You’re only as good as your last race.
On that basis, Stoffel Vandoorne is doing pretty well in Formula E terms.
The final race in Berlin in August was his and Mercedes first Formula E victory. The popular Belgian led home teammate and 2019 F2 champion Nyck De Vries to the first 1-2 finish for the team.
That was the third ever 1-2 in Formula E history and the only other one not scored by Techeetah (Santiago 2018 and Berlin IV 2020).
“Finishing on a high was obviously great. Ending a season with a win always feels real nice, because the momentum stays with you for a while afterwards.” said Vandoorne in the run up to Season 7.
“Also, it was a victory the team had really deserved to pull off for quite some time. We performed well but never quite managed it. When we finally achieved success, it gave the team and myself an enormous amount of confidence, as we felt we’d ticked off a box.
“We now know we can do it and must take this momentum with us into the new season which I am really looking forward to, by the way.”
The team hit the ground running in Formula E, coming in off the coat tails of an exploratory year with the HWA team. A team to learn before going the whole hog in 2019.
But it worked and the team gelled with the car. The obvious issues with the season were external as Vandoorne explains.
“Last season was tricky and the circumstances extraordinary, but now, we have one more year’s experience behind us and should be well placed next season with our new car, hopefully.”
Learning with HWA helped Vandoorne and the team get to grips with the highly complex nature of Formula E. In such a short amount of time, the championship already has a reputation for being difficult to master. With a one day format thrown into the mix, it’s all systems go, all the time.
“It’s extremely challenging. Formula E is technically very demanding and we invest a lot of time and effort in preparing for race weekends.
“The reason we spend so long in the simulator before races is because in Formula E, we are contesting one-day events. We try to do as much work as possible before arriving at the track.
“You see, sometimes, there’s simply too much information to process once you get there, which is why we test for a few days in the simulator first in order to have plenty of information and data to hand. It serves to reduce the workload out on track to some extent, so that we can focus more on other things.”
The amount of behind the scenes work that goes into a Formula E team is way more than would be expected from such a young championship. But with so many big names involved, the competition has to work even harder to gain any edge.
“As a team, we try to analyse how the others will react to certain scenarios and how we ourselves should tackle them. But in the end, things always go differently in the race, no matter how well you plan in advance and regardless of how much time you put into preparations.
“Ultimately, things never go as expected. Different things keep cropping up that must be dealt with as they happen, requiring good communication between driver and team.
“It’s mega important that you and your engineer understand each other well so that he knows precisely what you mean from what you say as a driver. Everything happens in a split second. You have to stay calm, because there’s so much information to take in, and also, you have to be able to tell him what’s happening so that he can give you the right feedback. That’s very important in Formula E.
“My race engineer Marius and I got on well in that respect last year. It was our first season together and I think we built up an excellent relationship with one another. Of course, we had to get to know each other a little bit first and find out what we both needed, but we’ve definitely made very good progress.”
Heading into Season 7, Vandoorne is staying realistic. He has the first win out of the way now and can build on that bedrock but this is Formula E. He will be straight out in Group 1 of qualifying, he is going to play the long game.
There is still so much to learn. It is technically only Mercedes second season and the competition is not easy. The might of DS Techeetah and Nissan could not be ignored in Berlin and BMW and Jaguar are looking stronger than ever. Vandoorne knows not to count his eggs till they’re hatched.
“What’s most important is that we take the momentum from the final round in Berlin with us into the new season. Finishing second in the drivers’ standings and third in the team competition has increased the pressure on everyone in the team to do even better and improve on those results, but we have to remain realistic.
“We’re still only in our second season and Formula E is a very tough world championship series. We had to deal with unusual circumstances last season, which may or may not have played in our favour – it’s difficult to say, but the goal is to contend for wins on a more regular basis.
“Let’s think again about last year. Yes, I finished second in the drivers’ championship, but then, ten other drivers could have achieved that equally as well. The deficit on first place was quite large in the end, so our primary objective should be to reel in the leader regardless of where we end the season.
“Of course, I would like to be a world championship contender, but first, we have to try to narrow the gap and become even more consistent. We must be at the top of our game at all times and that applies to the team standings as well.
“We make a very strong team along with Nyck. He achieved his maiden podium at the end of the season and boosted his self-confidence as a result, so I think we’re well-placed to benefit from the momentum I mentioned earlier.”
Formula E returns on Friday 26th February with the first race of the season under the lights in Diriyah, Saudi Arabia. The race is at 5pm GMT.