The Next Generation: Stoffel Vandoorne

Stoffel Vandoorne is one of the brightest young talents in motorsport and with backing from McLaren, we will most likely be seeing a lot more of the Belgian in years to come. For now though he is racing in the GP2 Series for ART Grand Prix and has already raised eyebrows in the F1 paddock with his performance in Bahrain where he took a debut win in the feature race.

Belgium and Formula 1 have only a few connections, the country has produced a handful of drivers to grace the highest level of single seater racing, the likes of Jacky Ickx and Thierry Boutsen, more recently of course Jerome d’Ambrosio, but the fact remains that they haven’t had much in the way of success in F1 despite having one of the best circuits on the calendar at Spa-Francorchamps, a real fan favourite every year. But now it looks like the Belgian fans will have a new hero of their own very soon.

Vandoorne started motorsport at the young age of 6 and made a good start racing in karting and he soon grabbed the headlines in his homeland when he became Belgian KF2 Champion in 2008.

In 2009, Stoffel began to race internationally for the first time in the KF2 series, it would be a good year for Vandoorne with some great showings in the European Championships and the World Cup, though it would be his final year in karting because it was now time for Stoffel to properly begin his journey to reach the promised land of Formula 1.

It was 2010 and the next port of call for Vandoorne would be the F4 Eurocup 1.6 series, he performed very well in this with six wins from fourteen races and claimed the title with two races to spare, the following season would be another step in the right direction for Stoffel as he raced in the Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 championship and finished fifth, that wouldn’t be all for the Belgian during 2011 though, he also took part in the Formula Renault 2.0 Northern European Cup and finished third in the series with eight podiums.

He would continue to race in these championships during 2012 but this time he was able to challenge for race wins and the title, his main rival would be now Toro Rosso star Daniil Kvyat, Vandoorne got the better of the young Russian though and scored four wins on his way to the championship victory with a margin of 10 points over Kvyat.

2013 started with an exciting development for Vandoorne even before his racing season got underway, It was announced in February that he had been selected to become part of McLaren’s Young Driver Programme, this meant that there was a serious chance that he could make his F1 dream a reality in the near future, but that would only become a possibility if Stoffel could first showcase his talent in Formula Renault 3.5.

He enjoyed a fantastic debut season, taking four wins and a string of podiums ensured that he finished 2nd in the championship behind Kevin Magnussen, unfortunately for Stoffel it would be Magnussen that would take the step into F1 with McLaren for the 2014 season replacing the axed Sergio Perez, some rumours did link Vandoorne with an F1 seat but instead he moved to the GP2 Series with a race seat at ART.

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Being part of the GP2 Series will help Stoffel especially as it is a support series to F1 so those within the paddock can see him in action whilst he would also step up to the role of McLaren reserve driver this year and has been able to get a taste of what F1 is like with some test appearances.

He would announce his arrival in GP2 in spectacular fashion in Bahrain, taking 2nd on the grid was impressive enough, but nothing compared to the way he utterly controlled the Feature Race leading from lights to flag at the Sakhir circuit, since then he has had bad luck with a number of non-points finishes although a pair of feature race podiums in the last two events leaves him sitting 7th in the Drivers standings.

McLaren is a huge possibility for Stoffel, with Jenson Button it must be considered that he is moving towards the latter stages of his career, at 34 he is the oldest driver on the grid and McLaren may see Vandoorne and Magnussen as a future pairing that could bring them glory once again having not won the Constructors Championship since 1998.

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He may also be edged into Formula 1 with a smaller team the same way Daniel Ricciardo was in 2011 when he joined Hispania for the second half of the season before moving to Toro Rosso, this approach may be beneficial both to Stoffel and also McLaren as it would allow him to gain experience and then join the team with some experience in F1 under his belt.

Either way, one thing is for sure and that is that we will see Stoffel Vandoorne star in Formula 1 in the near future and from what he has shown so far in his career, he may even go right to the very top and become the first Belgian F1 World Champion.

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Q&A with Alexander Rossi

I am delighted to bring you all a big Q&A this time round, We are speaking to Alexander Rossi, Alex has been a reserve driver for the Caterham F1 Team and has spent the past number of years driving in GP2, I am very confident that we will see the American in F1 in the near future. Thanks must go to Alexander and his team for taking the time to sit down and run through my questions.

Q&A with Jon Lancaster

Earlier this week, I decided to get in contact with Jon Lancaster, He has raced in various series such as FR3.5 and F2 as well as most recently GP2, last year Jon finished 11th in the GP2 Series in a season that included two sprint race wins in consecutive weekends at Silverstone and Nurburgring. I thank Jon for taking the time to talk to The Chequered Flag Blog and I hope you all enjoy!

Jon on the podium at Silverstone after winning the GP2 Sprint Race

Jon on the podium at Silverstone after winning the GP2 Sprint Race

Q1. Can you just tell us a little about your earliest memory of Motorsport and also did you have a racing hero growing up?
Jon Lancaster – My first memories were watching Ayrton Senna for sure, being born in 1988 I was lucky to see some of the real F1 back in the day! When I was that young I loved Ayrton then also Nigel Mansell as he had the red 5, As I grew I realised Ayrton was a step apart from the rest.

Q2. When did you first get involved in racing?
JL – I got involved pretty early after my parents split when I was 5 my dad who was an ex F3 mechanic always loved racing and bought a kart so I used to go down and push wheels about and try help with my brother Andrew, then when I was 9 I got my own kart for Christmas and we started testing and raced when I was 10.

Q3. What advice would you have for anyone thinking of starting a career in motorsport?
JL – I would say to them, are you sure? haha, you have to be honest with yourself, do you really think you are good enough to make it and are you willing to sacrifice and commit to being professional? and of course do you have the finances to get going and the contacts to keep going.

Q4. So far in your career, what has been your best race and why?
JL – My best race…possibly 2 races, in the wet at Pau in F3 2008 coming from 12th to 3rd. and last years GP2 win at Nurburgring as I had James Calado pushing me all the way and didn’t make one mistake. being in a new small team up against ART as well made it even sweeter.

Q5. Do you have a favourite track that you particularly like for any reasons?
JL – Besides Macau which is incredible, Silverstone has to be up there for me, the fast flowing nature really suits me and to be on the edge around there is pretty incredible.

Q6. If you weren’t a racing driver, what would you be doing?
JL – Thats a good question, I would like to say playing for Leeds Utd!! but honestly something in sport I love all kinds of sports and also helping to run our business of renting houses, we were hit incredibly hard when the market crashed and now when I’m not racing I paint houses, fit carpet, fill skips etc to get jobs done.

Q7. Who is the best driver you’ve raced against?
JL – That is hard to say…probably Marco Ardigo in karting, when I was 16 he was 22 and a seasoned pro, he never made a mistake and we had many battles over the years.

Q8. Away from racing for a minute, do you like any other sports, if so who do you support?
JL – I’m a huge passionate Leeds Utd fan and also like Rugby union, I compete in triathlons and take part in crossfit as well.

Q9. Do you do much in your spare time away from the track?
JL – Between the carpet fitting and other work to prepare houses, I try to raise my own sponsorship and its only very recently I signed with a manager, before I did everything myself and with some help from my dad.

Q10. As a racing driver you must visit all sorts of places, anywhere particular that stuck out for you?
JL – Macau will always stick out…its a mental place…haha Singapore was beautiful and India was eye opening. I’ve been to many places racing but hardly get to really see them, its a shame, I will revisit as many as I can some day.

Q11. Finally, What are your targets for this season and also for the future?
JL – This year I hope to get a full season in GP2 and challenge for the title, we will see what other add on races we can do, I’ve had some offers for endurance projects. Since I was 10 years old F1 world champion has been my goal…nothing less.

I would like to thank Jon again and wish him the best of luck this year.

Jon’s Twitter – https://twitter.com/JonLracing

Jon’s Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/JonLancasterRacing

Blog Update

As part of my blog I am keen to focus on a number of racing series outside of Formula 1, I see this as being important due to the number of talented drivers outside F1 in championships such as GP2, GP3 and Formula Renault 3.5 and also it is important to keep an eye on the future of motorsport as well as the current crop of drivers. I decided to try and get in touch with some of the drivers to see if they would respond to some questions that I asked them, I hope that this will be a regular feature on my blog in the future.

I fully understand how busy the drivers are and for any driver that is able to respond to the questions I must stress how much I appreciate the time and effort that it requires.