Following a successful year in the McLaren Young Driver Programme, Stoffel Vandoorne has been promoted to the role of reserve driver for the Woking squad, it has been announced today.
As part of the move, twenty-one year old Vandoorne will also graduate to GP2, racing for ART GP, the path the team used with Lewis Hamilton in 2006, meaning that he will be developing his skills whilst always on call for McLaren.
The young Belgian has had an impressive career thus far, winning the European Formula Renault Championship in 2012 before ending as runner-up to Kevin Magnussen in last year’s World Series by Renault Championship.
He now joins McLaren in a full-time role and with the best support. ART took Nico Rosberg and Nico Hulkenberg to their respective GP2 titles in 2005 and 2009, but Vandoorne will be most closely monitored against Lewis Hamilton after winning the 2006 GP2 title with the same team and, like Vandoorne, receiving support from McLaren.
ART’s list of former drivers makes for impressive reading when looking at the current Formula One line-ups. Lucas Di Grassi, Sebastian Buemi, Romain Grosjean, Pastor Maldonado, Jules Bianchi, Sam Bird, Esteban Gutierrez and James Calado have all represented the French team in the series’ nine years.
“I’m thrilled and honoured to have been selected by McLaren Mercedes to be the team’s Formula 1 reserve driver for 2014, and I’m equally excited to have been selected to race for the ART GP2 team for 2014,” said Vandoorne.
“Having won the Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 Series in 2012, and having finished second in the World Series by Renault 3.5 Championship in 2013, I feel I’m making good progress towards my ultimate goal: Formula 1.”
Vandoorne was a Martin Whitmarsh favourite and following the demise of the former team principal in the management coup at McLaren last week, it will be interesting to see how Ron Dennis embraces the young Belgian and takes him forward. As Sam Michael’s role appears to be expanding in importance his support will also be vital.
McLaren sources insist that Vandoorne has plenty of other powerful supporters within the team, regardless of Whitmarsh’s changed circumstances. He is also managed by the Sports Partnership, which is Jenson Button and Richard Goddard’s company and is well embedded at the team.
GP2 remains the main feeder series for Formula One, however many of its top drivers are too old for the step up to Grand Prix racing. That is why we have seen an influx of drivers from World Series, such as Robin Frijns, Magnussen and Vandoorne. Red Bull also have a hand in this too, opting not to put its junior drivers in GP2 and therefore Jaime Alguersuari, Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne are all graduates of the World Series.
It was interesting to hear from someone who has competed and won in both categories earlier this year. Having spoke to Sam Bird in Monaco following a dominant race victory, the 2013 GP2 runner-up said that the World Series car and that of GP2 are completely different machines. “In the World Series you can push all race, with the grip always there,” said Bird. “However, in GP2, using similar tyres to those in Formula One you have to be so careful to manage your tyres over the race distance – it requires a certain skill set.”
Vandoorne has proved himself amongst the best young drivers in the world and will find satisfaction in Magnussen’s appointment.
“Stoffel is a truly excellent young driver – fast, combative, consistent, intelligent and ambitious – and he’s already made an excellent impression on all at McLaren during the year he’s spent as a member of the McLaren Young Driver Programme,” said McLaren Sporting Director, Sam Michael.
“His technical input is first-class, he’s excellent in our simulator, and he isn’t afraid of hard work. He has a collaborative and engaging manner, and he’s therefore as popular at McLaren as he is helpful.
“He’s also very quick indeed. He won the Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 Series in 2012 in fine style, and he finished second in last year’s World Series by Renault 3.5 Championship, in his rookie season, with four excellent wins. That was very impressive.
“So we expect him to do well in GP2 this season, and let’s see what happens after that.”