Before 2013, hardly anyone had heard of the young Belgian Stoffel Vandoorne, but after a marvellous year in the Formula Renault 3.5 series where he won four races and finished second in the championship, and has a place in the McLaren junior programme, everyone is talking of him as one to watch for the future. He will go into 2014 as a championship favourite, whether he races for a second season in Formula Renault 3.5 or if he moves into the GP2 series as McLaren would prefer him to do.
Stoffel Vandoorne only made his single seater debut in 2010, driving in the F4 Eurocup 1.6 series, driving for the Autosport Academy team. He won the championship with a race meeting to spare, ahead of Frenchman Norman Nato. Vandoorne won only his second ever race in the series at Motorland Aragon, then did the double at the following event at Spa-Francorchamps. He won three times more, once at Magny Cours in France and then both races at Hockenheim in Germany, and only finished outside of the top four on one occasion, a 16th placed finish in Hungary. He took five pole positions en-route to finishing the championship with 159 points.
For the 2011 season, Vandoorne moved up to 2.0 litre cars, driving in both the Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 series, and the Formula Renault 2.0 North European Cup (NEC), both with the KTR team. Neither championship brought the Belgian a win, though he had eight podium finishes in NEC which left him third in the standings behind Carlos Sainz Jr and Daniil Kvyat. One podium in Eurocup saw him finish fifth in the championship, behind Sainz Jr and Kvyat again, Will Stevens and series champion Robin Frijns.
2012 was a completely different story however for the Belgian. He concentrated most of his efforts on the Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 series, but also raced in the NEC series sparingly. Four wins in 14 races in the Eurocup saw him win the championship driving for Josef Kaufmann Racing, narrowly defeating Daniil Kvyat to the crown. He won both races at the Nurburgring, plus once each at the Hungaroring and at Paul Ricard. He also had five runner-up places, plus two more thirds, finishing ten points clear of Kvyat on 244 points to 234. In the NEC championship, he only competed in seven events, yet won five of them. Ninth in the championship despite missing over half the season was mightily impressive.
Just prior to the 2013 season, he was signed up by McLaren to join their young driver programme. He moved to Fortec Motorsports for his racing, joining the Formula Renault 3.5 series, replacing outgoing champion Robin Frijns within the team. He became the first rookie to win his first ever 3.5 race, doing so in Monza. He won race two in his home weekend at Spa-Francorchamps, then dominated the Moscow event, taking two pole positions, two fastest laps and two wins. He finished second on five occasions, and third three times. He finished second in the championship behind fellow McLaren junior driver Kevin Magnussen, scoring 214 points.
So what does the future hold for Stoffel Vandoorne?
Vandoorne revealed he had an offer from Toro Rosso in Formula 1 to replace Red Bull bound Australian driver Daniel Ricciardo, but he declined it.
“The proposition of Red Bull would have been only for one season, and we are looking into the long term. After some talks with my management, they have advised me to stay with McLaren. I am convinced that this will be my best option to eventually get into Formula One”.
He recently participated in the recent GP2 series tests in Abu Dhabi, driving for two days with the ART Grand Prix outfit, then the final day with the DAMS team, ending the final day on top of the timing charts. GP2 is a serious option for Vandoorne for 2014, but he also admits he could return to Formula Renault 3.5 if a GP2 drive does not materialise.
“McLaren is trying to put a programme together for me so we are creating some opportunities and then looking at what is best for next year,” he said.
“I want to race. I only have one year of experience in big cars so I think another year would benefit me. Whether that is going to be in GP2 or World Series again, I don’t know yet.
“It’s better for me to race, and a second year in a high-level class like World Series or GP2 would definitely be good for my future.
“McLaren will decide, so I don’t know where I will be. But we will keep the doors open for everything.”
Whatever happens, the future is bright for the Belgian. He is one of the quickest young drivers around, and should have a long and prosperous career in motorsport. McLaren have taken a superstar under their wings.