Former McLaren driver Stoffel Vandoorne will be an official reserve for Mercedes in Formula 1 this season while also competing in the all-electric Formula E series, the team announced on Friday.
The 27-year-old Belgian, who left McLaren at the end of 2018 after starting 41 grands prix, is leading the Formula E standings after three rounds and competing in Mexico City this weekend.
He will share duties with Mexican Esteban Gutierrez, who raced for Sauber and Haas between 2013-16 and also has simulator and development duties, on race weekends.
As Formula 2 champion Vandoorne was highly rated and arrived in F1 with high expectations. As many former McLaren drivers proved not to be, Vandoorne was touted as the next ‘big thing’ to make it to the top flight.
But things got grim when he arrived at Woking during their worst spells ever, his woes exacerbated by Fernando Alonso who simply demolished the younger driver during their two seasons as teammates.
It was a toxic environment at a time when the once mightiest team was bending over backwards to pacify their star driver from Spain while Vandoorne was simply tagging along as a forgotten pawn in the ‘Alonso Show’ which new McLaren team chief Andreas Seidl managed to terminate.
But too late for Vandoorne who was sent packing before the former Porsche motorsport boss took over.
However, being the reserve driver for the sport’s most successful team and reigning F1 World Champions is a mighty feather in his cap and a sign that Mercedes boss Toto Wolff also saw through the orange haze that almost rendered their new team member into oblivion.
Vandoorne’s salvation has been a seat with their nascent Formula E programme and Silver Arrows reserve for Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas should they not be able to make a Grand Prix. Walking away from McLaren was the best career move for the driver from Flanders.