Two parallel campaigns plus a winter series – this young hopeful just can’t get enough racing, as Sam Smith found out
Down the years there have been countless French drivers who have been blessed with great versatility. Think of the rich and varied single-seater/sports car exploits of Henri Pescarolo, François Cevert, Bob Wollek and Yannick Dalmas.
Seldom, though, is there such a youthful multi-purpose racer as 20-year-old Matthieu Vaxivière, who in 2014 dovetailed full-time campaigns in top-level single-seaters (Formula Renault 3.5) and sports cars (the burgeoning FIA World Endurance Championship).
If this were not enough, Vaxivière has spent the current winter sampling electric racing technology… on ice, in the Andros Trophy.
As Vaxivière says, he gets impatient unless he is behind the wheel of a car, any car. This he well knows, because he was forced to recuperate for six weeks after a Formula Renault 3.5 accident in Monaco last year. He suffered damage to his spine after an airborne shunt going up the hill toward Casino Square.
“I am not happy unless I am in a race seat, so it was tough after Monaco,” he says. “I broke a bone in my back, which meant I had to miss Le Mans and also the Renault 3.5 races at Spa and Moscow. It was hard to miss two beautiful race tracks like Le Mans and Spa of course, but I felt I came back stronger and more mature.”
Time to reassess his career paid dividends, however.
He came back to put in strong performances at the Nürburgring and Paul Ricard, netting his first podium positions in the ultra-competitive Formula Renault 3.5 series. Success in the WEC also followed, with a first podium visit at the Fuji 6 Hours in early October.
In the WEC he has shared a Prospeed Porsche 911 RSR with veteran sports car racer and former Williams and Tyrrell F1 test driver Emmanuel Collard, a productive experience for the younger Frenchman.
“It has been great with ‘Manu’ because his experience is very valuable and I have seen closely what it takes to be quick and consistent in a sports car,” Vaxivière says. “He is very good with the Porsche’s set-up and the changes we make are usually positive.
“I think I have proved you can do both single-seaters and sports cars quite successfully,” he adds. “The stamina in endurance racing helps on the mental side. As a driver it has given me many good advantages.”
And so it has. Immediately after the Shanghai 6 Hours WEC race last November, this writer ventured down to the Prospeed pit to get a reaction from Vaxivière after his spirited run to fourth in class. His team manager told me that he had already dashed off to the airport as he was due to test his Renault 3.5 racer. By the end of the following day, he was heading the times at Aragon, Spain, half a second ahead of the opposition. So much for jet-lag.
Vaxivière is keen to replicate his busy 2014 this season. While his full programme had still to be finalised at the time of writing, he had agreed to remain with Lotus for a second Formula Renault 3.5 campaign.
As ever with budding talent, when asked about his ultimate and preferred objective, the topic turns to F1.
“Ultimately I want to get there,” he says, “but as we all know it is complicated to achieve that just now. But for sure this is my goal. But the opportunity in the WEC also gives me an advantage at an early age. It’s a chance to see what racing is all about and to make sure that I am competing in front of some big manufacturers and some influential people. Whatever happens, I want a long career at the top level and always race with the possibility to win. Why else would you get in a racing car?”
Career in brief
Born: 3/12/1994, Limoges, France
2011 French F4 champion
2012-13 Formula Renault 2.0; 2 wins
2014 Formula Renault 3.5 with Lotus (2 podiums) and FIA WEC (Prospeed Porsche)