De Vries admits he didn’t always cope with pressure during his long journey to F1

2023 F1 season

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Nyck de Vries, who will make his debut as a full-time Formula 1 driver with AlphaTauri this year, says he almost gave up on his dream of reaching the series during his climb through the lower categories – and suffered from the pressure to deliver at times.

Seven years ago a disappointing season in GP3 threatened to thwart De Vries’ attempts to reach F1. Although he eventually secured a seat in Formula 2, he faced further setbacks in his second year in the category when he joined the reigning champions.

De Vries arrives in F1 this season four years after taking the F2 title, having also raced successfully in Formula E, where he won the 2020-21 championship. However it means he faces the unusual situation of making his F1 debut while being older than more than half of the rivals he will go up against in Bahrain next month.

“I’m one of the older guys, so I’ve walked quite a long journey to get here,” he said in an interview for his AlphaTauri team. “I actually grew up with many of the current drivers on the grid. I feel like I’m kind of part of their generation.”

Feature: De Vries was once McLaren’s ‘next Hamilton’ – so why did he end up elsewhere?
De Vries was originally backed by McLaren, who brought him into car racing following his strong performances in go-karts. “We had a very successful time in karting,” said De Vries. “We won the European Championship and two consecutive world championships [while] signed with McLaren at the time.

“I think the timing was really good because Lewis [Hamilton] just made his debut in Formula 1 and that was obviously a very successful story and therefore a lot of Formula 1 teams were kind of interested in young drivers and scouts at a young age to kind of replicate a similar success story.”

However De Vries’ progress through the junior categories wasn’t entirely smooth, and included three years at the Formula Renault 2.0 level. “The first kind of years in cars were a little bit, I’d say, tougher,” he recalled. “I think they were still good in terms of performance, but because the expectations were so high, I probably could never do it good enough. It took a little bit longer to get up to speed.

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“I think physically I was also quite underdeveloped. I was a late bloomer, so I was 17, but probably my body was 14. But I got going and eventually won Formula Renault, finished third in Formula Renault 3.5, which was at the time the equivalent of Formula 2. And then I ended up in GP3 and that was probably my toughest season in single seater racing in ’16.”

There were fewer successs than disappointments in 2016
Driving for reigning champions ART, who had taken Esteban Ocon to the title the year before, De Vries finished the 2016 season sixth in the points. Team mates Charles Leclerc and Alexander Albon occupied the top two places in the standings. That coincided with changes at the top of McLaren, with Zak Brown installed in place of Ron Dennis.

“At the end of that year the management at McLaren changed and I kind of lost their financial backing,” De Vries continued. “From that year onwards I was really going into a tough time because basically I didn’t have any way of continuing my career forward because there was no financial backing anymore and I didn’t know how to how to continue.

“So I ended up testing DTM with Audi tested with Ferrari in GTE. And strongly considering to make a move away from my dream and goal, which was obviously Formula 1.”

He secured an F2 seat with the Rapax team at the 11th hour thanks to the backing of rival Sean Galeal’s father. “Towards the first test of the Formula 2 season, like literally a week before the first test, it all kind of came together and with help from Ricardo Gelael,” said De Vries. “I managed to turn up at the first test in Formula 2.

“Rapax at the time was very committed to have me in the team and they really helped to make that happen. But it was only a third of the budget and I knew it was kind of going to be tough to end the season. But it put me in a position to be with Prema the following year, which was a good season.”

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That first year in F2 “was not a real season”, said De Vries. “I didn’t have a real chance to fight for anything. It was all about surviving and just making sure I stay alive in single seater racing, which we succeeded.”

Prema were unhappy De Vries missed pole in Bahrain
For 2018 De Vries joined Gelael at reigning champions Prema. In a competitive season, De Vries finished fourth behind champion George Russell, Lando Norris and Albon. He could have placed higher, but feels the team put too great an onus on winning races over gathering points.

“If it was not for a few of my own mistakes, we would have been able to finish P2 or P3,” said De Vries. “I think we had very good pace, we won a good amount of races, but I just made a little bit too expensive mistakes. Especially in Formula 2, when you have the Feature and Sprint race, [that] can ruin a weekend.

“Two times we were fighting for the win and we crashed fighting for the win. And that means you basically lose two weekends. The top three – George, Lando and Alex – were promoted to Formula 1 and I finished fourth and didn’t.

“In all honesty, I just look at myself because I feel like it was my own mistake that I wasn’t able to score more points. I think we definitely had the pace and we had more wins than people in front of us but I just lost too many points in situations where we were actually able to score big points.”

De Vries admits he “didn’t deal well enough with the pressure from the team” who were seeking to continue the run of titles they had taken with Leclerc and Pierre Gasly. “They just won two championships with Pierre and Charles and their expectations were just to win and dominate,” he said.

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“I recall a moment in Bahrain, after the first quali we were P4 which, in Formula 2, if you are in the top seven, you’re always good because you have a Feature race, a Sprint race, it’s all about consistency. And I got back to the team and they literally told me if we lose the championship for this pole it’s your fault. And that just got me. That was the environment it was at the time and I just didn’t deal with that well enough.”

Clash with Russell at Baku set De Vries back
Following his double points finish in Bahrain, De Vries suffered a costly setback at the next race in Azerbaijan. “I was fighting with George for the win and after the Safety Car restart I kind of went for it and we both went off,” he recalled. “I didn’t score any points, instead of finishing second or first [in the] Feature race.

“I was too scared to come back to the garage. I literally left into the town and just went to sit, cry on a little bench in the middle of Baku. And I texted my trainer at the time basically asking when they needed me back. I just left for, like, one-and-a-half hours because I was too scared to get back. That kind of internal pressure, I didn’t deal with it well enough.”

For 2019 De Vries had the opportunity to return to ART, and avenged his poor 2016 season with them by taking the F2 title emphatically ahead of Nicholas Latifi.

“Moving towards ART we obviously talked a lot about my experience, what I’ve gone through and I think they were very supportive,” said De Vries. “We were very focussed on scoring points whereas in 2018 it was all about winning [races] rather than winning a championship.”

While there would be no immediate promotion to F1 for the new F2 champion, his success did open a door at Mercedes which eventually enabled him to make his grand prix debut.

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“Mercedes was at the time building a new team in Formula E. I moved away from McLaren because I didn’t really see it was leading to anything, even if I would win Formula 2. I started doing some simulator work at Mercedes and that’s how our kind of working relationship started and that’s how I ended up in Formula E.”

De Vries finally clinched F2 title with ART
Having won the Formula E championship, but with Mercedes on its way out of the series, De Vries faced another pivotal season last year. However new F1 rules which required teams to give practice outings to inexperienced drivers provided him an opportunity. Mercedes and its customers turned to De Vries to take care of their cars.

That handed him a chance to make his F1 debut at Monza last year which he might not otherwise have had. De Vries an offer to contest a World Endurance Championship race in Japan, but was on F1 practice duty for Aston Martin instead.

“There was a WEC race in Fuji that weekend and I had an opportunity to race for a team which would provide me an opportunity to fight for the victory. Actually, I was very keen to go to Fuji because I would be racing and I knew that going to Monza I wouldn’t be racing – on paper I’m not racing.

“But obviously we committed to several FP1s and it just happened to be a better allocation for everyone for me to do Monza FP1 with Aston. So instead of racing in Fuji, I was doing the FP1 with Aston, which was obviously great as well.”

Having driven for Aston Martin in Friday practice, De Vries was stunned to be offered the chance to continue the weekend with Williams as a substitute for Albon, who had gone down with appendicitis.

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“That evening I was super relaxed, my weekend is done, I did my FP1, chilling. I came to the track the next morning and I had a paddock club appearance at like 10, 10:30 and it was still quite empty so rather than speaking in front of a crowd, I just went to sit with some guests, ordered a cappuccino, and then James Vowles rings up and says ‘can you come down to the Mercedes office? You might be racing for Williams’.

Nyck de Vries, Williams, Monza, 2022
A points finish on his Monza debut made the right impression
“And I just couldn’t understand what he just said. I thought he was talking about the future, like maybe the following season, I just didn’t get it.”

De Vries said the Mercedes engineers were “cheering for me” as the news of his impending debut broke, “I was like, calm down guys, let’s just hold on a second.

“I walked down to Williams to understand what the problem was. Sadly, Alex was brought into hospital overnight because of appendicitis. And then it wasn’t sure whether I was going to race or not.

“But 20 minutes later in the pre FP3 meeting, it kind of became clear that I was going through the weekend and from that moment I didn’t left the engineering office and the garage.”

De Vries’ debut could hardly have gone better under the circumstances. He out-qualified team mate Latifi and scored points on his debut. That night he dined with race winner Max Verstappen, who urged him to use the opportunity to press Red Bull motorsport consultant Helmut Marko to sign him up.

“We had dinner together on the Monday night to kind of celebrate his win and celebrate my debut. So it’s nice to kind of share that moment with him

(L to R): Nyck de Vries, Mercedes Test and Reserve Driver; Max Verstappen, Red Bull; Singapore, 2022
Verstappen helped De Vries make his F1 debut
“We obviously talked about the future and opportunities. And I think the most important what I took away from that dinner was that I was still very much perceived publicly as a Mercedes driver, which I was up until the end of ’22. I think it was important for me to clarify that I was part of Mercedes until the end of ’22.

“So I think it was good for me to basically make my situation clear in order to not miss out on potential opportunities.”

De Vries’ approach to Marko was well-timed, as his hopes of bringing IndyCar star Colton Herta into F1 had been thwarted by the FIA’s superlicence points system. The way was clear for De Vries, who turns 28 next week, to make his debut in F1.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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11 comments on “De Vries admits he didn’t always cope with pressure during his long journey to F1”

  1. Small mistake:
    [quote]Albon’s debut could hardly have gone better under the circumstances[/]

    I think that should say De Vries.

  2. Nice journey & story.

  3. It’s pretty much impossible not to root for the guy when you look at his story. Hope he gets a podium, it’d be just the best feel-good moment.

    1. Yeah, and also it shows we (and F1) shouldn’t just throw drivers under the bus as soon as they/we often do the second things don’t go perfectly @sjaakfoo!

  4. I hope he does well. He’s had a lots of ups and downs to get to F1, but he seized the only opportunity he got last season in style. It’s a great underdog story.. I’ll be rooting for him.

  5. I hope we will get our own contemporary “Senna – Prost” someday with Nyck and max, would be mouthwatering

  6. Also, it’s great that he wasn’t afraid to admit he wasn’t coping with the pressure in F2. Really great story , with a chain of events and circumstances providing him a one off chance to prove he is worth to drive in F1; and he delivered beautifully. I’m really happy for him. He is in a great environment and I honestly believe he will show more consistency than Tsunoda. He is clever and more mature than the Japanese. Rooting for him.

  7. “I think physically I was also quite underdeveloped.

    De Vries admits he “didn’t deal well enough with the pressure from the team”

    “If it was not for a few of my own mistakes, we would have been able to finish P2 or P3”

    “I was too scared to come back to the garage. I literally left into the town and just went to sit, cry on a little bench in the middle of Baku.”

    De Vries is strikingly honest about his own mistakes and uncertainties, sometimes this seems very rare in the paddock. Wish him all the best.

    1. Ah, I messed up the quotes there. Shame

  8. Coventry Climax
    1st February 2023, 19:29

    He’s a kind of a nice guy.
    Whether that’s also kind of his weak point?
    Anyway, I kind of heartily grant him kind of great succes and kind of hope he can muster some kind of good points, kind of.

  9. Ron Dennis always believed in him.

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