Vandoorne back in F1? 'Bizarre things happen in this world'

Vandoorne back in F1? 'Bizarre things happen in this world'

08-09-2023 18:00 Last update: 18:33

Stoffel Vandoorne rarely gets a weekend at home: he races in Formula E and is both test and reserve driver for Peugeot's WEC team and Aston Martin's F1 team. GPblog spoke with the Belgian about his ambitions, Fernando Alonso and the bizarre world of Formula 1.

Vandoorne will compete as a substitute for Peugeot at the 6 Hours of Fuji this weekend. It will be a one-off appearance in the World Endurance Championship, although Vandoorne hopes for more in the future. WEC would fit nicely with his work in Formula E and with Aston Martin in F1. A permanent seat in Fernando Alonso and Lance Stroll's team would also obviously please Vandoorne, but is that achievable?

"I have to be realistic. The chances are very minimal," Vandoorne said in an exclusive interview with GPblog about a return to Formula 1. "You never know what will happen. Bizarre things happen in this world. I'm doing my job as best as I can, but my focus is more elsewhere, on my career in Formula E and probably endurance racing. My priority is always Formula E, which is the championship I race in myself. So if a race clashes with Formula 1, I won't be with Aston Martin."

'F1 world remains special'

However, the 31-year-old stressed the importance of regularly showing one's face in the F1 paddock. "The F1 world remains special. This is where you make the connections. All the bosses here also decide what happens in other categories anyway, so it's important to keep the relationships good."

It has now been five seasons since Vandoorne competed in Formula 1. He was part of the top class of motorsport for two years but didn't achieve much success. The McLaren that Vandoorne drove was simply not competitive enough. The seasoned Fernando Alonso could not perform miracles with it either, so the expectation on a then-relatively inexperienced driver wasn't high.

Still, Vandoorne hasn't cut ties with Formula 1 completely. After first doing years of test work for Mercedes, he has had a similar role with Aston Martin since this season. "My role here and there is similar, but the team dynamics are different. Mercedes almost always won everything, Aston is a new project. The team is growing tremendously, has huge ambitions and a new factory. It's nice to be part of this project."

Differences between Mercedes and Aston Martin

"The difference between Mercedes and Aston Martin is small. Aston was always in difficult situations financially, but they were good at making the best of it with limited resources. They never had the fastest car, but still got results. Now internally, the mentality is changing. They are a real factory team and might become a top team. Something like that doesn't happen overnight. Mercedes also took several years to transform the team and get to the top. You can see how difficult that is," Vandoorne said.

The former FE champion himself is an important cog in the big picture. "Most of my work consists of driving the simulator, the development of the current car and the new updates. And I attend a lot of races, relatively speaking. It's important to be ready if something happens to Lance [Stroll] or Fernando [Alonso]. That's not an easy position. Testing is limited, you can't drive the car much. I did have the chance during the Pirelli test, but beyond that, there are not many opportunities. Physically, you do have to stay fit, and I definitely have to follow the technical briefings as well. Should I have to jump in, I have to be aware of everything," said the Belgian.

Vandoorne can learn things inside Aston Martin's garage during race weekends. "You always learn things. Every driver has a unique way of working. What do they focus on, what don't they focus on? Such things I pick up and use for myself in Formula E. For example, with Fernando, if something goes badly and he has no influence on it, he doesn't waste energy on it. I also worked with Alonso at McLaren. He hasn't changed much, still motivated. That is his main character trait. He knows what it takes to succeed in the right environment that works well."

Hoping for better times in Formula E

So, things did not work out for him in Formula 1 as a regular driver. But Vandoorne eventually made a name for himself in Formula E. In 2022, he became world champion in the electric series. He did so on behalf of Mercedes, the top German team that bid farewell to the series after last year. By necessity, Vandoorne had to look for a new employer, which he found in DS Penske.

"It was a very difficult season. When you become champion last year and get no results this year, it's not what you expect. With the new generation cars, unfortunately, we were not competitive. We fell short of the competition. Both myself and the team didn't always do a good job. Hopefully, we can make progress next year."

In Formula E, it is not possible to make changes to the hardware, such as the chassis. However, the software can be adjusted during the winter break. "Formula E is largely about software. Braking is an important issue in FE, we use a lot of special systems for that. Hopefully, during the break, we can do some updates in that area. We will have to take steps to move forward in the championship."

The interview was conducted by Tim Kraaij.