For the first time since Jolyon Palmer in 2017, a Formula 1 driver who began a season has been dropped by his team without reaching the final race for performance reasons.Daniel Ricciardo less than half way into the season caught many by surprise.
It’s by no means the first time that Red Bull have made a bold move to replace a driver in the middle of a season – just ask Daniil Kvyat and Pierre Gasly. But while Kvyat had 21 races at Red Bull and Gasly 12 before being moved aside for their replacements, De Vries has had fewer grands prix than both of them.
Unlike Kvyat or Gasly, De Vries was not a Red Bull prospect, having never been a member of the Red Bull junior driver programme during his junior career. But the 2019 F2 champion had strong Mercedes connections, having been Mercedes’ reserve driver for a number of years and impressed by stepping in for Alexander Albon at Williams during last year’s Italian Grand Prix.
So have Red Bull cast aside De Vries too hastily in his rookie season, or did he fail to show that he had the ability to compete at a high enough level to deserve his place as one of the 20 drivers with the privilege of a seat on the Formula 1 grid?
Team mate comparison: De Vries vs Tsunoda
The most obvious evidence of why De Vries deserved to lose his place in F1 is to simply look at the championship standings. Despite the AlphaTauri being regularly near the back of the field over the start of the season, Tsunoda has taken two points finishes so far this season, while De Vries was one of only two drivers to leave Silverstone still without any points from the first ten rounds.
There’s also the fact De Vries was soundly beaten by the younger Tsunoda in every representative statistic. Tsunoda out-qualified De Vries 8-2 in the first ten rounds, spending almost 400 more laps ahead of De Vries than he spent behind him. De Vries also failed to reach Q3 once, something Tsunoda managed in both Baku and Monaco.
Finally, there were the errors. In Baku, De Vries managed to crash out of qualifying on Friday, clash with Tsunoda in the sprint race in Baku on Saturday, before crashing out of the grand prix on Sunday. His clash with Kevin Magnussen in Canada was clumsy, then he pushed him off in Austria to earn a penalty. It all made him look like an F2 driver, not an experienced multiple single-seater champion.
When looking over the first half of the season, it’s hard to find a satisfying body of evidence to suggest that De Vries deserved to be unceremoniously jettisoned from the F1 grid during the summer break, let alone two rounds before it.
His performance relative to team mate Tsunoda over their races together was clearly inferior, with Tsunoda being ahead of him in every possible metric, but Tsunoda had the advantage of being in his third full season in Formula 1, with that extra experience counting for a lot. After all, Tsunoda himself was largely unable to match his more experienced team mate Gasly during his first two seasons.
De Vries was also disadvantaged by how the AlphaTauri was clearly falling further down the order as the season went on. While Williams improved with their upgrades and have become regular points scorers, the AlphaTauri has become one of the slower cars on the grid, with their major upgrades for Silverstone having minimal impact on their performance and limiting De Vries’ opportunities to impress.
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Nyck de Vries deserved more then just ten grands prix in an AlphaTauri to show he was deserving of a place on the F1 grid beyond 2023. Especially compared to some other drivers who have been given the opportunity to compete in full seasons over the last decade.
Yes, his Baku weekend was one of the worst performances of the season to date. But if a certain former Haas driver got a full year in Formula 1 – and was supposed to have a second – than De Vries more than deserved a full season to show he could learn from his early mistakes, find some form and make his case to stay on in 2024. Even if Red Bull would decide to replace him at the end of the year with a rookie the liked of Liam Lawson or Ayumu Iwasa, at least De Vries would have had just over 20 weekends of opportunity – a much harder situation to complain about.
Ultimately, it feels like De Vries being dropped is a lot less about the driver himself and his performances than it is about who he is being replaced with. A driver who has far more experience and success than De Vries as well as being far more marketable than him. It’s difficult to see how De Vries will end up back on the grid as a full time driver in future. But while he finally got his chance in F1 at the age of 28, he deserved more races than he eventually got.
Do you agree with Red Bull's decision to drop Nyck de Vries from his AlphaTauri race seat?
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- Neither agree nor disagree (10%)
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Total Voters: 178
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