Down the years there have been countless French drivers that have been blessed with great racing versatility. Think of the rich and varied single-seater/sportscar exploits of Henri Pescarolo, Francois Cevert, Bob Wollek and Yannick Dalmas.
Seldom though is there such a youthful multipurpose racer than 20 year old Matthieu Vaxivière, who in 2014 dovetailed full-time campaigns in top level single seaters – Formula Renault 3.5 and sports cars – the burgeoning FIA World Endurance Championship.
If this were not enough then young Vaxivière has spent the current winter sampling electric racing technology….. on ice, in the Andros Trophy. As the 20-year old himself attests, he gets impatient unless he is behind the wheel of car, any car. This he well knows, because after an accident at last season’s Formula Renault 3.5 series race in Monaco, he was forced to rest and recuperate for six weeks after sustaining damage to his spine, legacy of an airborne shunt going up the hill toward Casino Square.
“I am not happy unless I am in a race seat, so it was tough after Monaco,” says Vaxivière. “I broke a bone in my back which meant I had to miss Le Mans and also the 3.5 races at Spa and Moscow. It was hard to miss two beautiful race tracks like Le Mans and Spa of course, but I felt I came back stronger and more mature. This was because I had time to think about everything and how I would make up for the lost time when I was in hospital.”
This re-assessment of his season, while laid low paid dividends, as strong performances at Nurburgring and Paul Ricard netted his first podium positions in the ultra-competitive Formula Renault 3.5 series. Success in the FIA WEC also followed with a first podium visit at the Fuji 6 Hours in early October.
After just a few seasons of karting, Vaxivière took the plunge in to single seaters in 2010, racing in the French Formula 4 series. A year later he was champion. Graduating to Formula Renault 2.0 litre in 2012 he endured two character building seasons before being snapped up by the Lotus F1 Junior team, which is operated by the Czech based Charouz operation.
A jump in to Renault 3.5 followed in 2014, where the rookie handled the brawny single-seaters well and initially stacked up favorably against his more experienced team-mate – Marlon Stockinger.
Vaxivière’s diverse approach to his racing seems to be paying dividends and the man himself freely admits that the knowledge and experience he has soaked in 2014 has been valuable to an accelerated maturity. Sharing a Prospeed Porsche 911 RSR in the FIA WEC with veteran sportscar racer and former Williams and Tyrrell F1 test driver, Emmanuel Collard, has been formative.
“It was an amazing year in 2014, a tough one of course in many ways but still amazing to do a double programme like I did. I learned so much, especially from this old guy here (pointing to Emmanuel Collard).
“Seriously though, it has been great with ‘Manu because the experience he has is very valuable and I have seen closely what it takes to be quick and also consistent in a sportscar. He is very good on the set-up of the Porsche and the changes we make on the car are usually good ones.
“I think I have proved you can do both (single seaters and sportscars) quite successfully,” he continues.” The stamina in endurance racing helps from the mental side of racing. It gives me a lot of good advantages to my driving.”
And so they have. Immediately after the Shanghai 6 Hour FIA WEC race in November this writer ventured down to the Prospeed pit to get reaction from Vaxivière, who had starred in a spirited run to fourth in class. However, I was told by his team manager that he had dashed off to the airport as he was testing his Lotus 3.5 mount. By the end of the following day at Aragon, he was heading the times, half a second ahead of the opposition. So much for jet-lag!
Displaying the usual swagger and confidence associated with young chargers, Vaxivière is nonetheless keen to acknowledge the rarified protagonists he was up against in FIA WEC last season. A lot rubbed off as he went up against some of the world’s finest GT talent such as Gianmaria Bruni, Frederic Makowiecki, Stefan Mucke and Richard Leitz.
“I noticed, especially after coming back from the Monaco injury, that I picked up a lot more detail about racing strategy, particularly against the top guys. It is one thing having a great driver like Manu as a team mate but I have also learned a lot studying our opponents on the track.”
Vaxivière is keen to replicate his busy 2014 this season and has confirmed a full programme with Lotus in Formula Renault 3.5.
“I also have unfinished business at Le Mans for sure and I would love to race in the FIA WEC again because it is such a growing championship and now there are lots of ex F1 people racing in it like Webber and Hulkenberg.
“But my real aim for 2015 will be winning the Formula Renault 3.5 championship. 2014 was a learning year and this year will be a winning year,” he states with assured conviction.
As ever though with budding talent, when asked about his ultimate and preferred objective, the topic turns to Formula One.
“Ultimately I want to go there (F1) but as we all know it is complicated to achieve that just now. But for sure this is my goal. But the opportunity in the FIA WEC gives me an advantage at an early age to see what racing is all about and to make sure that I am competing in front of some big manufacturers and some influential people. Whatever happens, I want a long career at the top level and always race with the possibility to win. Why else would you get in a racing car?”
This article first appeared in the March edition of Motor sport magazine