Twenty-two-year-old Stoffel Vandoorne started to make some noise in Formula 1 when McLaren announced they would not be retaining Sergio Perez for the 2014 season. The two leading candidates to replace him, Vandoorne and Kevin Magnussen, were racing against each other for the title in Formula Renault 3.5.
Magnussen won the title 60 points ahead of Vandoorne and subsequently got the drive with McLaren, where as Vandoorne made the switch to contest the GP2 championship with ART. He made a strong impression straight away, winning in his first race at the Bahrain Grand Prix and currently sits third in the standings.
We sat down had a chat with him at the Singapore Grand Prix.
You had the perfect start to your debut season in GP2, how has the rest of the year panned out for you?
Yeah we had quite a good start to the season, but I think the result was a bit too good for the actual pace that we had at the time. Bahrain was a very good start, but everybody was probably expecting too much for my next few races and I think we still could have done much better in Barcelona and Monaco, we all made some mistakes really and I had a bit of bad luck as well. Like in Barcelona we had bad luck in qualifying and stalled for the first race and in Monaco we messed up the strategy, it could have been a possible podium there but we lost a lot of points there. From then on we started building up progressively, getting better and better and now we’re back to consistently playing at the front and we’ve shown that over the last races. I think it’s from Hockenheim onwards that we’ve been on the podium in every race, we won in Budapest and we won in Monza and got two pole positions in a row in Spa and Monza so we’re on a good flow at the moment. I think we can really carry this forward for the next races in Sochi and Abu Dhabi.
Do you think you can beat Felipe [Nasr] to second in the championship?
Yeah I think so, I think I can go and get him I don’t know exactly what the gap is something like 26 points so I think it’s definitely possible. We’re pretty quick now so if we can qualify in front of him every time we will be in a position to beat him.
Where did that turning point come from? You had a bit of a slump mid-season but from Budapest onwards you had a resurgence, did that come from within the team or a change in setup?
It’s everything, we were not really strong in Barcelona and Monaco and I think we could have done a better job but we weren’t the quickest car or best on track. Since then we’ve really analysed everything and started to look at where we can improve and look at what the other teams are doing as well, learning how they setup the car and went down a similar direction as them and since then we’ve been progressing every race really. We’ve been getting closer and closer, the Red Bull Ring was the first step where we had a really good feature race finishing second. Silverstone was also good, and I think Silverstone was one of the races where we learned the most from the car and where we made some mistakes as well but we learned a lot from it. We’ve been able to put things relatively well together, I finished second in Hockenheim in the first race and third in the second race. I had a bit of bad luck in Budapest with the safety car in race one, then Spa finished second as well so since then it’s been pretty well, we’re on a good flow now and I think we can continue this.
From a fans perspective the racing in GP2 has been fantastic and next year the series will be introducing DRS, what are your thoughts on this addition?
I think it’s great, it adds something extra to the car and it gets closer to a Formula 1 car really and it’s good because it’s going to be the exact same system the use in Formula 1 so it prepares you better as a driver. I think that when you’re going to be really quick over a weekend I think you can score big points in the sprint race with a reverse grid, if you’re quick you’re going to have a chance at overtaking. Now on the Sunday race with the reverse grid basically you need a good start and then after lap one everything is decided. So I think if we get the pace or you have a pace advantage over the weekend you can score a lot of points.
So if the sprint race on Sunday is generally a procession, would you like to see anything else added to GP2? Like a compulsory pit stop on the Sunday race?
It’s difficult to say really, already it’s a difficult championship with the two Pirelli compounds we get for the weekend, so adding DRS on top of that is going to make it more interesting for strategy. We shouldn’t make the junior series too difficult because you still want to see the best drivers on top really.
Some drivers in GP2 have been struggling to make their tyres last in GP2, is this something Pirelli should look at or should drivers just learn to manage their tyres better?
Well I think it makes it a bigger challenge for the drivers really, I mean you can see in some races some drivers are better handling their tyres than other drivers. You learn how to set up your car around it, I perfectly know what I want from the car for a race and how I want my car set up to start a race. If the balance is wrong you’re going to be very slow during the race.
You adapted quite quickly in managing the Pirelli tyres didn’t you?
Yeah it was pretty good actually; I won straight away in Bahrain on my first race which is probably the hardest track on the calendar for tyre wear so I got my head around it quite quickly. I honestly didn’t know what to expect before the race, we did a lot of race simulations and we looked good but we didn’t look the fastest so we had things to improve on. As long as you can fix these things before the race you will be fine I think.
For next season do you see yourself staying with ART or is there a drive for you in Formula 1 next season?
At the moment I don’t know nothing has been decided for next year. My management has been busy talking to McLaren to see what our possibilities are, and we’re probably going to find out over the next weeks hopefully.
Kevin has come under scrutiny for his driving as of late, how do you rate his debut season in Formula 1?
I think it’s a pretty good season for him, he started really well in Australia with a podium straight away and had a bit of a down moment after there, but he’s starting to prove himself again. It’s true that he’s been involved in a couple of incidents so far, but I don’t think I’m in much of a position to really comment on that, he’s still learning in his first season.
Is one season in GP2 enough do you think? Do you feel that you’re prepared to be competitive in Formula 1?
I feel ready for the next step, yes. I feel I will be competitive I mean I’ve done a year in World Series and it’s now my first year in GP2, so yeah it’s two years in high powerful, high downforce cars that’s the series below Formula 1 so I think these days there’s nothing more you can do really. That is the best preparation you can get and I’ve been testing with McLaren in Barcelona and in Silverstone so I do feel ready.
Images via GP2 Media and RichardsF1