McLaren F1 test driver Stoffel Vandoorne will be back in GP2 in 2015 for a sophomore season, as he sets his sights on going one better than last year's runners-up position in the feeder series.
The 22-year-old Belgian narrowly missed out on last year's title to Jolyon Palmer, but did enough to snatch second place in the drivers championship from Felipe Nasr. With neither Palmer nor Nasr returning to GP2 this season, Vandoorne is now the favourite to win in 2015 after announcing that he will be be returning for a second full season with French-based squad ART.
"Really happy to announce that I will continue with @ARTGP in @GP2_Official this season!" Vandoorne posted on Facebook on Wednesday. "A great challenge is ahead and we're working harder than ever to be champions!"
Last year, Vandoorne won his début race in the series when he claimed victory in the first feature race of the 2014 season in Bahrain. He followed that up with three more wins, four consecutive pole positions and a total of ten podium finishes in his rookie season.
"The results of our first collaboration with Stoffel in GP2 in 2014 speak louder than words!" said Sébastien Philippe, ART's team manager. "He is part of that breed of naturally talented drivers, who work hard and are brilliant technically.
"He is instantly able to adapt in a professional context so he can make the most of the car and his colleagues," Philippe continued. "His personal qualities are also strong with his high ambitions similar to that of ART Grand Prix. After an outstanding first year where he missed out on the title by very little, it makes sense that we continue this partnership in the quest for the title in 2015."
"In the wake of a great season in 2014, I am very happy to continue with ART Grand Prix in GP2," agreed Vandoorne. "We showed we are the team to beat and many of our competitors have already pointed to us as their target, it's normal and rather flattering.
"The objective is clear: we want to win the title," he said. "I am confident because it will be my second year with a fantastic team that I know well."
Despite the absences of his former sparring partners Palmer and Nasr, Vandoorne will still face considerable opposition to his ambition of claiming the championship this year not least from the formidable all-rookie line-up at DAMS. After winning both the driver and team titles last year, the French squad has recruited Alex Lynn and Pierre Gasly to spearhead their campaign in 2015.
"Stoffel is pretty impressive, and he's going to have a target on his back right from the off," Lynn said last week at the Autosport International Show in Birmingham. "Pierre need to gang up on Stoffel. We've got to try to stop him somehow and I think we've got a good chance."
Lynn will receive a 200,000 Euros career progression incentive from Pirelli as his prize for capturing the GP3 crown last season.
While Vandoorne has a season of experience in GP2 over the DAMS duo, there is a new element in the mix this year with the introduction of an F1-like adjustable rear wing or drag reduction system (DRS) that should add a whole new element to the competition in the series in 2015.
Vandoorne remained confident of his chances, however: "Apart from the DRS, the regulations won't change and I now have experience of the circuits, races, pit stops and tyre management."
Other than Vandoorne, Lynn and Gasly, the only other drivers so far to have been confirmed for the 2015 season are Julian Leal at Carlin and Arthur Pic at Campos.
Over in GP3, Trident has confirmed Luca Ghiotto as one of their three drivers (see separate story
) while ART have signed up 18-year-old Mexican driver Alfonso Celis Jr.
I"m very excited to finally announce that I will be racing with ART Grand Prix in the 2015 GP3 Series season!" said Celis, who competed in the series last year with Status GP. "This will be my second season in GP3, and it will make a huge difference for me as I will be familiar with the tracks, the tyres and the cars from the beginning of the season.
"There's no need to say much about the quality of the ART team, because all you have to do is look at the F1 grid and you'll see that most of the drivers have raced here in the past, including my friend and fellow Mexican, Esteban Gutiérrez," he added. "After meeting the team and driving their car, I am confident that I will be at the forefront fighting for wins with them this year."
The first race of the GP2 Series is set for April 17 in Bahrain, while the GP3 teams have to wait until May 8 before they start their season at the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona. Both series will hold multiple pre-season test sessions before the start of competition.