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Nyck de Vries’s underrated F2 career shows why he deserves his F1 seat

There will be three rookies entering Formula 1 next year; current 21-year-olds Oscar Piastri and Logan Sargeant, as well as the 27-year-old Nyck de Vries. While the first two of those drivers competed in F2 for a solitary season, De Vries competed in the series for three seasons between 2017 and 2019. Despite being the first Dutch driver to win an FIA world championship, De Vries may be considered a questionable pick for a seat within the Red Bull stable. However, he has shown throughout his career that he is worthy of a seat with AlphaTauri in the pinnacle of motorsport.

By Tyler Foster

It is difficult to critique his extensive résumé in junior series, endurance racing and Formula E, which shows the Dutchman to be well-rounded and experienced enough for F1. A two-time back-to-back FIA karting world champion, a Formula Renault Eurocup champion, a Formula 2 champion and the first FIA Formula E world champion are accolades that highlight an already stellar career. He may not be expected to contend for wins and podiums with AlphaTauri, but this is his best chance to show that he deserves his spot in F1.

Young excellence

Nyck de Vries was already winning on a world stage at the age of 13, when he became the German Junior Karting Champion in 2008. He went on to become the FIA karting world champion two years later and was able to repeat this success again in 2011, defeating one Alexander Albon in the process. During this period, De Vries was signed to the prestigious McLaren Young Driver Programme, at the same time that the British F1 team had a line-up of world champions, in Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button. The young Dutchman’s appearances alongside the pair on ‘Tooned’, McLaren’s quirky animated cartoon series, highlight that he was considered a key part of the future of their team. 

Following his success in karting, De Vries made the jump to single-seaters, but rather than race in an entry-level series like Formula Abarth or Formula BMW, De Vries went straight to Formula Renault Eurocup with R-ace GP. As a teammate to Pierre Gasly, the then 17-year-old De Vries outperformed the Frenchman, finishing as the second highest scoring rookie and fifth in the championship. The Dutchman switched to Finnish outfit Koiranen GP for his second season and once again finished P5 in the standings, losing out to eventual champion Gasly. Off the back of a pole and two race wins in the final round of 2013, De Vries dominated 2014, winning the title by a massive 130-point margin. This gentle progression over two years before a championship-winning season would become the blueprint for his later success in Formula 2.

Nyck de Vries (
Nyck de Vries finished third in Formula Renault 3.5 as a rookie | Credit: Philip Platzer / Red Bull Content Pool

De Vries produced impressive rookie seasons in every series he has competed in. He competed in the Formula Renault 3.5 Series in 2015 and the GP3 Series, the predecessor to the modern FIA Formula 3, in 2016. Alongside 2010 FIA Formula 2 champion Dean Stoneman at DAMS, the then 20-year-old Dutchman finished as the best rookie in Formula Renault 3.5 and took third in the standings, scoring a pole on his debut weekend and six podiums, including a win at the final round. As a result, he won the Rookie of the Year award.

Rather than stepping into a faster car for 2016, De Vries moved over to GP3 and lined up alongside fellow rookies Charles Leclerc; Nirei Fukuzumi; and, once again, Albon. Ultimately, Leclerc came out on top, with Albon in second, while De Vries finished a disappointing 6th in the standings, also behind Antonio Fuoco, Jake Dennis and Jack Aitken. Despite this, De Vries was one of only four drivers to score a pole in the nine-round series, winning two of the last five races to cap off the season.

Third time’s the charm

It is often overlooked, but De Vries’ opening season in Formula 2 was a good one in retrospect with a difficult team switch midway through to contend with. In 2017, the then McLaren junior graduated to FIA Formula 2, rebranded from GP2, and debuted with Italian team Rapax, which had taken only one win in the previous three years. Partnered with veteran second-tier racer Johnny Cecotto Jr., De Vries led the team to a 1-2 just three rounds into the season at the Sprint Race at Monaco. While this was the Dutch driver’s only win of the campaign, he managed to score a further three podiums with Rapax. Then, with four rounds to go, he switched to the Racing Engineering outfit. A podium in only his second race with his new team helped cement his season as a strong one, with a seventh-place finish in the standings ahead of old adversary Albon. That also meant De Vries was the second-best rookie in the championship behind only runaway champion Leclerc.

For his second year in the series, De Vries replaced the now F1-bound Leclerc as team leader at Prema alongside Sean Gelael. The introduction of the Dallara F2 2018 chassis and V6 turbocharged engines provided a new challenge for drivers and mitigated De Vries’ advantage of a year’s experience. Additionally, the depth of quality within that season’s grid was extraordinary. De Vries was up against 14 other drivers who at some point had links to F1, including Mercedes junior George Russell, fellow McLaren junior Lando Norris and ex–Red Bull junior Albon. Norris’ signing to the McLaren Young Driver Programme by new team principal Zak Brown meant that De Vries was now vying for the same route into F1 as one of his F2 rivals.

De Vries remained in the title fight up to Round 10 of 12 in Monza. With two Feature Race victories and two poles, the McLaren junior finished fourth in the standings, behind only Russell, Norris and Albon. He scored 202 of Prema’s 231 points on their path to fifth in the teams’ standings. But while Russell, Norris and Albon all made it to F1, De Vries still wasn’t deemed ready for F1 by Zak Brown. That meant it was time for a third shot at the F2 title in 2019.

At the start of the new year, De Vries and his management decided that he would leave McLaren. The then 24-year-old changed teams again for his third season, this time reuniting with the ART squad with whom he raced in GP3. Some may say of De Vries’ dominant, title-winning 2019 F2 campaign that the grid was lacklustre and that any third-year driver stepping into a championship-winning car from the year before should be the favourite. Most do not regard Felipe Drugovich as unworthy of praise for his 2022 F2 title just because he’s a third-year driver at a strong team and the rest of the grid was disappointing; so why shouldn’t De Vries’ accomplishment be afforded the same respect?

A black and white car heading toward the left of the screen on a racetrack
Nyck de Vries raced with ART Grand Prix in 2019 and won the championship | Credit: FIA Formula 2

De Vries improved from 114 points as a rookie in F2 to 202 points as a sophomore and then to 266 points as a champion. This is exactly the sort of steady progression that has shown him to be F1-ready. He has improved at the right times, while dealing with the pressures of a title comeback. For it was Nicholas Latifi who set the early pace in the 2019 F2 season, pulling out a 30-point lead on De Vries after three rounds. But then, De Vries’ detail-oriented mentality flourished. At Monaco, in extremely wet conditions, the Dutchman grabbed pole by almost half a second over Latifi and converted it to a dominant Feature Race win in chaotic circumstances. This victory in the Principality was only just the start of a rich vein of mid-season form, with another Feature Race win following a round later in France.

After France, De Vries led by 12 points. From this point onwards, the Dutchman never appeared under pressure and never relinquished his advantage over Latifi. In fact, the ART driver scored a podium in every round except for the first and last, highlighting the consistency key to his title charge. Yet for anyone who believes that he lacks pace, De Vries achieved five pole positions over the 12 rounds, while Latifi failed to achieve even one. He won the championship in style at Sochi with pole position, a lights-to-flag victory in the Feature Race and second in the Sprint Race. As Jack Doohan showed this year at Virtuosi, having a weaker teammate can be a hindrance, but De Vries seamlessly fit into the role of team leader, scoring a whopping 96 percent of ART Grand Prix’s total points in 2019. De Vries also scored the highest number of podiums in a single F2 season in 2019, with 12. With only 22 completed races that year, this also makes him the only driver in modern F2 history to have been on the podium for more than half of a season. His legacy therefore stands as one of the most underrated Formula 2 champions.

What’s next for Nyck?

The motorsport landscape has changed dramatically since De Vries left the feeder series world back in 2019. While all three of his 2018 F2 title rivals remain in F1, the Dutchman has gone on to star in Formula E with Mercedes-EQ, becoming the first Dutch driver to win an FIA World Championship in the process. Though FE’s controversial 2020–21 qualifying procedure that aided drivers lower in the championship makes this less impressive than his F2 conquest, his FE performances show how he has improved on track during his time with the German manufacturer.

By this stage in his career, De Vries hasn’t just impressed in the feeder-series world and Formula E, having been heavily involved in the endurance racing scene. Beginning in 2018, the Dutchman raced as part of the Racing Team Nederland squad in LMP2 in the World Endurance Championship. Their crowning glory came in the 2019 6 Hours of Fuji, when they won their class. He has also taken part in four editions of the 24 Hours of Le Mans and has gone on to win two European Le Mans Series races with G-Drive Racing. De Vries’ stock has only risen further since his 2019 title. When a future in F1 seemed unlikely, maintaining key connections, such as his link with Mercedes and Toto Wolff, ultimately enabled him the opportunity to feature in FP1 sessions for three different F1 teams throughout 2022. His consistency and dependability is the direct result of what he learned from his experiences after F2. Without those lessons, De Vries may not have improved to his level today.

Nyck De Vries | Credit: Joe Portlock / LAT Images / FIA F2 Championship

This progress was never more evident than during his singular appearance in an F1 race with Williams at Monza. The 27-year-old managed to reach Q2, while his teammate and old F2 rival Latifi failed to make it out of Q1. De Vries went on to finish P9 in the race and take two points, matching the Canadian’s season points total in just one round. This performance was a gateway to the top flight like no other – and in an interesting twist of fate, it was FR2.0, GP3 and F2 rival Albon whose appendicitis enabled De Vries to make his debut. Comparing Albon and De Vries shows that the pair have similar ability levels but have taken drastically different paths since their departure in 2018. We may never know how the two might have fared as teammates given De Vries’ move to AlphaTauri, but don’t overlook their potential rivalry for 2023.

Throughout his junior career, De Vries was always on par with and even beat drivers who are now in Formula 1. His unusual route to the top proves that the combination of talent and hard work eventually yields success. For a few years, he seemed certain to join the list of GP2 and F2 champions who never made that final step. Now that he is awaiting his first full-time season in F1, De Vries can finally prove that he deserved his chance. However, after all this time, he must make sure, for his sake, that he doesn’t wind up fighting at the back of the grid.

Header photo credit: Peter Fox / Getty Images

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