The 2019 Formula 2 champion, who made a one-off F1 appearance recently in Monza, will finally make a full-time appearance in 2023.
A while ago, people began questioning the need of Formula 1’s feeder series. Two of the last three Formula 2 champions (before 2022) were snubbed out of F1 seats, and people rightfully began to wonder, what even was the point of having feeder championships if the champion could not even get an F1 seat? With all due respect to Nyck de Vries’ and Oscar Piastri’s rivals, it just wasn’t right to snub them both after they had earned their respective titles in dominant fashion.
Thankfully, that all changed following an unexpected turn of events over the last few months. Sebastian Vettel’s retirement announcement had triggered the musical chairs of absolute chaos which led to Oscar Piastri landing a McLaren seat. However, the drama still failed to distract the fans from a question that has been around since 2019: When will Nyck de Vries have a shot in Formula 1? The question had gotten increasingly unlikely as years gone by, until Alexander Albon was forced to sit out of a race weekend with an illness.
De Vries was born in Uitwellingerga, a small village in the province of Friesland in the Netherlands. He began karting in 2004, claiming multiple regional titles along the way. He then took on the Karting World Championship in 2010 and 2011, winning both seasons.
De Vries’ impressive performances caught the eyes of McLaren, who recruited him into their Young Driver Programme with management from Anthony Hamilton, and helped him kickstart his single-seater campaign in 2012 at the Formula Renault 2.0 Eurocup. He drove three seasons in the championship, winning in 2014 with 6 wins, and ended 11 out of 14 races on the podium, beating runner-up Dennis Olsen by a whopping 130 points. On the same year, he also took part in the Formula Renault 2.0 Alps and won the title with 10 out of 14 race wins, only failing to make the podium twice.
In 2015 he moved up to the Formula Renault 3.5 Series, where he took six podiums including a race win, putting himself 3rd overall behind Matthieu Vaxiviere and Oliver Rowland. He switched to GP3 in 2016, but struggled to find consistent form and finished the season in 6th, despite taking 2 wins and 3 additional podiums. He also signed for the Audi Sport Racing Academy in the same year.
De Vries made his Formula 2 debut in 2017, driving for Rapax. He showed great promise throughout the season, consistently scoring points and claimed four podiums for the team, which included a victory in the Monaco sprint race. However, with the team facing financial difficulties, he was swapped to Racing Engineering in the middle of the season, where he took one sprint race podium for the team and went on to end the season 7th overall. His impressive results with Rapax helped them secure 5th in the Team’s Championship, but the team unfortunately ceased activities after the season.
He moved to the defending champions Prema the following year, and was tipped as one of the title favourites. Unfortunately, a string of retirements and non-points finishes meant that the Dutchman had lost potential valuable points in the championship fight. While George Russell went to dominate the season, de Vries still picked up 3 wins and 3 additional podiums in a battle for the runner-up spot. However, he could only manage 4th as he finished behind Lando Norris and Alex Albon by 17 points and 10 points respectively.
In 2019 he moved to ART, who had just won the previous year with Russell. Prior to the start of the season, he had left the McLaren Young Driver Programme to focus on his role at Audi. He took on the season with a new approach, being more calculative rather than trying to win everything at once. His season got off to a bit of a slow start, having one podium in the first five races while Nicholas Latifi had already claimed 3 wins. However, he found his form and won 3 of the next 4 races, and went on to claim 8 podiums for the rest of the season including a fourth victory. His consistency put him to quite a significant lead over Latifi, and he went on to claim the title by 52 points. He was tipped to join Williams for the 2020 F1 season, but the team opted for Latifi instead, leaving the reigning F2 champion without an F1 seat.
De Vries made the move to Formula E for the 2019-20 season, signing for the new Mercedes-Benz EQ FE Team. He finished his rookie year 11th overall, scoring his maiden podium in the season ending ePrix. He continued with Mercedes the following 2020-21 season, which would ultimately become his breakthrough season as he claimed 2 wins and 2 additional podiums to win the title. As it was Formula E’s first season as an official FIA World Championship, de Vries became Formula E’s first World Champion. He also tested for Mercedes’s Formula 1 team alongside teammate Stoffel Vandoorne in December 2020, and were both named as their official reserve drivers the following year.
The 2021-22 season was a lot tougher for de Vries. Despite winning 2 races, claiming an additional podium, and scoring more points than his championship-winning season, he finished 9th overall while it was his teammate Vandoorne who claimed the title this time. He mostly struggled in qualifying since FE removed the “lottery” qualifying format for the season, a format that de Vries normally benefitted from in 2021. The season did not give a great look to the Dutchman, and fans began to call his championship win a “fluke”.
Despite his FE struggles following his championship-winning year, he was still given a significant testing role by Mercedes for the 2022 F1 season. It also included free practice drives, which was also in order to comply with the new rule that required F1 teams to run “young drivers” in multiple practice sessions. He made his free practice debut in Spain for WIlliams replacing Albon, and was called up for another practice run in France for Mercedes in place of Hamilton. He made a third practice appearance in Italy, this time with Aston Martin. In what looked to be another free practice day for the Dutchman, he was unexpectedly called up by Williams after Albon had developed appendicitis and was forced to sit out the weekend.
In a weekend where he ended up driving for two different teams, make his racing debut and prove himself to the teams whilst in search for a full-time drive, pressure was high for the Dutchman. However, he exceled in the opportunity, bringing the Williams to Q2 and outqualifying teammate Latifi on his debut. He started the race in 8th after multiple grid penalties of other drivers moved him up a few spots, and he managed to hold off multiple attacks from Zhou Guanyu. He ended the race in 9th, adding himself to the list of drivers who scored in their F1 debuts. He had also outscored Latifi, who is the only full-time driver yet to score a point this season.
It is quite crazy to think that an unexpected call-up could completely turn a career around, as de Vries was not a serious consideration for teams prior to his racing debut. His impressive drive had opened the eyes of some scouts, and he was quickly rumoured to be signing for Williams after Latifi announced his departure from the team. However, it soon shifted to an AlphaTauri move when Gasly began looking for alternatives, as he was free to leave the team if he was to receive an offer. De Vries later revealed that it was his compatriot and Red Bull driver Max Verstappen who recommended him to begin talks with the Red Bull seniors, a move that ultimately paid off.
It’s been a long time coming for de Vries, and it may seem late to make your first full-time F1 appearance at the age of 28, but it’s better late than never. There were moments in his open-wheel racing career where he thought it was over, and he was prepared to make a permanent switch to GT racing if there was no possibility to continue in open-wheelers. But he never gave up, and still stood patiently even if that meant being an F1 reserve for a couple of years. Luck may have played a part, such as the late call-up for his F1 debut, but there is no doubt that the teams knew what he was capable of when they recruited him. It is definitely a special moment for the Dutch fans as well, after decades of waiting for a successful Dutch driver to race in Formula 1, they now have an F1 world champion on his way to win his second, and an incoming rookie who boasts great records in other disciplines.
Featured Image – Williams Racing