Vandoorne secured pole position for Race 1 on Saturday but saw his chance of victory ended early through a collision with Porsche’s Andre Lotterer, and a nasty collision late on involving Audi’s Lucas di Grassi and his Mercedes teammate Nyck de Vries.
Sunday was a totally different story, however, as Vandoorne bounced back in style with an assured driver to victory, and a reminder to Mercedes’ rivals of his world championship credentials.
Speaking in Sunday’s post race press conference, Vandoorne was asked to sum up his feelings following the dramatic turnaround from the day before.
“Yeah, redemption,” Vandoorne said. “I think yesterday [Race 1] was a pretty emotional day for us with obviously the high of the pole position and then, yeah, having the incident on Lap 1 of the race and then ultimately the crash, trying to avoid Lucas.
“That was definitely not the way we wanted to finish yesterday, but the pace of the car has been great all weekend in qualifying trim and also in the race. Today I just managed to get a decent qualifying, the conditions were just tricky for everybody [but] I knew in the race that I had the pace to go on and win.
“I especially just want to say thank you to the mechanics because the car was very damaged yesterday and they had a tough, tough job to get everything ready for today but the car was perfect again.”
In a race weekend punctuated with caution periods and safety cars, Vandoorne’s victory came down to having the pace when it mattered and timing his attack mode usage to perfection.
He did, however, acknowledge a degree of fortune that fell his way during the mid part of the race, and hinted that the closing stages may have been a little less comfortable had the safety car not come when it did.
“I got a little bit lucky, maybe, with the full course yellow in the middle of the race after Pascal [Wehrlein] took attack mode. That immediately enabled me to build a little bit of a gap and just get my attack activations out of the way without really being into trouble.
“But then I had Alex [Sims] kind of closing in the gap before the safety gear and they [Mahindra] actually looked at some point a bit stronger. It’s hard to tell what would have happened without the safety car.
“Obviously, the safety car restart is always difficult with cold tyres, cold brakes. I think everyone was kind of locking up in Turn 1, Turn 4, Turn 7, you know, all the big braking zones, but I just had enough left to keep in position and bring it home.”
Vandoorne’s victory in Rome means his Mercedes team have now secured victory at each of the last three circuits they’ve visited [Vandoorne in Rome and Berlin, de Vries in Diriyah] which could be seen as an ominous sign for the rest of the grid.
Asked what conclusion he drew from that, Vandoorne reiterated his belief that the enforced mid-season break last year was crucial for Mercedes as it allowed them more time to focus on their weaknesses.
“You know, I think as a team when the pandemic happened at the start of last year, we really had some time to kind of analyze our package and to sit down and look through to the points we had to work on,” Vandoorne explained.
“When we came to Berlin, everyone [in the team] really made a step forward, whether it’s from the engineering side, strategy side or my own driving, I think we all made some positive steps forward.
“Obviously coming into this season, we have a new powertrain and it’s been very competitive so far, so yeah [it is] very encouraging. Let’s see how we cope on the other circuits.”