Mercedes see themselves as 'beginners' in Formula E

The Mercedes-Benz EQ Formula E Team admits that it is facing a steep learning curve as it heads into its first-ever two races in the all-electric championship this weekend.

And with back-to-back races in Diriyah on Friday and Saturday, the squad will have to learn those lessons fast if it’s to avoid giving its rivals an immediate advantage.

“Finally, the day has come that everyone in the team has been working towards,” team principal Ian James commented this week.

“Our two cars will make their first competitive outing this week. We’ve worked hard over the last twelve months to devise the best possible setup and achieve the necessary consistency for our race debut at Diriyah.

“The season opener is not the end of this journey but rather the beginning,” he cautioned. “We are conscious of our status as beginners. We therefore have to learn quickly from errors as they occur and to continue developing as a team.”

James added that the team was aiming “to make our learning curve as steep as possible.”

“Finishing the two races somewhere in the points would obviously be fantastic,” he added. “But no matter how this first race turns out for us, I would like to express my gratitude here and now to the entire team for their tireless efforts.

“What I’ve experienced over the past few months has been the epitome of commitment in terms of teamwork.”

The team has been able to rely on the experience of former McLaren driver Stoffel Vandoorne, who after leaving F1 a year ago has already completed a season of competition in the ABB FIA Formula E championship with the Mercedes-affiliated HWA Racelab.

“I can hardly wait to get racing again,” commented the Belgian. “Testing is very nice, but it’s good to be switching back to race mode and to see where we are compared to the other teams.

Mercedes-Benz EQ Formula E Team on track.

© Mercedes

“It’s not going to be easy, and it is hard to make any sort of forecast. We have to stay focused and try not to make mistakes. If we manage to do that, we should be in with a chance of a decent result.”

Vandoorne will be joined on the grid by newly crowned Formula 2 champion Nyck de Vries, who like Mercedes is also making his debut in the series.

“I’m very excited about competing in Formula E as a team for the first time and finding out how we shape up on our debut,” said the Dutch 24-year-old Dutch driver.

“I have the feeling that we have bonded together well as a team in the past few weeks. Now I’m ready to race again and to go up against our opponents on the track.”

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Gunther tops Formula E Valencia test for BMW

BMW driver Maximilian Gunther ended up with the fastest time of the 24 drivers taking part in this week’s three-day Formula E pre-season test at Valencia.

Gunther’s time of 1:15.087s was set after just 17 laps of running on Friday afternoon. He subsequently triggered an early end to the day’s track activity when he stopped at the first chicane with five minutes left on the clock.

Dragon pair Brendon Hartley and Nico Muller, together with Mercedes driver Stoffel Vandoorne, also sparked red flags in the final hour of Friday’s session.

Gunther duly finished the day a tenth quicker than Mahindra Racing’s Pascal Wehrlein, who had been the fastest driver in the morning runs.

Earlier in the day, Nissan e.dams’ Sebastien Buemi won the second ‘test race’ of the week by 1.698s over 30 laps from Porsche’s Andre Lotterer who led at the start.

However the week as a whole proved a subdued start for Mercedes, which is joining the all-electric championship this season for the first time as a manufacturer.

Vandoorne was only 20th fastest across the week, setting his best time of 1:15.736s on Friday morning. His team mate, Formula 2 champion Nyck de Vries, was just behind the Belgian in the week’s timing summary with a best effort of 1:15.916s.

“The first two days of testing this week were tough for us,” explained Mercedes-Benz EQ Formula E team principal Ian James.

“There were some challenges to overcome that we had not anticipated. It was unexpected, to be honest, but we found the right solutions. It just goes to show how important these test outings are in the run-up to the season.

“We were consistent when conducting our own private tests and found some stability. We must now ensure that we can achieve that again during the first race weekend.

“[But] we’ve finished Friday’s test on a positive note. I think we’ve created a sound basis on which to build, so that we can continue to develop during the season.”

“We’re obviously not completely satisfied after this test week, but that’s precisely what testing is for,” echoed Vandoorne.

“We’ve ticked off quite a few points on our to-do list, but there’s still plenty to do before the season opener in Saudi Arabia [on November 22].

“At the same time, I am happy that we are finally racing again. We have been testing for a long time now and the feeling is good,” he commented. “After the long break, I’m really looking forward to getting back into the car and competing in actual races.”

“Everything is in place for us to mount a serious challenge, but we have to get it all together. This is by no means an easy task in Formula E. Let’s wait and see what happens next.”

De Vries was held back by limited track time, with an accident on Wednesday afternoon leaving him sidelined for the rest of the day.

“Unfortunately, I made a mistake in the chicane and lost a lot of time on the track,” said the 24-year-old Dutch driver. “That, along with a few other difficulties, virtually cost me a whole day.

“That’s why it was very important to have a flawless day today, during which I was able to put in a lot of laps and gain further experience.

“[Friday] morning was very positive in this regard, and the afternoon also was very interesting with regard to the race simulation. It was a pity that there were so many interruptions on the way, but that’s all part of racing.”

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Stoffel Vandoorne not missing Formula 1… for now

Stoffel Vandoorne was back in the F1 paddock last weekend, the former McLaren driver attending his home country’s Grand Prix at Spa.

After leaving McLaren at the end of last season, with not much to show for his two years of active duty with the Woking-based outfit, Vandoorne gave a fresh impetus to his motorsport career, racing for HWA Racelab in Formula E, which paved the way for Mercedes’ official entry into the all-electric series for its 2019/20 season.

After his maiden Formula E campaign, the 27-year-old former GP2 Series champion is expected to be included in the German manufacturer’s FE line-up which will be unveiled on September 11, although mum’s the word for now.

“I can’t yet say anything but I’m confident,” Vandoorne told Belgian broadcaster Sporza.

“I’d like to boost my reputation in Formula E because many only remember my period with McLaren.

The papaya squad has turned around its fortunes this season and currently leads F1’s fierce mid-field battle. Vandoorne insists he has no hard feelings towards his former team.

©HWA

“I bear no grudges and obviously continue to keep an eye on the team. They’ve made some significant progress this year.

“The two seasons I spent there were perhaps the worst in the team’s history. It’s a shame but you can’t do anything about it.

“Today, I’ve got a good Formula E programme and a great future. I think we’ll soon be in a position to fight for race wins and championships.

Would he ever consider a return to the F1 grid if his ambitions in FE don’t pan out as expected?

“We’ll see,” he answered. “First, I want to win in Formula E. After, we’ll see if any opportunities arise in F1. Perhaps even before 2021, but for now I’m focused on my current programme.”

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Brown: Vandoorne was not ‘aggressive’ enough

McLaren boss Zak Brown believes that Stoffel Vandoorne has not shown enough aggression and character in his time with the team.

The Belgian’s two year stint with McLaren will come to an end after the season finale in Abu Dhabi.

He came into Formula 1 on the back of winning the GP2 Series, and was expected to go on to great things.

However, Vandoorne has been at McLaren for their worst period in the sport, so it is fair to say it has not been all his fault.

Team boss Zak Brown believes that he maybe felt in the shadow of experienced team-mate Fernando Alonso.

“Was he too corporate? No, I wouldn’t say that,” Brown said.

“He’s a very, very nice guy, but maybe he should have been a bit more aggressive with us.

“When Fernando doesn’t like something about the car, he does not hesitate to raise his voice.

“Maybe for Stoffel it was more difficult for him to do that in this environment.”

Alonso, himself, believes that his Belgian team-mate is one of the most talented drivers of his generation.

The two-time World Champion also hopes that Vandoorne can reap the rewards from his move to Formula E for the 2018/19 season, which starts in December.

“Stoffel was unlucky to be with McLaren at this time, with the cars he had at his disposal in these two years,” Alonso admitted.

“I think it’s a good thing for him to change.

“He won in every category he ever did, but Formula 1 is the only discipline in motor racing where talent is not enough to overcome the weaknesses of the car.”

Vandoorne has struggled this year, having not scored since the Azerbaijan Grand Prix back in April.

He only has eight points in the Championship, compared to Alonso’s 50.

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Brown: 'Vandoorne should have been more aggressive with us'

McLaren boss Zak Brown believes Stoffel Vandoorne should have perhaps displayed more character during his two-year stint in F1 with the Woking-based outfit.

Heralded as a bright young talent when he made the grid in 2017, Vandoorne’s failed to deliver on the team’s expectations, although the reverse also holds true given McLaren’s dismal period of under-performance, its worst in its 50-year history.

In short, the Belgian was in the right place at the wrong time, but Brown also wonders if his driver’s personality and character are suited for the fiercely competitive and cut-throat world of F1.

“Was he too corporate? No, I wouldn’t say that,” Brown said.

“He’s a very, very nice guy, but maybe he should have been a bit more aggressive with us.

“When Fernando doesn’t like something about the car, he does not hesitate to raise his voice. Maybe for Stoffel it was more difficult for him to do that in this environment.”

Fernando Alonso regards his current team mate as one of the best drivers of his generation, and the Spaniard hopes Vandoorne’s move to Formula E will be a successful one.

“Stoffel was unlucky to be with McLaren at this time, with the cars he had at his disposal in these two years,” he said, speaking to Belgian broadcaster RTBF.

“I think it’s a good thing for him to change. He won in every category he ever did, but Formula 1 is the only discipline in motor racing where talent is not enough to overcome the weaknesses of the car.”

Indeed, success in Formula E for Vandoorne would contradict the old silly saying that nice guys always finish last…

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Vandoorne ‘pretty sure’ of McLaren future

Despite lagging behind Fernando Alonso in the standings, Stoffel Vandoorne believes he has shown McLaren why he deserves a third season in 2019.

While Alonso has bagged 40 points in this year’s championship, Vandoorne has managed just eight.

The Belgian is also losing out to the Spaniard on Saturdays where he has yet to outqualify Alonso.

His form has led to speculation that Vandoorne could be out of McLaren come the end of the season, replaced by reserve driver and F2 championship contender Lando Norris.

“I think it’s the time of the year where everyone talks to everyone,” Vandoorne told Motorsport Week of the rumours.

“Before the summer break is usually a moment everyone speaks about the driver market and yeah, that’s kind of normal.

“We’ve never really discussed that with the media so I’m not really going to go into that.”

Pressed on whether he believes he’s done enough to stay at McLaren, he replied: “I think so yeah, I’m pretty sure.”

The 26-year-old Belgian racer does acknowledge that he hasn’t had the best time in Formula 1 since entering the sport last season when McLaren were still powered by Honda.

He is, however, adamant that he has built on that difficult first season this year.

“For sure it’s not been a year and a half I was hoping to have in Formula 1,” he said.

“Ultimately we’ve been struggling a lot in terms of the results, we’ve had both years a car that struggled to fight for points let’s say.

“It’s not always easy to show the right things in those circumstances. But that’s the situation we’re in.

“I feel I’ve taken a lot of positive out of this as well, in going through difficult times, how to deal with certain issues, is something I didn’t really have when I was in junior series.

“So the approach has been quite different and it made me definitely a stronger driver.

“Just being in your second season is very different to your first season.

“You feel much more comfortable in the way you prepare your weekends, the way you build up in the practice sessions to the race, you feel that a year of experience helps a lot.”

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