Dubai: Mercedes-EQ Formula E driver Stoffel Vandoorne is geared up and ready to go for the sport’s first FIA World Championship season in Saudi Arabia.
Vandoorne is preparing for season-opening double-header night races on Friday and Saturday at the Diriyah E-Prix.
Having led home a one-two victory for Mercedes ahead of teammate Nyck de Vries in the final race of their debut season in Berlin to finish runner-up in the Drivers’ Championship and third in the Teams’ Championship, Vandoorne will hope to go one better this year as the all-electric series gains official FIA World Championship status. Following three years in Formula One with McLaren, the Belgian switched to Formula E in 2018 and is determined to help F1 champions Mercedes to their first all-electric crown.
“I am fully focused on Formula E at the moment,” Vandoorne told Gulf News in an exclusive interview. “It offers me a great opportunity with Mercedes for victories and titles. Whatever competition they enter, Mercedes always do well and that is my target. We were close last season, we got our first pole, our first win and were close in the title race. Now we are going for the championship.”
Vandoorne insists he has a healthy rivalry with teammate De Vries thanks to both drivers’ hunger to win. “We are both very competitive,” he said. “I have raced him for many years and we are good friends. But when the helmets go on, we are out there to win. We always want to do the best for Mercedes but we have fun racing against each other once we get out there.”
Mercedes have signed a pioneering partnership with Neom, a sustainable smart community of the future being built on Saudi’s Red Sea coast. The partnership aims to accelerate the city’s bold ambitions to be at the vanguard of future technology and become a centre for sporting excellence, while seeking to set new standards in sustainability and electric mobility infrastructure.
Vandoorne admitted he was overwhelmed at the ambition Saudi is showing with the project at Neom. “The partnership between Mercedes and Neom is great as both are striving for greatness in innovation,” he said. “I was able to drive along the Magna Road, which is one of the most beautiful places in the world and I am fascinated to see how the future, sustainable projects will develop.”
While Vandoorne remains committed to the electric format of racing, he says there is a future for the fuel-based Formula One to work alongside Formula E.
“There is certainly room for both formats,” the 28-year-old said. “Both are striving for sustainability in their own way, and both are so committed to advancing the technology used in the cars and pits, moving forward. One thing is for sure, there is certainly more and more electric racing. It is a great place and platform on which to perform.”
Despite the varying energy sources, Vandoorne says there is little difference between the formats once you are in the cockpit. “The environment in which we operate is very similar. Granted, there are a lot more people on an F1 team, but as a driver, it is all so similar. Once you are out there on the track, talking to your engineer, it is just the same as F1.”
With motorsport being one of the driving forces behind Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 to diversify its economy, industry and become a world-leading sporting and tourist destination, Vandoorne believes four wheels — and two — can continue to break new ground in the nation’s future.
“Saudi invests so much to bring sport to the country, to help develop the country too,” he said. “I was here in 2018 with Formula E, which was one of the first sports to give Saudi a global audience. The progression in the country has gone hand in hand. We held a concert in 2018 and that was the first time — I think — that men and women were allowed to attend such an event together.
“There is potential for more motorsport to help push Saudi forward. They are building more tracks. We already have Formula E, Formula One is coming later this year. Who knows, maybe Moto GP bikes will come over. We also have Extreme E and the Dakar Rally, so the scope just gets bigger and bigger.”