How Formula 1’s 28-year-old rookie finally got his chance
It’s not often you see a 28-year-old rookie competing in Formula 1. But the path that Nyck de Vries has taken isn’t one you often see either.
For the last few years, Nyck de Vries was a name that always seemed to be brought up in Formula 1 silly season discussions whenever a seat opened up, yet nothing ever materialized.
It appeared as though that might once again be the case for 2023. He had been linked to Nicholas Latifi’s seat at Williams, but then it was reported that Oscar Piastri had a deal to move into that seat “on loan” from Alpine, since Alpine did not expect to have any openings.
Of course, we all saw how that turned out. Piastri didn’t end up with Williams nor Alpine; instead, he ended up with McLaren. Even though Alpine did end up with a vacant seat with Fernando Alonso leaving to replace Sebastian Vettel at Aston Martin, it ended up being filled by Pierre Gasly. Williams replaced Latifi with Logan Sargeant.
De Vries may very well have ended up without a ride once again in 2023, making it increasingly unlikely that he would ever get a chance to compete in Formula 1, despite the fact that he had done just about anything you could ask a driver to do outside of Formula 1 to prove himself.
The 28-year-old Dutchman, who won the 2019 Formula 2 championship and the 2020-2021 Formula E world championship, had serious doubts about a potential Formula 1 future.
“I did. Many times, indeed,” de Vries told Beyond the Flag. “Everyone walks their own kind of path, and everyone’s career is unique. I am fortunate enough to have had this continuation of my kind of Formula 1 dreams and aspirations because after Formula 2 in 2019 I kind of went into a different direction into Formula E, with Mercedes at the time, and I was building my professional career outside Formula 1.”
Ironically, it took another driver’s bout with appendicitis for Nyck de Vries to catch his big break in Formula 1.
At Monza last year, Alex Albon was sidelined, leaving one of the two Williams seats open. De Vries was already on hand for the Italian Grand Prix, and he got the call to make his Formula 1 debut.
In the slowest car on last year’s grid, he finished in ninth place, scoring two points. He accounted for 25% of the team’s entire season point total on one afternoon.
“It just happened that, somehow, I always kept a foot between the door in Formula 1, and I think it was a combination of circumstances that finally led to Monza and the opportunity to be here on the grid this year,” he admitted.
Aside from his Monza start, de Vries remained involved in the Formula 1 paddock. But it was this race that put him on the radar of AlphaTauri, which ultimately signed him to replace the Alpine-bound Gasly.
“When you look at, for example, the changes in the regulations, which they’ve done to kind of force teams to put rookies in the car during two FP1s during the season — that was a huge favor for me being part of the Mercedes family at the time and being able to do FP1s with multiple teams, having the track time and exposure, the rookie test, etc.,” he continued.
“It was just a natural continuation outside my actual career as a professional racing driver. And of course, I also didn’t want to give up on it, because I was still kind of around. You could smell it, if you like, and Formula 1 remains the pinnacle of our sport. So I couldn’t accept to fully give up on it. And yeah, finally circumstances came together and that finally led to the Monza weekend, wherein all the stars were aligned, and now I’m here today.”
De Vries had felt that he was close to getting a seat before — multiple times, in fact. But things never worked in his favor.
“Certainly, those two moments [winning the Formula 2 and Formula E championships] obviously provide momentum and I was really hoping that I was able to build and capitalize on the momentum I managed to generate at the end of 2019 and 2021, after winning Formula E,” he said. “But I always kind of faced a disappointment – not disappointment – but basically the timing wasn’t right, and the puzzle didn’t fall into place.
“After those two moments, you are kind of a little discouraged because you’re thinking, ‘Sh*t, I have to do something else again to create that momentum.’ You’re like, when does it end? Because at some point, you’re like, you’re running out of momentum, if that makes sense.
“And I guess, thanks to winning FE in 2021,mbeing close to a seat for 2022, being part of the system, participating in FP1s, and then suddenly getting the call in Monza — I think that combined together made a strong case.”
While the 2023 season is his first season competing in Formula 1, de Vries doesn’t value the title “rookie” and feels like Formula 1 is his home. But even at 28 years old and having been around the sport for so long, there is a part of him that does still feel like a newcomer.
“I feel very much at home,” he said. “I personally don’t value the title ‘rookie’ very much because when you’re here, it’s a very performance-driven industry, and you’ve just got to perform, whether you’re a rookie or not. But I will admit that the Bahrain weekend still felt like a kind of first day at school.”
Teammate Yuki Tsunoda, the 22-year-old who has ironically taken on the role of “veteran” teammate at AlphaTauri after two years competing alongside Gasly, believes that he can learn from de Vries, given how long he has been around and how many cars he has gotten the opportunity to drive.
In fact, de Vries owns the all-time Formula 1 record for most teams driven for in a single season. He drove for AlphaTauri, Alpine, Aston Martin, Mercedes, and Williams last year.
“Nyck is a rookie, but he has a lot more experience than I do,” Tsunoda admitted. “He’s been with multiple teams and has seen lots of drivers. So actually, for example, one of the things is feedback on the car. His feedback on the car was really impressive. I’ve learned those things from him as well.
“Teaching isn’t the only thing – I can also learn from him, so that’s really good. He’s fast and he scored last year with Williams straight away in his first race. He had performance. So yeah, I’m happy with Nyck. Already, the relationship itself is good. But also, I’m looking forward to it. I’m happy to race with him.”
Considering his past involvement in the sport, it hasn’t been as big of a change for de Vries as it would be for most rookies.
“In terms of workload, I wouldn’t say I’m busier; I’ve always been busy,” he explained. “Honestly, there is not much of a difference. I would say the intensity and interest around the sport is very different because the platform is so big, but apart from that, no.”
As for where he is most looking forward to competing in 2023, de Vries gave a clear answer.
“Zandvoort. Orange army!”