The former McLaren F1 driver is loving the friendlier world of Formula E
“Formula E is very different,” Stoffel Vandoorne tells Top Gear, “from Formula 1 it’s a big switch.” Vandoorne started the current Formula E season for HWA Racelab just three weeks after his final race for McLaren’s Formula 1 team in 2018, you might recall.
“It’s very different; it’s tricky with the energy management and knowing how to operate all the systems, but I’m enjoying it.
“I think it’s a big challenge for all of us. We’re racing in street circuits as well, which I really like. It’s a little bit of a mindset switch. You approach everything a little bit differently, everything is much more on the edge and the feeling is very fast because of how small the run-off is, you’re much more at the limit.”
But while the racing feels livelier, Vandoorne says the paddock is more chilled out. “It’s a bit more relaxed in terms of the atmosphere between drivers; everyone is hanging out a bit more together, no one is staying by themselves in their motorhome or anything like that. It’s quite cool.
“In Paris, for example, it’s a pop-up event for one day, so we are in a big tent, basically. The garage is a bit messy, we don’t have that much space, but it’s fun, it takes us back to pure racing.
“It’s a very big grid with a lot of very, very good drivers in there as well. Some come from F1, or LMP1 racing in WEC, so there’s huge experience on the grid. There’s a few people I have been competing against in different series. Antonio Felix Da Acosta, Mitch Evans, Robin Frijns – they’re the kinda guys I raced with in World Series and GP2.
“There’s a lot of people I’ve been competing against before so it’s fun to see familiar faces again. It feels a bit like a big go-kart race.”
Vandoorne is also the simulator driver for reigning Formula 1 champions Mercedes, making for a hectic season. “I’m spending quite a few days there, but it’s nice to still have my foot in Formula 1 a bit, and to be involved with the team. It’s been nice to switch from McLaren to Mercedes to see how the teams differentiate as well, and to be involved with the world champions.”
Mercedes unveiled their Formula E car last month, which they’ve developed alongside Vandoorne’s HWA Racelab team, so he could well migrate into it when the 2019/20 season dawns. Thus he could be working with the world champions of a different series soon enough. Fancy Merc’s chances once they land in the world of plug-in motorsport?
STORY Stephen Dobie