Seizing the Opportunity – how Nyck de Vries secured his seat in Formula 1
Although Nyck may be considered to have started his F1 career later in life than other drivers, he was ten years older than when fellow countryman Max Verstappen got his drive, the Dutchman is living proof that everyone walks their own path and has shown that he deserves his Scuderia AlphaTauri seat
Nyck’s Formula 1 race debut at Monza may have been a surprise that he didn’t see coming at the time, but he made the most of the opportunity and subsequently landed himself a full-time seat with Scuderia AlphaTauri for the 2023 season.
It wasn’t just at the Italian Grand Prix that he made those in the paddock sit up and notice him though. He had already made a name for himself by winning the 2019 Formula 2 championship and the 2020-21 Formula E championship, plus he was a reserve driver for the Mercedes and Williams Formula 1 teams.
After being crowned Formula E champion, there were conversations with Williams about taking the departing George Russell’s seat in the 2022 season – but ultimately this didn’t happen and it forced Nyck to juggle maintaining a racing career outside of Formula 1 while still aiming to land a seat in 2023. Not an easy task.
De Vries’ opportunity to shine came out of the blue at the 2022 Italian Grand Prix at Monza, and he seized it with both hands.
The weekend started like any other, taking part in Friday’s FP1 session for Aston Martin and staying up late with the team members at the track. As far as Nyck was concerned his job for the weekend was complete. Ninety minutes before the start of FP3 on Saturday, while he was enjoying a cappuccino in the Paddock Club, the call came in that Alex Albon had appendicitis and he was needed to drive Alex’s car.
Normally a driver is well prepared for when they’re needed to jump in the car, but Nyck didn’t have this luxury. In fact, it was even harder as it was the first time he had used Nicolas Latifi’s steering wheel – he had previously used Albon’s when he drove in FP1 at the Spanish Grand Prix. Something that came to bite him in Qualifying when he accidentally moved the brake balance 1.5% rearwards in the chicane during his second Q2 run, which prompted a lock up and cost him valuable time.
Despite this, a 13th place in Qualifying was converted to a P8 grid spot with many drivers going into the event with grid penalties. He lined up alongside his fellow Dutch driver Max Verstappen, who he had never actually had the chance to race against until now. Something that Verstappen remarked upon when he gave Nyck some words of support during the pre-race build up.
A stunning Sunday drive, despite battling brake issues, saw Nyck bring the car home in ninth place, earning himself two world championship points on his debut. An achievement that should not be dismissed as a case of luck.
It was what happened next off the track though that really ensured that Nyck would have a full-time place on the Formula 1 grid in 2023.
A dinner with Max in Monaco in the week following the Italian Grand Prix led to a friendly discussion about the potential of a drive with Scuderia AlphaTauri, if Nyck spoke with Dr Helmut Marko. A little while later, he was doing just that with two days spent in Austria talking about his future.
Impressing Dr. Marko with his ability to represent himself and earning the Oracle Red Bull Racing and Scuderia AlphaTauri’s advisor’s respect in the process, Nyck came away from the meeting with a positive outcome. It wasn’t a signed and sealed contract, but it was as good as. Later on when Pierre Gasly announced his departure from Scuderia AlphaTauri, the seat was Nyck’s.
Now Nyck is five Grands Prix into his first full season as a Formula 1 driver, proving that creating and seizing the opportunity when the time is right is all that matters in the end.