For Stoffel Vandoorne, it was only really a matter of ‘when’ he’d race in Formula 1 than ‘if’.
The young Belgian ascendance through the junior single-seater ranks has been utterly emphatic – and equally assured. Let’s look back at his credentials:
In 2013, at Monza, he stunned his championship rivals by winning his first-ever World Series by Renault 3.5 race. He followed it up a year later, in Bahrain, by winning his first-ever race in GP2. It’s an absolutely unique double – no other driver has matched him.
In 2015, his second season in GP2, he stamped his authority on the championship with a performance so dominant that he rewrote the series’ record books. He secured the title with four races remaining, rounding out his two GP2 seasons with more race victories, points and podium finishes than any other driver in the championship’s history – which, lest one forgets, has also seen the talents of Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg and Nico Hulkenberg.
Last year, he dovetailed his role as McLaren Honda’s test and reserve driver to race in Japan’s hotly contested Super Formula championship – the country’s most prestigious single-seater series. Driving for Honda entrant, Docomo Team Dandelion, Stoff won two races, including the prestigious season finale at Suzuka, and finished the championship in fourth position – just five points’ shy of the winner, an almost unheard-of feat for a series rookie.
More notably, Stoffel also made his Formula 1 debut, deputising for Fernando Alonso in the 2016 Bahrain Grand Prix. It was a last-minute call-up, which involved him flying overnight from a Super Formula test session in Japan to arrive at the Bahrain circuit hours ahead of the first Formula 1 practice session.
Despite his inexperience – he had never driven the MP4-31 before the race weekend – he performed flawlessly, out-qualifying team-mate Jenson Button, and scoring the team’s first world championship point of the campaign.
Stoffel graduated to a full-time race seat in 2017, working hard to compensate for the car’s deficiencies during a difficult maiden grand prix season. It was a tough year, marked by multiple grid penalties for power unit changes, but seventh places in Singapore and Malaysia showed promise.
Hopes were high for 2018, but again the team endured a difficult season. Stoffel earned points in three of the four opening races, but thereafter he was dogged by bad luck, and he struggled to get the results that he truly deserved.
He has made a fresh start by moving to Formula E, where he partners former McLaren test driver Gary Paffett in the HWA Racelab team.