In an emotional address after clinching the 2021/22 ABB FIA Formula E Drivers' World Championship in Seoul, Mercedes-EQ's Stoffel Vandoorne pieced together his journey to the top in Formula E. From difficult beginnings to ruthless consistency in his latest and most successful campaign, in his own words, here's how Vandoorne was crowned champion.
"When I started this journey four years ago with Mercedes, I was very confident that I was going to get the tools available to fight for a World Championship," said Vandoorne, still grinning after lifting the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship trophy.
Making his debut in Formula E with HWA Racelab - the team that would go on to become a full Mercedes-EQ works entry a season later - in the 2018 Diriyah E-Prix in Saudi Arabia, the Belgian driver got off to a rough start in the series, with five retirements in the first eight rounds. Despite the lack of beginners luck, Vandoorne showed promise in Rome in Season 5, with a third-placed finish that would pave the way for a more successful second half of the season and beyond.
"It's been an incredible journey - an emotional one as well today because it's been the last one for Mercedes. I'll have a lot of great memories - I'll remember the journey we've been through - the difficult times at the beginning but also the amount of success we've had, so I'll definitely miss this family. I'm just so proud of everyone to finish it the way we did today. World Champions, myself but also the team."
Rounding off more than three successful years in the all-electric championship, Mercedes-EQ will leave Formula E with four World Championship titles tied to its name. Topping the Teams' standings in both Seasons 7 and 8, the squad has now produced two title-winning drivers in Nyck de Vries and Vandoorne.
"When you race for a manufacturer like Mercedes, they've been so dominant in everything they enter but Formula E is different - it's not straightforward," said the Belgian.
"We managed to win both championships last year with Nick [de Vries] and this year was my turn. After last year, I had that down moment in London that took me out of the championship. So, this year I turned up and I didn't want to leave anything on the table. Nothing. And that's what I did all season - gave it my all and controlled it when I had to.
"There was only one victory, but the consistency we showed this year has been impressive, partly helped by the Groups and Duels qualifying system. I think it helped the most consistent drivers excel and it took away a little bit of the randomness. We had a beautiful story this season - the four of us got cut down to three and then the final two - myself and Mitch."
With a strong car and team behind him, Vandoorne had all the ingredients to make his fourth Formula E campaign a roaring success. Starting with his most important tool - his car. The Mercedes-EQ powertrain dominated the field in Season 8, with either the Mercedes factory outfit or Mercedes-powered ROKiT Venturi Racing Silver Arrow 02s delivering 50 percent of the race wins over the course of the season.
"It's been an incredible year. We built it from Saudi with a pole position and second place in Round 1, then I had a more difficult day two, but then I had a really good comeback race. I was on pole again and in Rome and I had two good results there. Obviously, Mitch then started to really turn up the heat with two victories but then, our time came in Monaco," recalled Vandoorne.
"I'm super proud to have ticked that one off. Monaco is one of those races that everyone just wants to win, and everyone wants to have it on their on their CV. So I'm very proud of that one. From then on, we never really looked back - I've been very consistent since, always qualifying at the front. But even on the days where it was more difficult, that's where I managed to recover - those were the key moments."
With a strong package and a determined mindset, Vandoorne's chances looked strong from Monaco onwards but, as is the way in Formula E, nothing was certain. Jaguar's Evans kept Vandoorne's title hopes at bay until the final round in Seoul, where the Jaguar driver was powerless to stop the Belgian after a disappointing qualifying saw him start nine places behind Vandoorne.
After an epic season of racing, the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship's final stop of the year was Seoul.— ABB FIA Formula E World Championship (@FIAFormulaE) August 14, 2022
With @afelixdacosta on pole, and championship contenders @mitchevans_ and @svandoorne out of position, it was all to play for!
With only one race win to his name this season, Vandoorne cites consistency but also his damage limitation efforts in Berlin Rounds 7 & 8, when he made it up from eighth to finish third in both races, locking in a healthy pot of points mid-season against the odds.
"I think if there's one race where you know that that jumps in my mind there's Berlin, Round 7. I dropped back to 12th on lap one and a few laps from the end, I was still fighting for the victory. So you know, those moments, they made the championship," he admitted.
With Mercedes out for next year and no official word - yet - on where Formula E's new champion will find a seat, Vandoorne insists he'll be back in the fight next year, albeit without his trusty Silver Arrow. "I'll be back next year. I'll be back. I need a bit of a reset after this. Gen2 is coming to an end and we're going into a new era next season, so that'll bring a full reset.
"I'm just going to enjoy this moment for a little bit and I'll turn up strong again next year," he said with a smile.