what is going to be the best for my future and what is going to get me the most competitive package in order for me to be able to continue racing and winning the races, which is the most important thing for me.
6. Coming back to Monaco, in recent times there was some discussion that Monaco should not be in the calendar anymore. What is your take on this, and could you please compare a little bit between Formula E and Formula 1?
I don’t know if I should be involved in a discussion on whether Monaco should stay on in the calendar or not because, ultimately, it’s not in my power. Though the hype and the iconic nature of the event make it a great race and a great experience. Compared to Formula 1, I believe Formula E is better as in Formula 1, overtaking abilities are so limited and there’s not as much action. This year, Formula E has been quite a good race, with a lot of overtaking at the front and a lot of changes for the lead. We had a great race here last year as well.
7. Are you thinking about winning the championship this season, or do you think it’s still too early to say?
It is still way too early, though we are almost halfway through. In Formula E, things can change very quickly and turn around quite drastically, so I’m not really focusing on being the championship lead at the moment and am just taking it race by race, which is what I’ve been doing since the start of the year.
The key is to just be consistent, which will also enable me to score the points at every race. This is my main focus at the moment, and we’ll see where we end up later.
8. I know a lot of people in the media say that last year you drove well enough to be a world champion and it was only bad luck that prevented you from winning the title. Do you think last year you were good enough to be world champion, and is that driving you this year?
Yes, I think so. Last year was obviously quite a random season in terms of interpreting what happened. There were definitely a couple of occasions where I had my share of bad luck and lost out on big points during the default group qualifying formats. One of them was in Valencia, where I qualified on pole, but then was disqualified, and there was the other race in Rome where Lucas had a problem, and both myself and Nyck were out of the race. This also happened in Rome, where I was leading the race and then got taken out. If you look at the gap in the end, I didn’t really need that much to just jump to the top of the tables.
This year, I want to leave no stone unturned, as I just want to make sure that I do everything right from my side and the things I have under my control.
9. You drove well in Rome also. Can you tell us about your team dynamics?
We all have a very good relationship with each other and I wouldn’t say that anything has changed us, though I think Nyck is just going through a bit of a rough patch. As it’s such a competitive championship, as soon as you’re not trying hard enough to put all of the little pieces together, it’s very likely to affect your standings a little bit. I think Nyck has got the speed; he’s got everything he needs to be fighting at the front again. I think he’s just going through a little bit of a tricky phase, but I’m convinced he will turn things around and strike back in his own way.
10. Considering the success you have had in Formula E in recent years, are you happy to be a part of this championship?
Yes, of course. It is now my fourth season and I have been transferred to Mercedes since, and I think we’ve had a pretty successful time together so far. I think this championship is one of the most challenging in terms of the drivers and how close the competition is. As a race car driver, you want to be in a very competitive championship because when you do well, it is very rewarding and gives you the best feeling.
11. Regarding the Gen3, what are the features that you like the most and what do you like aesthetically?
Well, there are always changes to the rules, no matter what series it is, and it’s always quite interesting because the cars look very different. The Gen3 is quite a big upgrade on the technical side, with a lot more power. I think that some of the best things about the car is its performance, the handling and the feeling of the car due to the reduction in weight, which I think will be very noticeable to us drivers and will help improve the handling, as well as the ability, of the car. I believe the front region is also probably going to change a lot.
I’m looking forward to trying it out, and although we are a couple of months away, I think we’ll get there quite quickly. It’s exciting and I’m looking forward to trying it out and experiencing the car’s performance for myself.
12. Will you be racing at Formula E next year? If yes, what team will you be with?
I want to be in Formula E next year, and that is my mindset for where I want to be in the future. Like I said before, there are a lot of changes happening within our own team at the moment, and the most important thing is to have a competitive package and a competitive car that will enable me to fight for victories and championships.
13. Do you think that the entry experience in the category is important, or is the fact that everyone is starting from zero an advantage for the less experienced drivers?
In Formula E, the experience is always important, though the fundamentals of it and the way you drive the car will be unchanged on the most part.
The new rules level out the field a little bit. And I think it might be a little easier for the less experienced drivers to get up to speed and not have that delay, as there are so many new things that we have to learn about, though I still do think that experienced drivers have a bit more of an advantage due to experience.
14. Mercedes joined Formula E a couple of years ago and managed to win the championship last season. How has the team evolved in that time from a technical point of view?
There have been quite a lot of changes in the four years that I’ve been with the team now. Obviously the first year we were a private team and, back then, all the technical team was based in Germany for the first two seasons. This winter, it’s moved away from Germany, which again was a big change operationally as a lot of the personnel had to move from Germany
We had to rebuild a completely new simulator and it’s definitely not been an easy ride, but I think in terms of the mentality within the team, it’s been great. We have a very good team culture where everyone is accepting of mistakes, as we’re all human. This is one of the key points as to why this team is so strong.
Whether it’s from a driver’s point of view, an engineering point of view, or strategy, mistakes happen, unfortunately, but we’re not afraid to take them to the table, discuss them and learn from them.
15. How difficult is it to swap between the simulation for Formula 1 to Formula E and back?
To be honest, right now it’s actually something that comes naturally to me. I think it was a little bit strange in the very beginning when I had just joined Formula E after leaving Formula 1. The Formula E car is unique in terms of how you have to drive it, which didn’t feel natural to me in the beginning. I had to take a little bit of time to get used to the driving style and fine tune my own driving style. As I’ve now been in Formula E for a while, the driving feels very natural to me.
16. What is the main difference in racing between you and your teammates, and what is the secret to your success?
I don’t think there are any secrets to my success. Nyck has obviously been very successful in Formula E over the years — he’s one of the reference drivers and he also won the championship last year. He’s definitely got a lot of speed, and we keep pushing each other very hard. For Nyck, things may not be going 100 percent his way at the moment, though I’m feeling quite confident and I’m going to take advantage of that to do my best each race weekend.
I want to get the best for myself and for the team, and get the best result possible. I have no doubt that they’ll be able to turn things around and that Nyck will be striking back in his own way very soon.
17. Would it be important for you to stay a Mercedes driver for a long time, or would you be open to other teams/manufacturers?
When I joined Formula E with Mercedes, I was imagining being with Mercedes and Formula E for a very long time. Obviously with the decision being made last year that they are leaving the championship, everyone knows that I have to look for a different solution for the next season.
I would love to stay part of the Mercedes family as I have a great relationship with them and I hope to continue with them in some way or form.