Stoffel Vandoorne - His path to Formula E
Written by Reece Stannard, Edited by Ishani Aziz
Stoffel Vandoorne is currently a driver for Mercedes-EQ in Formula E. At the time of writing, he leads the drivers championship with 121 points. He and his teammate (Nyck De Vries) have also put the Mercedes-EQ team first in the battle for the constructors championship. So far this season, he’s secured one win.
He was born in Kortrijk, in the West Flanders region of Belgium on the 26th of March. Stoffel was first introduced to the world of motorsport through the kart track by World of Tracks, through his father Peter Vandoorne. Stoffel instantly fell in love with the idea of karting and got fully started when the track owner gave him a minikart.
Although he had this initial passion, Stoffel’s obstacle was one that plagues many young drivers; money. For that reason he was restricted to three or four races a season due to a lack of sufficient funding. Despite this, he managed to string together a series of successes. At the age of sixteen, he was the Belgian KF2 champion and in 2009 was the runner up in the World Cup of the KF2 category. He also won a 'steering wheel' competition in 2009 that was held by the Royal Automobile Club of Belgium. He won 45,000 euros in prize money and this provided a springboard for his single seater career.
Slowly and steadily, he worked his way up. In 2010, he moved into single seaters and chose the F4 Eurocup 1.6 series. He finished his first season in first place, winning six races and taking a further three podiums. The prize money helped him move up a series to the Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 in 2011. His performance in 2010 aided him in gaining a place in the FIA Driver Academy. In this higher series, he finished fifth in his first season with just one podium finish at the Hungaroring. He also competed in the Formula Renault 2.0 Northern European Cup, placing third in the standings with 8 podiums along the way. He remained in the Formula Renault Cup for 2012, where he won the championship by ten points after a season-long battle with Danil Kvyat. Both drivers finished over 100 points ahead of their closest rival; Oliver Rowland. In 2013, he moved up again, to the Formula Renault 3.5 category, racing for Fortec Motorsport. He was just behind Kevin Magnussen with four wins and ten podiums. In February of 2013 he signed for the McLaren Young Driver programme.
By 2014, it was confirmed that Stoffel would move up to GP2 (now F2), racing for ART. He also was announced as the McLaren F1 team's third driver. He went on to win in the feature race in Bahrain, starting his GP2 career on a good note. The 2014 season went well for Stoffel; he racked up four consecutive pole positions, three more race wins and six more podiums. Even though he was a rookie, he did incredibly well and finished runner-up to Joyoln Palmer. He stayed with ART in 2015, joined by the 2014 Japanese Formula Three winner, Nobuharu Matsushita. Having accumulated five feature race wins, 12 podiums, and four pole positions, Stoffel won the championship, 108 points ahead of Alexander Rossi. In January 2016 it was announced he would drive in the Super Formula category for Dandelion Racing, using a Honda engine. He finished fourth in the standings with two wins and one pole position, ranking the highest of all Honda powered cars.
Stoffel’s first role as an F1 reserve driver was on March 31st in 2016. It was announced that he would replace Fernando Alonso for McLaren in the Bahrain Grand Prix (Alonso suffered a heavy crash at the previous Australian Grand Prix). He qualified twelfth, ahead of his undeniably more experienced teammate Jenson Button. He would finish tenth in the race and became the first reserve driver to score points on debut since 2007, where Sebastian Vettel achieved this feat at the United States Grand Prix. Later that year, it was announced Jenson Button would not race for the 2017 season and on the Third of September, Stoffel signed a contract to race for McLaren in 2017 alongside Fernando Alonso. In his debut season at McLaren he achieved a total of thirteen points. This exceeded expectations, especially with the 2017 McLaren car and it being at the bottom of the midfield.
Next season, in 2018 he would once again race for the McLaren F1 team. This was famously dubbed the F1 team’s “worst season”. Despite this, Stoffel managed to secure 12 points that year, but still 38 behind his veteran teammate Alonso. A combination of this, and no doubt, Alonso’s retirement meant that both were replaced by Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz Jr. It was announced Vandoorne wouldn't drive for McLaren the next season on the 3rd September 2018.
A month later, it was announced by the HWA Racelab Formula E team that Stoffel would race for them in the 2018-19 season of Formula E. His teammate would be British driver Gary Paffett. He quickly achieved his first pole position and podium in his debut season, at the Hong Kong and Rome E-Prix respectively. 2019 continued to be eventful for him, as in April it was announced that he would race for two races in the World Endurance Championship (WEC) for SMP Racing. He drove the Russian BR1 prototype with Vitaly Petrov and Mikhail Aleshin. They would race in the six hours of Spa and the twenty-four hours of Le Mans. 2019 was also the year he was confirmed as the simulator driver for Mercedes F1 team and was named the reserve driver in 2020. Unfortunately he did not fill in for Lewis Hamilton who had to sit out at the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix.
The following 2019-2020 Formula E season saw his switch to the Mercedes-Benz EQ team. He was partnered by 2019 Formula 2 champion Nyck De Vries. Vandoorne would pick up two podiums in the first two races. Sadly the pandemic put the championship on hold. At the time Stoffel was 29 points behind the championship leader Antonio Felix da Costa. After the season resumed he would get his first win in one of the six races, in Berlin. At the end of the championship he was in second place but 71 points behind Antonio Felix da Costa.
Vandoorne and De Vries would continue to drive for the team into the 2020-21 season. Stoffel picked up two podiums and a win in the season. De Vries won the championship with two wins and two podiums. On the 17th of November 2021, it was announced that Stoffel would take part in an IndyCar series test for Arrow McLaren SP. The test was at Sebring on the Sixth December that year. His fastest time would be a 53.1952, with him completing the most laps. For the 2021-22 season of Formula E he would again partner up with Nyck De Vries. So far Vandoorne is top of the standings with one win and five podiums.
Stoffel Vandoorne has had an impressive career so far, but has yet to win a major motorsport championship. Is this year of Formula E his year? Only time will tell.