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Formula E

Exclusive: Vandoorne's sights set on redemption

RacingNews365 spoke exclusively to Season 8 Formula E World Champion Stoffel Vandoorne about his road to redemption.

Vandoorne Mexico City
Interview
To news overview © Simon Galloway / Formula E

Defending a title in any racing category is a tall order, although it's arguably the tallest of orders in Formula E. The all-electric championship is ferociously competitive, to the extreme extent that the tiniest of errors can be the difference between glory and defeat.

Because of the competitiveness of Formula E, defending the Drivers' Championship is practically unheard of. Only Jean-Eric Vergne has successfully defended his title, after he won the championship in Season 4 and Season 5.

Those who win the Formula E crown enter the following year knowing that the odds of defending the championship aren't in their favour, but the least they want is to give it their best shot.

That is what Season 8 World Champion Stoffel Vandoorne failed to do, for reasons completely out of his control. Vandoorne claimed the 2021/22 crown at the season finale in Seoul whilst driving for Mercedes-EQ, who then left the sport prior to the introduction of Gen3 in Season 9.

As a result, Vandoorne entered his title defence not only with a different team – DS Penske who he remains with today – but in a completely different generation of car. The difference between the Gen2 car that Vandoorne won the title in and the Gen3 challenger is extraordinary. In some respects it completely flipped the pecking order.

It meant Vandoorne had to defend his title with a team he hadn't raced with before, and in a brand-new car that all 22 drivers had to learn how to drive. Whilst DS had previously been a frontrunner in Gen2, they weren't last season and remain more in the midfield this year.

Vandoorne scored just 56 points in 2022/23 and finished 11th in the Drivers' Championship, in what was for reasons outside of his control, a miserable attempt at defending his title.

Unsurprisingly, the Belgian's difficult title defence left him frustrated, to the point that he began to ask himself the toughest of questions.

'A lot of questions' were asked

"Of course it is [frustrating], you know, when you come out of a season where you just won the championship and then go into a new one, you obviously want to kind of continue that momentum," Vandoorne exclusively told RacingNews365 in Diriyah.

"But yeah, nothing is straightforward, there were a lot of changes with the team, a new generation of car. A lot of things changed. Looking back at it, I think simply we weren't competitive enough.

"If you look at where the Jaguars were, where the Porsches were, they were kind of the consistent forces through the year that were kind of most regularly there [at the top]. And then, I think, transitioning to a new team was also probably a little bit harder maybe than anticipated.

"Because there's a whole new group of people you have to work with, learn the procedures, how they do things. Just learn everything about the systems as well at the same time, and then there was this, you know, when you're kind of in this limbo, you're not competitive enough.

"You then ask yourself a lot of questions, is it the car? Is it the stuff we're doing? Do I not understand stuff well? So you kind of go through a full circle of of relearning things. I think I'm in a much happier place right now, kind of know a little bit more what to expect, also manage the expectations probably a little bit better."

As touched on by Vandoorne, after a disappointing Season 9, Season 10 has started more positively for him and for DS Penske. Whilst the hardware is under homologation until the end of this season, the Versailles-based squad are performing considerably better this year.

Vandoorne has already managed a top five finish in one of the three races this season – Diriyah race two – whilst his teammate Vergne claimed pole for the first race in the Middle East and went on to finish second.

			© Sam Bagnall / Formula E
	© Sam Bagnall / Formula E

Solid progress 'fuelling me'

The team are "heading in the right direction", although Vandoorne still thinks they're behind the Jaguar and Porsche-powered teams.

"You know, I don't think we're at the level yet of Jaguar and Porsche, but there are some clear signs that we're heading in the right direction," believes Vandoore. "And that's what is fueling me to keep working hard, and hopefully get back to winnings ways soon."

With the field being closer this season and considering that Vergne has already achieved a rostrum in the opening three races, is a pole position, podium or even a fourth-career Formula E victory on the horizon for Vandoorne?

"It's hard to judge," admitted the Aston Martin F1 reserve driver. "Because I mean, the Porsches and the Jaguars, they're still kind of the reference, let's say, and don't forget that's eight cars.

"I think the target is more to kind of be in the mix with them. And yeah, for us to try and be operationally perfect. As soon as they are a little bit on the wrong side, let's say, then we should be there to take advantage of that.

"I think that's kind of the main thing. I think, hopefully, we'll be able to get some podiums. Victories, we'll have to wait and see, we'll have to probably have a little bit of luck to achieve that.

"But you never know. I'm not excluding that, but at the moment, I'm just focusing on really extracting the potential out of what we currently have. Some weekends it will be good enough for P5, other weekends we might be on the podium."

			© Mark Sutton / Formula E
	© Mark Sutton / Formula E

'We can't afford any mistakes'

Whilst being more in the mix this season so far is pleasing the 31-year-old, his eyes are on redemption. Vandoorne wants redemption for his failed title defence, although he accepts that his first opportunity at this won't be until Season 11 (2024/25).

For Season 11, the teams will be allowed to improve their hardware, something which has the potential to flip the pecking order once again. With key components being unchanged for the current campaign, fighting for the title this year isn't realistic, neither is pursuing redemption.

Redemption will hopefully come for Vandoorne next season, with his current focus being on DS Penske performing at the highest level they can, to ensure that they can compete for victories when their package is competitive enough.

"I think so, yes" revealed Vandoorne, when asked if redemption will first be possible next year. "Because that's where we'll have a little bit more freedom to change things with the powertrain. We've had two years of learning with the current one, and although that development is already in progress, I think there's more chances of making a bigger step, let's say, for Gen 3.5 in season 11.

"That's still quite a while away and I think we still have to focus on this season. Even though, if you don't have the most competitive car, you still need to have also set yourself goals to be operationally one of the strongest teams, because once you have the car that is there, you have to perform, you have to perform as a driver and as a team.

"We can't afford any mistakes," stressed Vandoorne. "And everyone is getting to such a high standard right now that every little mistake is getting penalised a little bit harsher, let's say. So, yeah, I think that's kind of our target right now is to build a strong operation, and to make sure when we have all the tools available, we can consistently fight up there."

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