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Vandoorne Named McLaren Reserve Driver, but will he miss Whitmarsh’s support?
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Posted By: Matt Meadows  |  23 Jan 2014   |  3:56 pm GMT  |  27 comments

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.”

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27 Comments
  1. This is a great opportunity for Vandoorne and I hope he can succeed next year.

    James, I’m interested to see you say that many of the GP2 drivers are ‘too old’ to step up to GP2. I disagree, drivers are ready when they are ready and age should not be a barrier. Guido Van Der Garde was 27 when he made his début and was strong in the second half of the year. If drivers are too old to step up to F1 then why are they bothering to pay millions to drive in GP2?

  2. Ayrton Prost says:

    quote – Vandoorne has thus far been very much a Martin Whitmarsh protege 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.

    Is Whitmarsh officially no longer the team principal then? I thought this hadn’t been announced yet?

  3. Steve says:

    Interesting that the quotes on Vandoorne have come from Sam Michael. What are the odds on him being the next Team Principle or at least interim?

  4. Alexander Supertramp says:

    Go Stoffel!

  5. Clarks4WheelDrift says:

    The young drivers now seem to be snapped up earlier and earlier in their careers.

    Must seem amazing to them that someone like Damon Hill moved from bikes to start car racing so late in his 20s, then became F1 champ.

    I imaging in 50 years time we’ll have announcements of teams signing the unborn embryos of past champions, just to get in there first ;)

    1. Adrian Newey Jnr says:

      Horse racing isn’t that far off what you’re describing!

  6. Steve J says:

    If Vandoorne is a Whitmarsh protege, it’s interesting that the McLaren quote comes from Sam Michael. Whitmarsh has been very quiet since the coup last week – surely he’s on his way out as team principal once Dennis completes his review.

    I think the stick that Whitmarsh has come in for is largely unfair. Sure, 2013 was a disaster for McLaren on track. And true, McLaren haven’t won a title since 2008. But McLaren’s last constructors’ championship was way back in 1998. Dennis went 10 years without winning the WCC and 9 years separated Hakkinen’s ’99 WDC from Hamilton’s ’08 triumph. I admire Dennis’ achievements and take nothing away from him, but he did also lose Newey to Red Bull and lose or fall out with Raikkonnen, Montoya and Alonso.

    McLaren has underperformed for a number or years and even if a new team principal is needed, McLaren need to address why they’ve come up short for the best part of almost 15 years if they’re to get back on top in a consistent way. As a McLaren fan, I really hope they do.

    1. Monza 71 says:

      While Martin comes over as a really nice bloke and is obviously very popular with us dedicated fans, the fact is that the team has only gone backwards over the last three years.

      It is clearly time for a change and the quickest way to achieve that is to start at the top.

      The jury must also be out on Sam Michael. I’ve said before here that I was very surprised that he was given a promotion on joining McLaren.

      He had hardly left Williams at a high point in the team’s history so I for one assumed that Martin Whitmarsh was a shrewd judge of talent.

      Now I’m not so sure. Can James throw some light on his appointment ?

      1. Cliff says:

        Never quite understood why Sam Michael came in for so much stick! His job is trackside, for which he took some criticism because of the poor pitstops in 2012. But the problems at McLaren are systemic and the failure to build a consistent and competitive car is down to the designers.

      2. Tyler says:

        Your point is well taken, their downward slide also coincided with the arrival of Sam Michael, or at the least he failed to have any noticeable impact.

    2. John M says:

      Fair or not, ultimately people are judged by results. McLaren just havent’t been good enough, by their standards, the last couple years.

      I agree Whitmarsh is probably getting a bit of an unfair shake, but F1 isn’t tiddly winks.

    3. gpfan says:

      +1.
      What a well written post.

  7. Klaas Backers says:

    Excellent news for Belgium, he’s a much bigger talent than D’ambrosioso. I have no doubt that Stoffel will do very well in F1.
    It’s good that he has a year getting used to F1 and honing his skill set in GP2 to make his debut in 2015 for a midfield team.

    1. Klaas Backers says:

      *D’ambrosio

      1. Chris Ralph says:

        I thought that was quite clever – D’Ambrosio so-so…

  8. goferet says:

    Hmm… I don’t know about this.

    Maybe Mclaren should go back to the Ferrari policy of only hiring proven F1 championship winners.

    Yes, Lewis’ story of an underdog to a top dog was very inspiring but this story has already been told and as we know from Hollywood, sequels usually tend not to be as good as the original.

    As for Stoffel, you know how some people just have that Midas touch i.e. everything they touch turns to gold >>> e.g. Ron Dennis hired Lewis, Senna, Prost, Lauda etc

    On the other side of the scale we have those people that have the death touch e.g. Whitmarsh hired Jenson, Perez and Sam Michael etc.

    1. Monktonnik says:

      If we follow that policy then JB would be in and LH would be out.

      Personally I think JB has done a good job these last 4 years.

  9. Matt_2745 says:

    Whitmarsh isn’t the ‘former’ team principal just yet is he?

  10. Rich B says:

    assuming stoffel excels in gp2 I wonder where McLaren will put him in 2015 if button stays on. force indy drivers have 2 year contracts,

  11. Vlad says:

    Look, its obvious that Ron Dennis does whatever it takes to win. He has that killer instinct to do the best for McLaren, kind of like corporate narcisscism. This is why a lot of drivers leave after a fallout, but the overall result is that he has used them for the time being to do the job for McLaren. Whitmarsh comes across as a ‘nice guy’ so perhaps his team role could be changed because that will get you nowhere in the F1 world.
    It was sad for Perez to be leaving, he deserved more. But if you’ve watched any of the lower formulae last year, you can be sure that Magnussen and Vandoorne are very good. Also the Swede Marcus Ericsson is superb, but he will need a better car than a Caterham to prove it.

  12. Tyler says:

    Talk about a pimple faced youngster…. man i’m getting old, this kid looks like hes 14.

  13. Peter says:

    Some more interesting news about McLaren. They have this week changed their Law Firm of choice from Baker & McKenzie to Norton Rose (http://ow.ly/sU6rz). The implications are significant. They were with their previous lawyers since the 1980s. As with their commercial relationships, McLaren are usually all about the long – term view. This will actually be a considerable expense for them, as their new lawyers will have to get up to speed regarding the workings of the whole McLaren Group, and will inevitably build the increased time that they will be spending in completing tasks for McLaren into their charges. Given the revolving door at the MTC at present, they will certainly be busy producing watertight employment contracts, not to mention the possibility of a fairly comprehensive Compromise Agreement for a certain Mr Whitmarsh, which means that if he is moved, either sideways or out of the picture altogether, we will most likely never know the full reasons, or the machinations, that led to Ron’s comeback speech last week. There is also the possibility of Norton Rose appearing as a sponsor, or for the organisations to work together on a Corporate Social Responsibility Scheme.
    Its certainly all change at Woking in 2014….

  14. Veteran says:

    I really hope Stoffel gets into F1 one day. I see him as a younger Vettel. A hard worker and a brilliant racer. Let’s just hope he gets the chance.

  15. Hugo says:

    This kid needs a dermatologist. Or an agent who uses photoshop.

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