In our latest driver interview, Nyck De Vries reflects on his motorsport inspiration, life climbing the motorsport ladder on a “very long journey” to Formula E title success.
Born in February 1995, De Vries was inspired at a young age by his family who in his word “motivated” him, with his father playing a huge role in encouraging his son to become a racing driver.
“From a young age, I was motivated into racing through my family. My father used to race a bit himself. He had a small racing team to fund his own racing so he brought me a go-kart at a very young age to motivate me into the world of racing.” said De Vries about his family’s support of his racing career.
De Vries went on to graduate from karting into single-seater racing where he largely raced in various Formula Renault series between 2012-15, during which he won 2014 2.0 Alps and Eurocup titles and finished third in 2015 3.5 Series.
Reflecting on that period of his career, De Vries admitted that he “really took some time to conquer championships” at that level, despite feeling “pretty much there from the beginning”, amidst a “tough start” to his second Eurocup season in 2013 due to “high” expectations and a change of team.
De Vries however continued to improve rapidly as he did the Eurocup and 2.0 Alps title double in 2014, which he believed “is important for every young driver’s career because it just acknowledges and improves your potential.”
The now 26 year-old also reflected on the Formula Renault system overall as he viewed the programme as a pathway to GP3 and F2, as he said: “At that time Formula Renault and FR 3.5 were kind of main feeder series so yeah I was happy and proud to be able to win in those championships and I saw myself progressing.”
Whilst many drivers have learned valuable lessons from participating in Formula Renault categories that benefitted them throughout their career, De Vries interestingly felt that there wasn’t “one single lesson” that benefitted him across his career in the following years.
Explaining his mental approach in that aspect, De Vries revealed that he will “never stop learning” as he continues to “learn every day” with particular acknowledgement of the importance in learning how to prioritise finding balance between detail, last hundredths of a second and “looking at the big picture” of how to extract “the biggest performance gains” whilst also balancing work and private life.
Throughout his time in Formula Renault categories, De Vries came across future rivals like Nicholas Latifi and Alex Albon who he since raced against at higher levels, with the Dutchman in particular fighting Latifi for the 2019 F2 title.
De Vries though iterated that racing those drivers in lower categories had little benefit in higher series as he explained: “I mean well it is always crucial to compete at the highest level and race against the best in order to continue to develop yourself so that was always crucial.
“I never believe in avoiding competition for success because you always need to race against the best as that is ultimately where the best teams are, that is where the best people are and that is where people are looking at and if you can excel at that level then that means that you have good potential.”
2016 saw De Vries graduate to GP3 with ART GP where he finished sixth in the championship in what he described as “probably my worst season in my career”, having made a “late call” due to financial and project issues at McLaren where he was part of their Young Driver Programme until early 2019.
Further financial backing issues at McLaren heading into 2017 made securing a seat in F2 “extremely tough”, but financial assistance from elsewhere and Rapax’s keenness ensured that he graduated into the second-tier.
De Vries went on to do “very well” in the first half of his rookie season as he clinched a maiden F2 victory in the 2017 Monaco Sprint and claimed three further podiums, until “budgeting” problems at Rapax forced him to switch to Racing Engineering in a swap deal with Louis Deletraz as he went on to claim one more podium that season.
His impressive rookie season saw De Vries finish seventh and secure a seat at front-running PREMA for 2018 season as F2 introduced their latest car – Dallara F2 2018, which he believed was his “first realistic chance of fighting for the championship.”
Various mistakes in Monaco, Azerbaijan and Monza plus other venues however saw De Vries finish fourth despite believing that he “… had the pace and the potential to but I think we made too many mistakes on crucial moments in situations where we would have been able to score big points but we didn’t finish the job.”
De Vries though optimistically believes that the vice-champion title would of been possible that season as he commented: “… just a lot of things that not only outside of our control but because I clearly made mistakes and that why I also put that on me because I am very confident that we would of finished second if it was not for so many setbacks.”
2019 saw De Vries reunite with ART GP as he went on to win the title in the Feature Race in Sochi, Russia, in a season where he won four races and recorded eight other podium finishes despite having parted company with McLaren earlier that season.
Reflecting on that particular campaign, De Vries was delighted with how “everything came together” and added “… it was a very big relief and satisfaction for me personally because it’s a very long journey from karting up to Formula 2 and I had gone through a lot of successes and disappointment and tough times and good times.”
“To eventually conquer Formula 2 Championship just really meant the world to me…” continued De Vries as he described F2 as “a highly competitive” category which can be “very tough” with “young drivers who want to show their potential to the world so it’s a tough championship and so being able to win that was really important to me.”
Unlike many F2 champions, De Vries opted against a move into F1 following his split from McLaren and instead joined Formula E with Mercedes after a simulator assessment in what he described as a “new chapter” in his career.
Although De Vries’ rookie season in Formula E was disrupted by the Coronavirus pandemic, he realised that the series is “completely different” despite the basics remaining exactly like in other racing categories but with street circuits and “very little downforce”.
Formula E also uses an electric powertrain which meant a new challenge for De Vries in terms of dealing with “energy management” and different elements like Fanboost and Attack Mode which created additional “strategy element” to races.
De Vries consequently feels that it isn’t “fair” to compare F1 where he is Reserve Driver at Mercedes and Formula E, especially because both categories should be appreciated separately and he went on to state that “Formula E has a big message to spread and is very innovative with sustainable purpose behind it.”
This season saw De Vries and Mercedes go on to do the driver and constructor double after a dramatic last race decider, in which the Dutch driver feeling that he was “very lucky” in that his title rivals endured “poor luck and they didn’t succeed in staying in the battle” for various reasons.
De Vries though admitted that he and Mercedes “deserved this championship” after leading for the majority of the season, but feels that they lucked in, as he added: “I have been humble enough to acknowledge our luck but ultimately we led the majority and we put ourselves in this position but it was bit of a rollercoaster season.”
Whilst also racing in Formula E, De Vries has also been part of Mercedes’ F1 team as a Test and Reserve Driver, after spending nine years at McLaren, which he feels is “crucial” for any young driver in terms of working with people who know how to “achieve” success at the top of motorsport.
With several F1 teams now providing link-up opportunities for young drivers if not part of a young driver programme, De Vries has urged youngsters to take advantage of those chances.
“… I think it is important for any young driver to be linked with or a part of a programme to develop yourself best possible and to learn from the best effectively.” said De Vries as he spoke about how beneficial it is to be part of a F1 programme or at least supported by a team.
Away from the world of Formula E and F1, De Vries has also raced in World Endurance and European Le Mans but believes that the “approach” is more important in adaption to sportscar racing than anything else.
Explaining the difference between “sprint racing” and endurance racing, De Vries commented: “… you need to manage your tough mental approach and your patience throughout the race especially through traffic and especially when you fatigue so it has a different approach.”
Another challenge that De Vries has learned to overcome in sportscar racing is working with other drivers in order “to find the best compromise between the three of us” which he found “interesting learning” in terms of realising that nothing is “perfect” despite constant thrive of the aim of “work towards perfection”.
De Vries has consequently learned of “need to accept that perfection doesn’t exist and deal with to adapt with what you have or you can’t and I think that helped me a lot going back to single-seater racing and sprint racing because in-house it helps you just prioritise and not lose you energy and attention to little unimportant details.”
Looking ahead to 2022 after spending this summer linked with Williams and Alfa Romeo seats in F1, De Vries concluded by teasing that “You will find out soon!”