Updated: Aug 20
Written by Debargha Banerjee, Edited by Vyas Ponnuri
Formula E, the world's premier electric racing championship, has always been a realm of unpredictability and fierce competition. And Season Eight saw a deserving driver, Stoffel Vandoorne, claim the coveted title, despite winning only a single race all season, and drove home the importance of consistency in the electric racing series.
However, as the current season unfolds, fans and pundits alike have witnessed a surprising turn of events. The defending champion, who once reigned supreme, now finds himself slipping down the order, struggling to recapture the glory of his past achievements, having made the switch from the now-defunct Mercedes EQ team, to the DS Penske motorsport team.
The Rise to Triumph
To truly appreciate the current position of the defending champion, one must reflect on their remarkable journey to the championship title. In the previous season, the Belgian’s exceptional driving skills, strategic manoeuvres, and consistency propelled him to the top of the standings. Mercedes EQ’s synergy and development also played a crucial role in Vandoorne securing his championship crown.
Potential Unravelling Factors In Vandoorne’s 2023 Season
In any sport, maintaining success is often as challenging as achieving it. Several factors have contributed to the reigning champion's struggle in the current Formula E season. Here are some aspects that could shed light on his declining form in 2023:
Formula E has grown in popularity, attracting top-tier drivers and teams from around the world. The grid has become more competitive, with teams investing heavily in research, development, and driver talent. The defending champion now faces a formidable field, making it harder to stay ahead.
The new era of Formula E has seen the cars get much quicker and very different in handling to the previous generation of cars. It also saw the exit of Mercedes from the sport, having joined just two seasons prior. Mercedes quite literally dominated the field, with current Formula 1 driver Nyck de Vries winning the first of their two titles.
Mercedes departure meant that current champion Stoffel Vandoorne had to look for a seat at a competitor team and DS Penske promptly signed him, rounding out the other half of one of the most formidable driver pairings on the Formula E grid. Although DS Penske hasn't looked very promising on pace this season, it hasn’t stopped his teammate Jean-Eric Vergne, who graced the winner’s step in Hyderabad this year, apart from two further podium finishes across the season. Compared to that Stoffel Vandoorne is lacking pace in similar machinery. Even though he was on pole at the São Paulo E-Prix, he just did not have the race pace to convert it into a victory. He lost out to the more powerful Jaguar powertrain cars on the day.
Pressure and Expectations
Defending a championship title is a demanding task, one that often brings increased pressure and expectations. The psychological toll of being at the pinnacle of the sport can affect a driver's performance. The champion may be grappling with the weight of expectation, causing him to lose their edge on the track.
In addition to the weight of expectations from the reigning champion, 2023 also marked the start of a new dawn in Formula E, with the new Gen3 Formula E car surpassing the standards set by its predecessor, the Gen2 Formula E car. Having shown potential to breach the 200 mph (320 kph) barrier, and greater power available at the driver’s disposal, it would require the driver to alter his driving style to drive the Gen3 car with precision.
This is also Vandoorne’s first season at the DS Penske team, and it is always a difficult task to adapt to the environment of a new team. Getting used to the new driving style of the car always takes time, and this could be a potential factor in Stoffel Vandoorne’s struggles in 2023. It might be shocking to see the staggering gap in points to his teammate Vergne, but one must keep in mind that Vergne has been with the team for many seasons, and has gelled into his surroundings during this time.
The Road to Redemption
While the defending champion’s struggle this season may be disheartening, one must remember that Formula E is a highly competitive championship, where fortunes can change in an instant. Champions are not born out of a single season, but more so through their ability to bounce back from adversity.
The journey from championship glory to struggles in the following season has certainly been a challenging one. The reigning Formula E champion, who once stood atop the podium, has now found himself slipping down the order. However, with the right blend of technical improvements, tactical adjustments, mental resilience, and continuous development, he can embark on a path to redemption.
As fans eagerly watch and root for his progress, the story of the reigning champion's fight to regain his rightful place in the championship will undoubtedly add another thrilling chapter to the ever-evolving narrative of Formula E.