After a long journey between preparatory categories, the Endurance championship and Formula E, where he was also able to win the world title with Mercedes, Nyck De Vries will make his Formula 1 debut with AlphaTauri in 2023.
In just over a month in Bahrain, that moment dreamed of for so long will become a reality, but the road to get on the starting grid of the most prestigious series in the world hasn’t been easy. A challenge with the pressure and expectations not only of McLaren, which until 2018 supported him financially by being part of the young driver program, but also with those of the teams he faced in his youth career.
After an extremely complex 2016 GP3 season in which he failed to get beyond sixth place in the general standings, enough to call it “the most difficult year of his career”, De Vries still managed to make the leap to Formula 2 with the Rapax. “The first year (in Formula 2) wasn’t a real season. I couldn’t fight for anything, it was just about surviving to keep racing with single-seaters”, said the new AlphaTauri driver in the team’s podcast of Faenza.
However, the premises for the second season in Formula 2 were quite different, when he had the great chance to move to Prema, the team that had dominated the championship in 2016 and 2017, winning both titles with its top drivers.
The expectations could not but be those of reconfirming himself also in 2018, pouring pressure on the Dutchman that is difficult to manage: “But the second year was the one in which I was able to fight for something. But I think I have… Not so much that I put myself a lot of pressure on me, but not being able to handle the pressure linked to the team, because I was at Prema, they had just won two championships with Pierre (Gasly) and Charles (Leclerc). Their expectations were to win and dominate”.
“I remember a moment in Bahrain, after first qualifying we were in fourth position and, in Formula 2, if you’re in the top seven, it’s always positive because you have the Feature Race, a Sprint Race, it’s all about consistency. I went back to the team and they literally told me that if we lost the championship because of this pole it would be my fault. And that struck me. That was the environment back then and I didn’t deal with it well enough.”
One of the most complex moments to manage on an emotional level was the episode that occurred in Baku during the Feature Race, when at the restart he went wide attempting an attack on George Russell for the win, thus also losing the chance to finish on the podium: “In Baku I was battling with George (Russell) for the win, I tried the attack but we both went out, not picking up any points instead of a good second place or the win. I was too scared to go back to the garage.”
In Saturday’s race De Vries was the protagonist of a long run that excluded him from the fight for victory. The day after, in race 2, he still managed to get on the podium.
Photo by: FIA Formula 2
“I literally wandered off into the city and went and sat and cried on a small bench in downtown Baku. I texted my coach at the time asking when they wanted me to go back to the garage. I was gone for about an hour and a half because I was too scared to go back. I didn’t handle this kind of internal pressure well enough.”
Pressure that led him to make multiple mistakes during the season despite showing good pace, thanks to three victories and six podiums, depriving him of the opportunity to make the leap in category, which the first three classified managed: “That year, the top three (Russell, Norris and Albon) made it through to Formula 1, while I finished fourth and looked in the mirror, because it was my fault for not being able to get more points.”
“I think we definitely had the pace and had more victories than those in front of us (like Norris), but lost too many points in situations where we were able to get big points.”
Moving to ART was the key to winning the title in 2019, won with a weekend before the natural conclusion of the championship, as it offered him a change of perspective on how to approach the year and manage expectations : “Moving to ART we obviously talked a lot about my experience, what I went through and I think they have provided me with important help. We were very focused on getting points (consistently), whereas in 2018 it was about winning (races) rather than winning a championship.”
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