Ex-F1 driver missed out on chance to replace Lewis Hamilton when he was stricken by coronavirus but insists he has put that chapter behind him to focus on his own championship hopes. Stoffel Vandoorne wants to ease the pain of missing out on Lewis Hamilton’s seat in Bahrain by leading Mercedes to its maiden Formula E world championship.
The Belgian was expected to replace either Formula One driver in the event of positive Covid-19 test this season in his role as Mercedes reserve driver, and upon news of Hamilton’s inability to take part in the Sakhir Grand Prix two weeks’ ago, Vandoorne was on the first flight out of Valencia as he left Formula E testing to travel to Bahrain.
However, as fate would have it, the news came early enough in the week for Mercedes to call up development driver George Russell from Williams, allowing the Briton to qualify on the front row and come within a team pit-stop blunder of claiming his maiden Grand Prix victory. Vandoorne, who has not participated in an F1 race since McLaren replaced him in 2018, was forced to watch on agonisingly from the Mercedes garage.
It would be understandable if it left Vandoorne with a point to prove, not so much a score to settle but the chance to show his team that he was more than ready to step up and deliver exactly what Hamilton’s stand-in did. But the likeable 28-year-old bears no grudge against either Mercedes or Russell, and through the inevitable frustration he can at least understand the decision.
“It doesn’t necessarily feel like that,” Vandoorne tells The Independent. “I feel the situation was a bit different here because of what happened and the whole reserve driver role situation, shall we say, which obviously was a bit frustrating because I’ve invested so much time in travelling around, doing all the simulator work with Mercedes.
“I was never really thinking about getting the opportunity to race or something, but when Lewis tested positive then it was normal to think there might be a chance to jump in. It was a bit frustrating at the time because I put in so much effort and so much time travelling around, to then not get the drive is just a bit frustrating.