RIYADH: With the Diriyah E-Prix only days away, Stoffel Vandoorne of Mercedes-EQ Formula E Team is hoping to start the 2020-21 Formula E season just as he ended the last; by winning.
The Belgian driver claimed victory in the final race of the 2019-20 season in Berlin to secure the runner-up spot in the Drivers’ Championship and third position in the Teams’ Championship.
Back in Saudi Arabia for the season-opening double-header on Friday and Saturday, Vandoorne is hoping to go one better as the all-electric series gains official FIA World Championship status.
“Saudi is special to me, especially regarding the tracks,” Vandoorne said. “The elevation of its tracks with the quick challenging combination of corners requires attention. The speed of the Saudi circuit is the most prominent characteristic which brings on a lot of challenge.”
Vandoorne, who will be embarking on his third season in Formula E, spoke with Arab News virtually ahead of the Diriyah E-Prix to share some of his thoughts on the race as well a new partnership between Mercedes-EQ and NEOM.
“I think it’s a great partnership because both NEOM and Mercedes have very similar targets in terms of pushing innovation for the future, and what NEOM is going to create and stand for is to build a whole new eco-city,” Vandoorne said.
NEOM’s partnership with the Mercedes-EQ Formula E Team, first established in 2020, will focus mainly on development programmes in the region and green mobility efforts to revolutionize electric vehicles. NEOM will also be the principal and founding partner to the Mercedes EQ FE Driver Development Programme, set to launch this year.
“It’s a great initiative from both sides, it’s about innovation but it’s also about developing people through a training facility in NEOM, which will have the most innovative tools and systems there to develop people and drivers. I hope to be a part of it in the future to help guide people along the way,” he added.
Footage released on Monday showed Vandoorne driving the Mercedes-EQ Silver Arrow 02 along NEOM’s Magna Road and clearly enjoying himself before the competitive action kicks in on Friday night.
“It’s been a fantastic experience visiting NEOM for the first time,” he said. “It’s great to be working alongside a partner who shares our goal to help create a more sustainable future. The location itself was spectacular, what a place to run the car! We have been working hard ahead of the season opener in Diriyah and can’t wait for the racing to begin.”
In the 24 E-Prix races Vandoorne has contested so far, he has achieved one victory, two pole positions and four podiums. Partnering him at Mercedes-EQ will be Nyck de Vries of the Netherlands.
The Diriyah E-Prix will also see Formula E’s first-ever night race spanning its seven-year history.
“It’s great, personally I love night races,” said Vandoorne. “I’ve done a few in the past in the other series I was racing in, in Formula 1 for example. I think they bring a different dynamic to racing because the cars look fantastic at night, everything looks a bit faster, driving at night you have that tunnel vision because you’re racing literally between the lights.”
“There will be a lot of hard racing, the track conditions will evolve obviously as we go into the night so it will be a bit colder, which will have an impact on the tires, on the circuit evolution during the race, and we’ll have to adapt to that,” he added. But it’s great to see Saudi is again on the front foot with bringing something new to the championship and hosting the first night race,” he added.
Vandoorne also hailed Saudi’s social reforms in the last few years regarding gender equality and commended the recent interest taken by women to join motorsports, in particular Jeddah-born Reema Juffali.
“Women can do a great job as well if they have the talent, the passion, the education for it, they absolutely have the same chances as us,” he said.
He also reflected on his time at Formula 1, saying it was an honour to work alongside veteran driver Fernando Alonso, adding that the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps remains his favourite racetrack.
“It was a good experience, Fernando is obviously one of the best drivers in the world, he’s a double world champion,” said Vandoorne. “As a rookie it’s always great to learn from drivers like that, to see how they operate within the team, how they work with the team. My time at Formula 1 has been a learning experience for me and something I’ve definitely carried forward with me into my journey in Formula E.”