Nyck de Vries would have driven for Maserati in Formula E and Toyota in the World Endurance Championship in 2023. On a professional basis outside the Formula 1 bubble, that would have been a very healthy position for him.
But a few days is a long time in motorsport.
That outlook changed dramatically within days at Monza in September and was then solidified by its AlphaTauri deal a few weeks later.
That De Vries, who did effectively in 2022 and had actually done so for a while, signed a full-time contract with F1 after his breakthrough at the Italian Grand Prix is absolutely one of the best wellness stories from this year.
Having followed his career closely over the past four years, I have seen most of his races in Formula E, WEC and the European Le Mans Series. He is relentless in his competitiveness, showing tenacity and a work ethic that should bring him a long career in F1.
He expertly positioned himself for a career pivot that many have tried and failed before. But my God, he was forced to work for this.
When De Vries signed on for the Mercedes EQ Formula E seat in late summer 2019, he was on the verge of sealing an elusive F2 title. On his third attempt, he closed the deal, but his reputation was whispered rather than shouted from the rooftops.
Heading into Mercedes’ first Formula E season, it immediately displayed a mix of traits that set it apart from the grid in its application inside and outside the cockpit.
An example: barely two races after the start of his career in Formula E, in Santiago in January 2020, he was aiming for a first place on the podium.
Unbeknownst to him, he was given a penalty for failing to meet the minimum battery coolant temperature on the grid, dropping him from third to fifth place.
When he was briefed by his engineer Albert Lau as he walked around what he thought was a convivial podium ceremony, he was obviously shocked.
“What have you done!?” was the incredulous and piquant retort.
It took the radio intervention of chief engineer and former Mercedes F1 engineer Tony Ross to calm de Vries, who immediately took a deep breath.
“Okay, this is just the beginning. Win together, lose together,” was the measured response.
It was a first glimpse of De Vries’ intelligence, as many other drivers would have completely lost track at this point.
These hard blows were received and dealt with before being recycled into weapons for De Vries. All the while he was going through these scenarios and soaking up an incredible amount of his sports car program with Racing Team Nederland (pictured above) on top of his action in Formula E.
In April 2021, I spoke with one of the team’s founding fathers, Mark Koense, a man who had known De Vries since he was a child. 18 months after that conversation, it’s worth revisiting his words.
“In 2019 he had this real contrasting ultra-pressure existence going for the F2 title and then doing a few races with us,” Koense said.
“I don’t want to make it look like we’re party people or anything because we’re not. But at the same time, we enjoy our runs and we like to hear each other and laugh while we work.
“It’s just a different way to spend your time, because if you’re traveling to new countries and spending weeks at a stretch with a group of people, you have to get along.
“If you can do that with good times and joy, great. It was good to see Nyck enjoying that too. I’d like to think that maybe made him a more complete individual as well.
It was only part of the De Vries building process. Whether it was WEC, ELMS, Formula E or F1 testing, it all led somewhere not only in his mind, but also eventually in the minds of others.
In June at Le Mans, we had a long chat in the paddock. At this point, De Vries had just made the long drive from the Jakarta FE round to La Sarthe, but was only on reserve duties for Toyota ahead of what he still expected to be his breakthrough into the championship-winning squad. WEC and Le Mans for 2023.
While the conversation was confidential, De Vries had a general air of comfort in where he was positioned. In fact, his main discomfort was that he would be watching the action this weekend from backstage, or so he thought!
A day later, he was behind the wheel of the TDS ORECA-Gibson LMP2 after his gentleman driver had been asked to leave, deemed insufficiently fit to take part in the 24 Hours.
What happened next was perhaps one of the biggest workouts Le Mans has seen in recent years.
Although familiar with the car and some elements of the team, De Vries did not complete any laps before the race where he shared the cockpit with Mathias Beche and Tijmen van der Helm.
Still, he became the best LMP2 player in average lap time. It was on course for an exceptional fourth place in class and 10th overall. It really was a very special effort. If this is his last performance at Le Mans for a few years, it was one hell of a way to leave a mark.
About six weeks before the Italian Grand Prix, in the middle of the vast expanses of London’s ExCeL Arena, I asked De Vries to mind his own business.
“It kind of naturally became that kind of situation,” he said.
“I’ve always been kind of an exclusive agent and handled most things myself. I always had good people around me who advised me. I don’t just shoot in the dark.
“I don’t know if it’s an advantage. I think everyone is different. you can’t plan everything and things happen a bit naturally too, and that’s how I found myself in this position, whether it was better or worse.
“I don’t know what the next five years will look like, but so far it has worked. I certainly also had a lot of people around me who supported me a lot and gave me very good advice.
What that tells you is that De Vries’ maturity has been there for a while. He has weathered the slingshots and arrows of an often capricious industry well and he does not let frustration supplant bitterness and preciousness.
For that, he has a very good chance of making the most of his non-F1 experiences to help him become a powerful force for AlphaTauri in 2023 and beyond.
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