Should Nyck de Vries Be in F1?
When you become the champion of a sport, a certain expectation comes with it as a result. People anticipate that a champion will defend their crown or move up to a new level to prove that they have what it takes against even better opponents. However, for Nyck de Vries, that didn’t exactly happen as he planned. The Dutch driver won Formula 2 to become the 2019 champion but never advanced to Formula 1, as many thought he deserved. He instead had to go the electric route and has since become the first Formula E World Champion. The door that F1 seemed to slam in his face might slowly be creaking open, but does de Vries deserve a chance?
A new mandate in Formula One stipulates that every F1 team must allow a rookie driver to drive at least two Friday practices over the year a tremendous ruling for young drivers. Williams has already welcomed de Vries to their garage earlier in the season to drive the FW44 in the Spanish Grand Prix’s first Free Practice session. This weekend at the French Grand Prix, Mercedes is following suit and letting their Formula E champion swap to petrol power to drive the W13.
There are big shoes (perhaps that should be tires?) to fill for de Vries. He is stepping into Lewis Hamilton’s car at Circuit Paul Ricard to take over from the seven-time world champion for the FP1 session. Hamilton has turned the Mercedes team into his family since joining in 2013, helping them win an astonishing eight Constructors’ championships. However, the 2022 Mercedes newcomer and F2 champion before de Vries, George Russell, is showing that Hamilton is beatable.
Of course, nobody expects de Vries to jump into a car he’s completely unfamiliar with and set the fastest lap times of the session. Unlike Russell, he’s not coming into this drive with three years of F1 experience under his belt and a winter bedding himself in at the team. However, de Vries is quick. In the Spanish Free Practice session, his fastest lap beat Nicholas Latifi’s best time in the sister FW44 by a tenth, which is a statement of intent. If de Vries is within a few tenths of a highly-rated driver like Russell in France, his stock price could shoot up, and the so-called silly season could implode.
I feel at a loss with what I think F1 should do with de Vries, as he’s landed at a crossroads. I firmly believe the Formula 2 champion should have an opportunity to race in F1 simply from a simple promotion system. In a sport with so few seats available, the sight of perennial backmarkers paying for their drives, or has-beens past their peak blocking the only way through for a youngster, is infuriating. De Vries never had that chance after his 2019 F2 title win, so getting a full-time drive seems overdue.
On the other hand, de Vries is now a World Champion in Formula E, and he will find a drive in any sportscar championship, let alone walk into most Formula E seats for the next half-decade. Even with his Formula E Mercedes-EQ employer ceasing their operations in 2023, rival teams would welcome a driver that is a proven quantity. Moreover, he’s obtained a level of reputation that’ll ensure him a paid racing seat until he retires; his joining F1 would only deprive the next young prospect of their chance of doing the same. There’s still no news about 2021’s F2 champ Oscar Piastri joining F1, and he’s six years de Vries’ junior. Surely Piastri should precede de Vries?
There are a lot of ifs, buts, and maybes in any discussion about any marriage between de Vries and an F1 seat. Even with its World Championship status, winning Formula E doesn’t magically mean you’re worthy of an F1 drive. Many people, including myself (for the most part), perceive the all-electric championship as the dumping ground for those who wouldn’t or couldn’t make it in Formula One. Names like Antonio Giovinazzi, Sebastian Buemi, Pascal Wehrlein, Jean-Eric Vergne, and even fellow Mercedes-EQ driver Stoffel Vandoorne all raced in F1 and failed to set the world on fire yet these are de Vries’ peers.
Should de Vries set the fastest time of the weekend and immediately look at home in the F1 car on Friday, he’s far too late to join the merry-go-round of 2023 driver contracts. We’re at the point of the season where discussions for next year’s drives have been going on privately for months. I suspect some drivers have already signed contracts, and PR departments are adding finishing touches ahead of pre- or post-summer break announcements. There’s no room for an eleventh-hour entry here.
Sadly, for de Vries, I think these FP1 outings will be the best he can hope for in F1, aside from fulfilling his reserve driver role should Hamilton or Russell be injured or fall sick. While I empathize with the Dutchman, F1 is a ruthless 200mph sport on and off-track. His golden chance is well in the past, and backdating an opportunity while F2’s reigning champion Piastri is waiting would delay the already elongated queue. Unfortunately, for some champs, F1 is just not meant to be, and de Vries is one of them.
Originally published at Fortloc.com