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Tales from the paddock: Stoffel Vandoorne: “You can always find ways to improve”

Dec 9, 2021
Stuttgart

The climax is approaching: The 22nd and final race of the 2021 F1 season this coming weekend in Abu Dhabi will decide both World Championships

  • This is what happened: Results and facts
  • News from the Mercedes-AMG Motorsport teams
  • Five questions for Stoffel Vandoorne

This is what happened: Results and facts

  • F1: Lewis Hamilton wins inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix and is joined on the podium by Valtteri Bottas in third place
  • F1: Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen level on points in the Drivers’ Championship ahead of the world championship finale in Abu Dhabi; Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team extends lead in the Constructors' Championship

News snippets

Facts & figures from Jeddah: Last weekend, Saudi Arabia hosted its first ever Grand Prix, and the night race at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit turned out to be a real thriller. In Saturday’s qualifying, Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas produced a front row lockout for the team. In a dramatic race that was interrupted by multiple red flags, restarts and safety car deployments, Lewis came out on top in a tough battle against his world championship rival Max Verstappen, crossing the finish line as the winner of the inaugural Saudi Arabian GP. For Lewis, it was not only pole position number 103 of his F1 career but also his 103rd GP win. Valtteri made it onto the podium for the 58th time in his 100th race as a Mercedes F1 driver and for the 67th time in the premier class of motorsport. Lewis capped the race win with the fastest lap, thereby securing an additional world championship point to take him level with Max Verstappen at the top of the drivers’ standings. The two of them now go into the season finale in Abu Dhabi tied on 369.5 points. The double podium in Jeddah extends the team’s lead over Red Bull in the Constructors’ Championship to 28 points.

On to the finale: From Saudi Arabia, the F1 team proceeds directly to next weekend’s season finale in Abu Dhabi. The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix has been a regular stop on the F1 itinerary since 2009, and this year’s race will be the 13th such fixture. The track has been modified and rebuilt in a number of places for the 2021 season. At 5.281 km, the track is now just under three hundred metres shorter, but should offer more overtaking opportunities. To compensate for the reduced overall length, the number of laps in the race increases from 55 to 58. The Yas Marina Circuit was a happy hunting ground for the team in the period 2014 to 2019, when it recorded six straight victories, four for Lewis and one each for Valtteri and Nico Rosberg. Last year, Red Bull’s Max Verstappen won the final race of the season in Abu Dhabi, while Valtteri and Lewis finished second and third respectively.

F1 know-how comes to the aid of Adam’s LEJOG Challenge: Adam Stanton-Wharmby, who suffers from cerebral palsy and has to use an electrically powered wheelchair, has set out to cover the distance from Lands End to John O’Groats using only his wheelchair. The purpose behind this personal challenge is to raise awareness of the difficulties that users of electrically powered wheelchairs have to cope with. However, to be able to complete this journey, his equipment needed an upgrade. And this is where the Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team came in. The challenge inspired the team’s engineers, who immediately identified several key areas that could be optimised on Adam’s chair. These included the seating position, battery range and weight. A big F1 fan, Adam is blown away by his improved wheelchair: “Every time I get into the chair, I have a huge smile on my face and still can’t believe that Mercedes F1, a team I’ve been supporting since they joined Formula 1, has modified my wheelchair for me.” You can find further information about Adam’s marathon journey on his JustGiving page and on our website.

Season 8 calling: Three and a half months after the closing event of Season 7 in Berlin, the Mercedes-EQ Formula E Team completed the official three-day winter tests of the racing series last week in Valencia. All eleven teams challenging for this year’s ABB FIA Formula E World Championship were in action at the Circuit Ricardo Tormo. Stoffel Vandoorne and Nyck de Vries completed a total of 452 laps (equivalent to 1,526 test kilometres) in the Mercedes-EQ Silver Arrow 02 – more than any other team. The two drivers each completed exactly 226 laps, which is also the more than any of the other drivers present. The tests were all about preparing for Season 8, which is scheduled to start in Diriyah on the weekend of 28/29 January 2022. The team’s main focus was on practising the necessary procedures and processes and on gaining as much race practice as possible. This included the first dress rehearsal of the new qualifying format as well as a race simulation in which the drivers were able to fully exploit the increased power available in the coming season for the first time in a race-like situation.

Five questions for Stoffel Vandoorne

Stoffel, you took the most pole positions last season. How difficult is it to string everything together perfectly over a single lap?

Stoffel Vandoorne: It’s not easy, for sure! First of all, Formula E qualifying consists of just one lap, which puts a lot of additional pressure on drivers to perform, to deliver, because you only have one shot at it. But still, it’s something I really love. I enjoy the pressure, the adrenalin you get from it. Putting the lap together is crucial, because you are often forced to go very slowly on the outlaps, so you don’t get a feel for the grip that might be available in the first corner. As often as not, the way you approach Turn 1 is a kind of a complete guess in terms of where to brake, how much grip there is and how much speed you can carry through into the corner. Once you have some kind of reference point, then the rest of the lap becomes almost a little easier but it’s still very much a high-pressure environment.

There will be a new qualifying format this season with lots of head-to-head battles. Will that increase the mental pressure on drivers? Are you looking forward to this extra challenge?

Stoffel Vandoorne: I am definitely looking forward to it! I’m not really sure whether the head-to-head duels will change much really, because I don’t really think it will be much on our minds when in the car. We will be focussing mainly on getting the best out of the car – that’s going to be key. We obviously have the group sessions first, during which the approach will have to be a little bit different, as we’ll need to post several flying laps, which will, hopefully, level out the field a bit before the head-to-head duels. It should be interesting, and I think that the format will be enjoyable, especially if you make it through to the final round and can then go head-to-head for pole position.

Energy management in Formula E is another major challenge. How much more demanding will driving be for you with the introduction of the new rules with more power and possible extension to race times?

Stoffel Vandoorne: To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure whether it will make a huge difference to the racing. Extending the race time is certainly more logical and easier to understand for spectators than decreasing the amount of energy available. When we spend time behind the safety car, then the race will last longer ultimately. I think that spectators find that easier to understand. If the race is stopped, then we end up racing for longer – that’s more sensible compared to what we had last year. I think the extra power we are going to have next season is going to make it a little bit trickier, especially in terms of energy and tyre management. It’s going to be harder for us to manage the rear tyres, so we’ll probably have to go a little bit easier on them and the same applies to energy, as we’re going to be losing a little bit more. As a result, I think we’ll have to be even more precise with our driving over the entire race.

You are going into your third season with the team. How much does having this continuity help you and your engineers when working together?

Stoffel Vandoorne: Continuity in Formula E is always an excellent thing, I think, because the margins between drivers and teams are very small, so establishing a good relationship with your crew is very important. You have to really understand each other, what you need from the car, what you require to improve the car and be able to perform. All these things are very helpful. I will have to face a little bit of an extra challenge this year, as I’ll be working with a new race engineer. We’ll have to get used to one another first and be on the same wavelength. He’ll have to learn to interpret my comments about the car, my way of describing it – and vice versa. But he’s got a lot of experience from working previously in Formula E and I’m sure that we’ll soon get up to speed. I’m looking forward to seeing how we get along together.

How do you manage to keep finding fresh stimuli so that you can continue to improve even after years of working together?

Stoffel Vandoorne: You can always find ways to improve. The regulations remain pretty constant but we’re always looking for new things to improve as a team no matter whether that comes from driver feedback or from the team. We often discuss new ideas together, asking ourselves whether they make sense or whether we’re wasting too much time with them. Will they improve our lap times? Yes or no? Ultimately, that’s what it’s all about. We want to see these new ideas bring our lap times down, and that’s paramount. We’ve got another additional challenge to face as a team with the move to Brackley, so there’s going to be a lot of changes with a new simulator, for example, and a lot of jobs that need doing before the start of the season. We’ve got a lot to accomplish over the winter, perhaps even more than in the past. Let’s wait and see how next season shapes up!

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    Formula E - Mercedes-EQ Formula E Team, Valencia Tests 2022. Stoffel Vandoorne, Nyck de Vries
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    Formula E - Mercedes-EQ Formula E Team, Valencia Tests 2022. Stoffel Vandoorne, Nyck de Vries
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    Formula E - Mercedes-EQ Formula E Team, Valencia Tests 2022. Stoffel Vandoorne, Nyck de Vries
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    Formula E - Mercedes-EQ Formula E Team, Valencia Tests 2022. Stoffel Vandoorne, Nyck de Vries
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    Formula E - Mercedes-EQ Formula E Team, Valencia Tests 2022. Stoffel Vandoorne, Nyck de Vries
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    Formula E - Mercedes-EQ Formula E Team, Valencia Tests 2022. Stoffel Vandoorne, Nyck de Vries
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    Formula E - Mercedes-EQ Formula E Team, Valencia Tests 2022. Nyck de Vries
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    Formula E - Mercedes-EQ Formula E Team, Valencia Tests 2022. Stoffel Vandoorne
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    Formula E - Mercedes-EQ Formula E Team, Valencia Tests 2022. Stoffel Vandoorne
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    Formula One - Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport, Saudi Arabian GP 2021. Lewis Hamilton
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    Formula One - Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport, Saudi Arabian GP 2021. Valtteri Bottas
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    Formula One - Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport, Saudi Arabian GP 2021. Lewis Hamilton
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    Formula One - Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport, Saudi Arabian GP 2021. Lewis Hamilton
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    Formula One - Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport, Saudi Arabian GP 2021. Valtteri Bottas
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    Formula One - Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport, Saudi Arabian GP 2021. Lewis Hamilton
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    Stoffel Vandoorne (BEL), Mercedes Benz EQ


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