The Mclaren ace takes Peter Wind­sor for a spin in a 570GT

His rookie-sea­son re­sults may not show it, but Stof­fel Van­doorne was born to be a rac­ing driver. Peter Wind­sor sat along­side ‘The Stoff’ in Mclaren’s 570GT to watch him at work

F1 Racing (UK) - - CONTENTS - PIC­TURES AN­DREW FERRARO

IT’S AL­MOST FA­MIL­IAR

but not com­pletely so: the big LED sign. The in­tim­i­dat­ing gate­house. The nar­row, curv­ing lane next to a lake filled with ex­pen­sive carp. You daren’t study the wa­ter for fear of run­ning out of road in front of them all. Then there’s the curved-edge struc­ture by Fos­ter and Part­ners. The glass. The pod lifts. The in­ward-open­ing doors. The Boule­vard. Bruce’s Austin Seven Chummy. And the rest of the Can-am and F1 cars: or­ange at first, then red and white, then sil­ver.

You whis­per. The oc­ca­sion, and the build­ing, de­mands it. For this is the Mclaren Tech­nol­ogy Cen­tre. And you tread softly, for there, back­lit against the lake, sits the Mclaren 570GT sportscar, doors up. And you re­flect that you saw Bruce drive; you saw Denny win with an M19 and then with an M23. You were there when Emer­son and James won in the ’70s – and up­wards it went. Ayr­ton and Alain in the gor­geous, Steve Nichols/neil Oat­ley Mclaren-hon­das. Mika. Lewis in 2008. You know the blood­line. You know the essence of what this part of Sur­rey, England, is in­evitably all about.

Yet noth­ing com­pares with this mo­ment. You slide into the leather in­te­rior, in­hal­ing the aroma. All of those fluxes flow­ing into this. This isn’t your Lambo or your Fer­rari or your Jag or your As­ton or even your Porsche. This is a Mclaren. And Bruce would love it. Even in plum.

Char­lotte Sefton, Mclaren’s PR and me­dia man­ager, who is co-or­di­nat­ing the day, is here to meet us. “I’m afraid Stof­fel’s a lit­tle de­layed. He’s at the fac­tory – there wasn’t a prob­lem with the flight but he’s had a cou­ple of meet­ings that have put back his train­ing ses­sion. He’s just fin­ish­ing up now. He’ll be an­other 15 min­utes.” “No prob­lem at all. I’ll just wait here.” “You’re sure? Would you like a cof­fee or some­thing?” I de­cline with a smile. There’s nowhere I’d rather be than here, open­ing doors in my mem­ory with a 570GT. The thought of spilling cof­fee onto the red leather is about as ap­petis­ing as be­ing asked to wait out­side the of­fice of Bernard Ec­cle­stone, years ago, when you knew he’d caught you do­ing… some­thing. “No. I’m fine here. No hurry.” Stof­fel even­tu­ally ar­rives, re­cently show­ered and wear­ing a white Michael Kors T-shirt and black trousers. He has a laugh with Char­lotte, and then lis­tens po­litely as the F1 Rac­ing pho­tog­ra­phers set him up for a selec­tion of por­traits and some in-car shots. I snap back from Aus­tria 1974 – the day that Denny ran four dif­fer­ent-com­pound Goodyears on all four wheels – and find a shad­owed cor­ner from which to gaze.

Stoff jumps eas­ily into the 570 – feet first and then torso. He lis­tens some more; he smiles; he doesn’t say much. Then the starter mo­tor. That thick, con­stant idle, which is syn­ony­mous with su­per­cars.

The 570 slinks its way around the lake. I watch from the ter­race, re­mem­ber­ing the sto­ries I’d heard about Stof­fel a few years ago, be­fore every­thing was set­tled, be­fore GP2 even, com­ing over from Bel­gium by train with noth­ing spe­cific to do other than just to be there at the fac­tory, or to snatch the back end of a day train­ing with Rob Wil­son. This wasn’t a guy who’d spend free Fri­day nights with his mates in the lo­cal: this was a prodigy who rel­ished the dis­ci­pline and the grind­ing rep­e­ti­tion of his vo­ca­tion. Even the has­sles of the mid-win­ter com­mutes from Bel­gium. This was some­one who was born to be a rac­ing driver.

I JOIN STOF­FEL IN THE CAR,

tap­ping a rub­ber pad to make the door sail up­wards; the win­dow opens a lit­tle. I sit first, then drag in my legs, try­ing to be slick but fail­ing. With seat­belt on, I feel over­dressed next to the T-shirt. Stof­fel fin­ger-taps out of auto mode, flicks the pad­dles and steers eas­ily away. How to be­gin…?

As the Fos­ter build­ing to my left be­comes a piece of art, rather than a tech­nol­ogy cen­tre, once again, the open­ing is or­gan­i­cally clear:

“So is there – was there – a point when this amaz­ing place can just be… where you work?”

“Not re­ally,” Stof­fel says, smil­ing. “It’s al­ways some­thing when I come here, al­ways ex­cit­ing. I see it dif­fer­ently now be­cause it’s been a while; I’ve been with Mclaren through their ju­nior pro­gramme. I know it well. It’s my sec­ond home, but I still get this feel­ing when I ar­rive. Maybe it’s the his­tory. You see those cars lined up at the front of the build­ing and you’re aware of what Mclaren have achieved. You touch that his­tory the mo­ment you walk in.”

“IT’S AL­WAYS SOME­THING WHEN I COME TO THE MTC, AL­WAYS EX­CIT­ING. YOU SEE THOSE CARS LINED UP AT THE FRONT OF THE BUILD­ING AND YOU’RE AWARE OF WHAT MCLAREN HAVE ACHIEVED”

“I’M A LATE-BRAKER. I’M WORK­ING ON IT WITH THE EN­GI­NEERS. WHAT YOU DON’T WANT IS TO LET YOUR BRAKING COM­PRO­MISE THE COR­NER EN­TRY AND THIS IS SOME­THING I’VE SOME­TIMES DONE A BIT IN THE PAST ”

“So you’ve been train­ing this morn­ing?” I ask, switch­ing back to the present.

“Yes. Mainly ton­ing. This af­ter­noon, af­ter lunch, I’ll go for a run in the woods with my trainer and en­gi­neer. I love it; there are some beau­ti­ful paths here,” he says, point­ing to the rich wood­land to his right. “You’re based in Monaco?” “Yes. Good weather, easy for travel and per­fect for cy­cling. I love cy­cling – and there’s a kart track not too far away. I still drive karts when­ever I can.” And he flies pri­vately – Wheel­sup, Net­jet – when­ever it’s log­i­cal for him and two or three of his F1 driver mates to sim­plify the jour­ney back from an awk­ward lo­ca­tion. Bruce Mclaren, too, loved the south of France. He won Monaco in 1962 and there­after staged a party on the beach at Cap Fer­rat on the Mon­day af­ter ev­ery race. Stof­fel’s life­style is one to which Bruce would have as­pired, en­gi­neer­ing pri­or­i­ties not­with­stand­ing. Bruce built and en­gi­neered race cars to drive them: that was his rea­son for be­ing; but he also loved to wa­ter-ski on golden Monaco morn­ings.

We’re now out of the MTC and head­ing along the quiet roads to­wards Fairoaks, whence Alan Mann op­er­ated not only his avi­a­tion busi­ness but also Ford GT40S, Ford F3LS, Fal­con Sprints and Mus­tangs. Stof­fel hangs back and then rasps the 570 through the gears, the ex­haust note crisp and sharp. I’m in­ter­ested to know how he thinks he drives – and how he thinks he has stacked up this year along­side Fer­nando Alonso.

“I’m a kind of a… a late-braker,” he says, whip­ping past a slower car be­fore squeez­ing the brakes with his left foot. He stam­mers a lit­tle, as if he’s em­bar­rassed. I think of all the rac­ing driv­ers out there who think they’re the lat­est brak­ers on the planet, then re­alise that Stof­fel is speak­ing in a dif­fer­ent vein. He doesn’t think that this is a good thing: “I’m work­ing on it with the en­gi­neers,” he con­tin­ues. “You al­ways want to brake as late as pos­si­ble – but ‘pos­si­ble’ is the thing. What you don’t want is to let your braking com­pro­mise the cor­ner en­try and I think this is some­thing I’ve some­times done a bit in the past.”

I’m not sur­prised, of course – I’m not sur­prised that Stof­fel is be­ing this self-reg­u­la­tory: he’s too ‘to­gether’ a per­son, and/or rac­ing driver, to be self-ob­sessed. It is the F1 fash­ion for rac­ing driv­ers to want to ap­pear to be bul­let-proof and to dis­miss any con­cept of fal­li­bil­ity, but Stof­fel is the coun­ter­point to such lu­nacy. “So you’ve been braking later than Fer­nando?” “Some­times, yes. With Fer­nando’s teleme­try, every­thing looks nor­mal. He doesn’t have ex­tremes, and this is one of the rea­sons he is so good at min­imis­ing the ef­fects of small mis­takes. It’s some­thing I’m work­ing on.”

It’s hard to be­lieve that Stof­fel is only part way through his rookie F1 sea­son. He speaks with the self-ef­fac­ing

calm of a ten-year vet­eran. And in the con­text of a tor­rid year for Mclaren-honda, with en­gine changes, prac­tice dra­mas and grid penal­ties, it’s also hard to be­lieve that he has had suf­fi­cient good track time from which to draw any con­clu­sions, let alone to be self-crit­i­cal.

“It’s been tough, but it’s get­ting more pos­i­tive and I’ve learned a huge amount in a short space of time. When you come into F1 and every­thing is work­ing okay, it’s one thing; when you have to work closely with the team in dif­fi­cult times, that’s an­other. It was dif­fi­cult at first, be­cause in my ca­reer I’d al­ways been at or near the front. To be work­ing in a dif­fer­ent way took some ad­just­ment but I see where we’re go­ing now. And I feel very pos­i­tive.” “Do your par­ents come to races?” “Some­times. If my dad comes to a race he goes out on the cir­cuit with his stop­watches and times the cars through his own sec­tors. He loves it and some­times his re­sults are quite in­ter­est­ing, al­though we have most of the data, of course, via GPS and so forth. When they’re at a race it’s al­ways good to re­lax with the fam­ily in the evening but we never talk rac­ing.”

“Su­per For­mula last year,” I add, keen to end on an up­beat. “Not easy and you had that win at Suzuka.”

“It was great rac­ing. I love Suzuka and I’m re­ally look­ing for­ward to get­ting back there with the F1 car. I also got to love Ja­panese food. Most F1 races I eat in the Honda mo­torhome. I’m start­ing to pick up a few words of Ja­panese – just enough to make them laugh!” Speak­ing of which, it’s time for our lunchtime re­turn. “As you’ll be work­ing out later, are you skip­ping lunch?”

“WHEN YOU COME INTO F1 AND EVERY­THING IS WORK­ING OKAY, IT’S ONE THING; WHEN YOU HAVE TO WORK CLOSELY WITH THE TEAM IN DIF­FI­CULT TIMES, THAT’S AN­OTHER. IT WAS DIF­FI­CULT AT FIRST”

“Ha! No. It’s set up at the fac­tory. I’ll wait for an hour or so af­ter we’ve eaten and then we’ll be out there.”

We’re cruis­ing back around the lake. To the right, across the wa­ter, I glimpse nu­mer­ous heads swiv­el­ling in the Mclaren staff restau­rant.

“Thanks Stof­fel,” I say, as we sit down. “A lot of fun. Here’s to… I don’t know… the good times to come.” “Def­i­nitely. Start­ing to­day.” I can sense Bruce smil­ing, down in the Boule­vard, some­where be­tween his Austin Chummy and the M7C. • You can watch Stof­fel at the wheel of the Mclaren 570GT in episode 20 of The Fly­ing Lap on Mo­tor­sport.tv

Get­ting to grips with the con­trols in the lux­u­ri­ous leather in­te­rior of Mclaren’s lat­est high-per­for­mance sportscar

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.