The three rookie drivers who will take their places on the grid for the 2023 F1 season arrive with differing expectations heaped upon them. Not only due to the different paths they’ve taken to reach F1, but also because of the teams they are joining.Nyck de Vries, who has one F1 start to his name courtesy of a last-minute call-up to replace the ill Alex Albon at Williams for last year’s Italian Grand Prix.
His performance that weekend made him a target of multiple teams for 2023, and Red Bull’s interest won out over Williams’, so de Vries signed for its secondary AlphaTauri team for his long-awaited rookie F1 season.
De Vries qualified 13th at Monza but started eighth due to others being penalised. He scored two points by finishing ninth in a car he had only driven in two practice sessions before his first run in qualifying. Team mate Nicholas Latifi came in 15th.
De Vries spent most of his career looking like he would eventually reach F1, as McLaren backed him through karting and the majority of his time in junior single-seaters. He spent three years in Formula Renault 2.0, culminating in winning the Eurocup title, was third in FR3.5 as a rookie, stepped down to GP3 and was only sixth in the standings, then stepped back up to Formula 2 and won the title at his third attempt.
Having parted ways with McLaren as he went into his third season in F2, de Vries was then a free agent and Mercedes signed him in autumn to be one of their drivers for their entry into Formula E later that year. Such a move was not dependent on the possession of a superlicence, unlike drivers wanting to race in F1, and it didn’t distract de Vries as he then went on to become F2 champion.
His F2 performances improved once he escaped the pressure and lack of support McLaren’s management structure provided him with at the time. But he was also helped by being at a top team, so going into a professional series like FE promised to be a better test of how much he had grown as a driver.
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Over the 11 races of his rookie season, de Vries was outscored to the tune of 27 points by his team mate Stoffel Vandoorne but did end the campaign with his first podium finish. The Covid-19 pandemic led to half of that season being contested over a single week, but the next season was arguably even crazier. The top 15 in the standings were split by less 25 points – a race win.
At the top of the championship table, at the end of his second season in the category, was de Vries. He scored points in fewer than half of the races, but won twice and took two other podiums. Despite his success it remained debatable just how impressive his campaign had been. It was clear he had improved on his driving from the previous year, but scoring only 22% of the available points was little more than what he had achieved as a rookie.
In comparison, De Vries scored slightly more points the next season (22.8% of those available) and won twice again but was only ninth in the championship. So de Vries goes into 2023 with a world championship title to his name, four EPrix wins and an F1 debut that significantly raised expectations, but still with so many questions about just what we should actually be expecting from him.
AlphaTauri scored in 10 races last year and only once made it into the top five. Despite his F1 inexperience there will be a reliance on de Vries for his technical and car development abilities while team mate Yuki Tsunoda – who is going into his third season – still has much to do in focusing on rounding out his own strengths as much as the car’s.
For all the hype about Oscar Piastri’s abilities – his consecutive Formula Renault Eurocup, FIA Formula 3 and F2 titles plus the tug-of-love between Alpine and McLaren over his services this year – he only drove a current-specification F1 car for the first time just two months ago and has never done so on a grand prix weekend.
That marks out Piastri as lacking the level of relevant F1 experience some drivers currently in F2 have, and arguably makes him the most inexperienced of the rookies for 2023 despite his private test miles completed in older cars. So it would be fair to start the seasons with no expectations for Piastri regardless of how competitive the McLaren MCL60 is.
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Almost more important than racking up the miles in pre-season is the work Piastri has done in the off-season to embed himself in the team. He’s replacing an immensely popular fellow Australian in Daniel Ricciardo, who delivered the team’s last win, while last summer’s contract disputes over Piastri meant he was not even able to work with his new team in any capacity until late in the year.
Maximising the trips he’s made to Woking since, and the team-building activities with team mate Lando Norris, will go some way to rectifying the late start to the McLaren-Piastri relationship. De Vries shares this problem to some extent too with his new employer, but has been around the F1 paddock for quite a bit longer.
McLaren planned to give Piastri private tests in their own previous-generation cars in the month leading up to pre-season testing so “that he goes to the first race in Bahrain and it doesn’t actually feel like the first race for him.” But those were words of Andreas Seidl, the former team principal who has now left, and it remains to be seen whether those off-season plans came to fruition.
There’s four different points to look at in regards to predicting Piastri’s form, or what kind of a driver he is. The first is his junior series results, which have earned him comparisons with George Russell and Charles Leclerc and built up the hype that he now arrives in F1 with. Piastri emulated both in winning F1’s two main support series in back-to-back years as a rookie.
His 2020 FIA Formula 3 title, a bit like his 2019 Eurocup crown before that, was won more through critical errors from his key rivals than an advantage in pace, and qualifying was an area where he was outshone by others
But when he moved up to F2 two years ago with Prema, Piastri answered many of the questions over his perceived weaknesses in style. He claimed a remarkable five poles in a row, the opening three rounds being the only time he did not get to start from the pole position. He also won the last four feature races of the season to be crowned champion by 60.5 points – any impressive feat for any driver, let alone a newcomer to the series.
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Piastri was also a title contender as a rookie in British Formula 4, and has shown growth at each step of the single-seater ladder since then in addition to increased winning form. But the problem is Piastri did no racing at all last year, Alpine also failed to make use of him in any free practice sessions while he was their reserve driver, and he only has experience of pit stops from eight races in F2.
The second point to look at is Piastri’s past F1 tests. It was thanks to the funding brought to the Alpine Academy (nee Renault Sport Academy) by stablemate Zhou Guanyu that Alpine were able to provide such a large-scale private test programme for their juniors, who all got to audition for F1 roles. Reportedly current IndyCar driver Christian Lundgaard who was the most impressive in an F1 car when measured alongside fellow F2 racers and then graduates Piastri and Zhou, but in the end all three sought top-level opportunities elsewhere.
That’s another matter to take into consideration with Piastri. Alpine originally sought to keep on Fernando Alonso for 2023, but after failing to come to an agreement on a deal for the season and the two-times world champion departing for Aston Martin, they had to come back to reserve Piastri. However Piastri’s manager Mark Webber had started talking to other teams once Alpine’s initial indication came in that he would not get a 2023 race seat, and at one point it looked like Piastri would be a match for Williams.
The final reckoning on Piastri’s F1 potential is therefore tied to McLaren’s, as the team fell down the competitive order with the arrival of F1’s new technical ruleset in 2022.
Ricciardo failed to match Norris’ scoring rate, which meant they lost out to Alpine in the battle for fourth in the constructors’ standings. But even Norris was only able to make the podium once and finish in the top five on two other occasions. Although Ricciardo’s form improved late in the year as he finally became more comfortable with the car, Norris’s results actually got worse and McLaren have admitted that the squeeze on costs – from the cost cap and various crisis over the last year – led to redundancies.
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Although it’s a team with the potential to move further up the field, there’s a decent likelihood in 2023 that Norris and Piastri will have a tough job on their hands to get the most out of a midfield car. Personal breakthroughs for the rookie may have little relation to his car’s position in the competitive order.
That will make Norris the key barometer to judge Piastri by. Putting up more of a challenge for his team mate than Ricciardo did would be within Piastri’s reach if he is as talented as his junior series titles suggests he is. And to be fair, neither Leclerc or Russell faced a driver of Norris’ calibre in their first seasons of F1.
Finally, the third rookie of 2023 is the one with the least success prior to his arrival, the one who faces lower expectations, but is arguably the one who has the most relevant recent preparation: Logan Sargeant.
Although de Vries drove in free practice at five grands prix last year, it was with three different teams, and between those events he was driving a very different Formula E car. In none of those sessions was his objective to be as comfortable with an F1 car as possible or to prove he was worthy of a seat.
Sargeant, on the other hand, spent the majority of his 2022 in a F2 car with far more similarities to F1 and raced on 14 of the same tracks that he will visit this year. He has been working with Williams since October 2021 as one of their junior drivers, and he drove in practice at the final four grands prix of last season in the Williams FW44 chassis that will no doubt have a lot of similarities with this year’s FW45.
He is familiar with the team at both factory and track and he knows exactly how it operates on a race weekend – something de Vries and Piastri are yet to enjoy due to the end date of the contracts with their previous employers. Sargeant’s practice appearances were also hugely important in how he secured his drive.
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All of his sessions took place on non-European tracks he had never visited in junior series. Each appearance was a direct audition for an F1 seat in terms of his pace, ability to conduct a development programme for parts and showing level-headedness while driving with others on track. They also earned Sargeant crucial FIA superlicence points as he reached the 40-point mark that made him eligible to race in F1.
Sargeant has already been given F1-level pressure on F1 weekends on tracks he does not know and has delivered, suggesting he is more than prepared to make the step up to a race seat.
The 22-year-old American arrives in F1 with two F2 feature race wins from his rookie season last year, three FIA F3 wins and a Macau Grand Prix podium, experience in LMP3 prototype sports cars and a long history of racing Piastri. They know how good each other are.
As for how good Williams will be? Who knows. They were slowest last year so surely the only way is up, and it may be that Sargeant only needs a few standout races rather than consistent performance to show his worth if Williams fight only for the occasional points finish.
The only driver he has to worry about beating for now is team mate Alexander Albon, and he’s best prepared of the rookies to start their intra-team battle on a high.
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8 comments on “De Vries vs Piastri vs Sargeant: Which rookie is best prepared for their F1 debut?”
Le Jimster (@lejimster82)
9th February 2023, 12:27
de Vries is obviously the best prepared, with multiple practice sessions and a race last year… However, I’m not sure about the Alpha Tauri he will be driving and if he will be able to wow us. I’m expecting Yuki to take another step forward this season, so I don’t expect Nyck will be instant team leader. It should be a good one to follow.
Sargeant I’m half expecting to struggle in the Williams and I would be surprised if he got anywhere near to Albon, but I would love to be proved wrong.
The driver I’m most anticipating is Piastri. The way he came through the junior series is very impressive and if he can get to grips with the McLaren, I’m half expecting him to give Norris a run for his money… But even if it can just get closer than Ricciardo did that would be more than acceptable in his first year.
11th February 2023, 12:20
Yuki went nowhere. Stagnated at useless.
And Judas Piastri is going to be nowhere near Norris. He’ll be lucky if he sees out his contract at McLaren.
9th February 2023, 12:32
It doesn’t matter who’s prepared more or less, what matters is what car they’ll get to drive. The McLaren is the only car worth driving here.
9th February 2023, 12:33
“Best prepared” would be Piastri, unless of course there have been private F1 testing programs for either of the other two that haven’t been reported. (or I have since forgotten about)
9th February 2023, 13:14
With that defination i think Nyck de Vries is the best prepared with multiple tests and even a race under his belt. I find it hard to see Nyck de Vries as rookie.
Piastri is someone who is hyped a lot so the pressure will be massive as he is expect to beat Lando with ease …. Which i don’t think that is going to happen.
9th February 2023, 14:46
Fair round up, with pros and cons for each. Piastri’s lack of F1 experience will prove tricky, but if he’s as good as McLaren seems to think then he shouldn’t need more than a handful of races to get up to speed. But if he can’t match Norris at all throughout the whole year, that’ll definitely be a disappointment. Norris is riding the ‘beat Ricciardo’ wave quite well, but how meaningful that was will hopefully be made clearer this season.
De Vries will probably struggle a bit at least perception-wise, because that Monza race with Williams set expectations too high. Monza was always going to be one of Williams’ best tracks, so him doing better there than Williams had done in other races had less to do with him and more with the car being particularly well suited to the track. It’s a bit of a tough comparison within that team, because Tsunoda has proven to be quick but only rarely so. It also doesn’t seem Red Bull is as interested anymore in making their second team all that competitive, so if they end up fighting for P15s it won’t really matter who does better anyway.
Sargeant has his work cut out for him in what is probably going to once more be the worst team on the grid by some margin. Being up against Albon, who not too long ago was considered good enough for a proper Red Bull seat only adds to the challenge. Even if he does well it’ll probably go unnoticed.
9th February 2023, 15:06
By far De Vries.
Dan G (@dang)
9th February 2023, 23:12
Looking forward to seeing all three on track this year!
Comments are closed.