Stoffel Vandoorne has been one of the sensations of the International racing season in 2013. Starting the year off with a stunning pole position and win at the season opening World Series by Renault event at Monza, the 21 year old Belgian sounded a clear warning to several second year racers, notably Kevin Magnussen and Antonio Felix Da Costa.
Both Magnussen and Da Costa are established and on the radar of McLaren and Red Bull respectively. At the beginning of 2013, along came this wild card with the funny name, Stoffel Vandoorne. He immediately gave the title favourites something to think about.
By mid-season Vandoorne had added another victory in his Fortec Motorsport run Dallara at his home track – Spa-Francorchamps. Then when things appeared that they couldn’t get any better he utterly dominated the next event in Moscow taking a double success, grasping a firm hold at the top of the points standings.
“Moscow was a special weekend for sure,” he confirmed when speaking to Sniffer Media this week. “From then on though we had a little bit of trouble during the second part of the season with technical failures and also figuring out the perfect set-up for the race weekend but we were always fighting for podiums and up there even when things were not perfect and that is always important.”
Indeed it is. But Vandoorne was by now fully ensconced in the McLaren family having been poached to join the McLaren Young Driver Programme in February before he had even turned a racing lap in a World Series by Renault car. Along with fellow McLaren Young Driver’s; Magnussen and the highly rated Dutchman, Nick De Vries, Stoffel instantly restored McLaren’s faith in him with that magnificent start to the season.
From Kortrijk in Flanders, western Belgium, Vandoorne had an impressive track even before he even sat in a race car, at the relatively late age of 18. A Belgian national karting champion at 16 and a World Championship runner up the following year, he proved his worth despite coming from a family that could not support his karting financially and he often failed to finish a season in the early days to a lack of funds.
Winning the Royal Automobile Club of Belgium’s noted ‘Steering Wheel’ competition in 2010, he was then financially assisted by the RACB to cut his teeth in the Formula 4 1.6 EuroCup series which he dominated at a canter. The patriotic RACB colours continue to dominate the livery of his car to this day.
Two seasons of Formula Renault Eurocup followed the 2010 success, initially under the tutelage of former F3 and F3000 racer Kurt Mollekens KTR team and then with the crack Josef Kaufman Racing squad which took him to the title in 2012. Replacing reigning champion, Robin Frijns at Fortec for this season in World Series by Renault, Vandoorne’s reputation went in to the stratosphere after that early season pace and success.
So what makes Vandoorne special? Well, on his first ever visit to Monaco in May, he was immediately on the pace and ended the first Free Practice session fastest impressing many seasoned observers. That took some trust in his own ability and at a track that punishes the tiniest of rookie mistakes
“Yes, I had my first experience of street circuit racing in Monaco this year,” says Vandoorne. “It was actually quite a ride because it was a first time at Monaco and first time on a street circuit with a single seater. And I was immediately quickest in Free Practice which I was a little surprised about. It worked out well and I have a good feeling for what is required on that type of circuit.”
“It is still the same approach as in single seater cars,” he continued. “On a regular track, you can afford to make some little mistakes, you can run a bit wide, but when you go on a street circuit, it is a different approach, you go to the track and you really try to feel the limits. It really is something very different.”
Different too was the McLaren simulator which Vandoorne used during the season getting a grip on F1 characteristics before he gets a
“It is one of the best simulators in the world and when you drive it, it just feels unbelievable,” he enthuses. “Tracks are really well done in terms of detail and it feels as if you are driving on a real racetrack. Obviously, McLaren uses it a lot to find their set-ups during race weekends but also to do a lot of developments for the next years. It is just a great facility to be able to use. I love it.”
Next year is likely to see Vandoorne carry on his remarkable ascent in single seaters and a second season in World Series by Renault looks likely. He is a polished performer and a genuinely engaging personality to go with it. F1 is sure to embrace this multi-talented youngster.