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.
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.
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.