He is considered one of the greatest young racers of his generation and this year, Stoffel Vandoorne is stamping his authority on the Formula Renault 3.5 series. The Belgian is still firmly in the championship hunt but will need to rely on consistency if his Fortec is to close the 29 point deficit to Kevin Magnussen.
“The one that makes fewer mistakes will get the most points” he explains, one week before the next race in Russia. “I’m second in the championship at the moment which isn’t bad for a rookie”. Not that Stoffel is using this status as an excuse; his maiden series victory came during his debut in Monza.
From talking to Stoffel, it became obvious that it is a combination of his natural ability and his absolute love for racing that has pushed him to become one of the best in his generation. “I started when I was 6. My dad designed the restaurant of an indoor karting track and the boss of the karting, first put me into a go-kart”. Following this unexpected introduction to the world of racing, Stoffel began driving his new electric go-kart everyday on the tennis field.
Stoffel was hooked on driving and immediately, he had his heart set on emulating the career of Ayrton Senna. “He is a big inspiration for me. He was just different than the rest and he had something special.” He then admits that being different to others and having your own personality is, for him, as important as winning championships – a different type of legacy.
He appeared different very early on in the interview. Unlike most drivers I have spoken to about the glamour of Monaco, Stoffel was quick to dismiss it. “Racing in Monaco is boring as you can’t overtake“. I shocked by his response to the iconic circuit, a place where the world of Motorsport and its expensive backdrop meet in harmony for a weekend with the world’s elite.
In the Principality, the drivers are forced to touch the barriers in order to find the absolute racing limit. “One mistake and you are in the wall!” Felipe Massa’s crash in this year’s race proves that pounding the streets of Monaco can be challenging.
Stoffel’s hopes of joining the Formula 1 grid may soon come true. Earlier this year, the 21-year-old signed with the McLaren Young Driver Programme, the same scheme that saw Lewis Hamilton become World Champion in 2008. “It has been a huge help already and will help me in the future.” He sounded confident of his chances.
“They have resources and everything they need to make a driver successful. When I do well, I’m sure they can help me to make the step into F1”.When looking back on Stoffel’s career so far, it is clear that his dominance in the junior ranks, and subsequent signing with McLaren, make him ‘one to watch’.
Prior to signing with Fortec Motorsports for Formula Renault 3.5, Stoffel obtained 11 podium finishes, 6 pole positions and 4 victories in an assertive Formula Renault 2.0 Eurocup series win in 2012. This, he admits, gave him confidence. “Being on the podium and winning races makes you happy, puts you in a good mood and makes things easier”. For racing drivers the psychological edge is as important as the physical.
“We started the year with our goal of winning the championship. I had a bit of pressure as, if I didn’t win the championship last year, it might have been the end of my racing career due to funding”. That win is his favourite racing memory to date as it solidified and represented the work put into his 2012 campaign.
Another stand out memory? His Formula Renault 3.5 victory in Spa this year. “It is probably the best win of my career so far. Winning at home was an amazing feeling”. Stoffel’s success in racing has pushed Motorsport forward in Belgium; as a country it lacks the legacy of some of its geographical neighbours. “I could just feel that everyone was so happy when I won”.
It has been a good start to Stoffel’s debut season, “but personally I think it still could have been a bit better”, he confesses whilst in typical racing driver mode. He explained that racing is about putting everything together in the right moment and also having a bit of luck. “I should not be hoping for mistakes from Kevin Magnussen; I should try and beat him every time and take points away from him”.
We end the interview by discussing his greatest challenge. Amongst all the variables, including the weather and tyre degradation, relaxing post race can prove difficult when the pressure to succeed is so intense. “I train almost every day to keep fit.
“Sometimes you also just have to relax, recover and forget about racing”. This week his thoughts will turn to Russia and continuing the momentum of his home win. He may be a rookie but the expectations are high. From our interview, I noticed that Stoffel is somewhat of a perfectionist. Only championship victory will do.