From Paddock Club to Monza points: Inside de Vries’ F1 debut dream

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When Mercedes’ Formula E champion de Vries rocked out in the Monza paddock on Friday, no one could have predicted the roller coaster weekend ahead.

As part of his Mercedes duties, de Vries was made available to his partner teams for a reserve role and took the wheel of Sebastian Vettel’s Aston Martin in first practice.

He was commended by Vettel and the team for his feedback, but planned to spend the rest of the weekend twiddling his thumbs, making the occasional media and VIP appearance and then working with Mercedes boss Toto Wolff to watch Sunday’s race, while he and his reserve colleagues Stoffel Vandoorne often do.

But when he spoke to the media after his FP1 outing, the conversation was more about the Dutchman’s future than his practice session.

“I thought we would talk about the FP1 session, you are all very aggressive,” he said when questions went straight to his 2023 plans.

He added that F1’s crazy season is “more volatile than cryptocurrency”, perhaps a harbinger of what would happen later that weekend.

When news came in on Saturday morning that Williams driver Alex Albon had appendicitis, de Vries was the obvious choice to replace him with the Mercedes-powered team. Not only had de Vries just become familiar with driving an F1 car at Monza, but he had also completed an FP1 with the Grove team in Barcelona.

De Vries was called 90 minutes before FP3 by Mercedes’ James Vowles to update him on the news as he sipped coffee at the Paddock Club as part of his other commitments.

Arriving at the Williams garage, the team was in a rush to prepare him for his only car practice session for qualifying, becoming the first driver since Harald Ertl in 1978 to compete for two different teams over a Grand Prix weekend.

“The team had to adjust a lot of things quickly, like my seat and the pedal positions,” he explained. “In FP3 you really only have two runs because you only have two sets of tires. There is no room for long runs, you have to push right away before you qualify.”

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Nyck de Vries, Williams FW44

Photo By: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

Reflecting on Saturday’s events, Williams team principal Jost Capito told TBEN: “He came in with a big smile, even though he knew it was going to be extremely difficult.

“He knows the team and the team has done everything they can to support him to be successful. We believe in him, we knew what he could do.”

But while the low-resistance Williams was a very different beast from the Aston – and, in De Vries’ favor, more competitive at Monza – that confidence proved justified.

In qualifying, the Dutchman was immediately faster than regular driver Nicholas Latifi in both Q1 laps. And while his fastest lap time was scrapped for track limits, De Vries’ previous lap was just enough for Q2.

With his fastest Q2 lap ruined by a braking error, his qualifying ended but a spate of grid penalties lifted him to an unlikely eighth-place finish for the race.

After the race, De Vries announced that he was unable to sleep on Saturday night because of the adrenaline rush.

“The past 24 hours have been just a dream – I didn’t really have much time to think because everything was so rushed,” he admitted.

“I slept very badly; it went from excitement to nerves, and I didn’t even dare to look at my sleep log because I was actually awake all night.

“But maybe it helped me. I couldn’t think and just had to get on with my work. The closer we got to the race, the more those nerves turned into energy.”

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Max Verstappen, who started next to him on the grid, exchanged congratulations with his compatriot during the night and gave him similar advice before the start.

“I just told him to enjoy it and not to stress too much,” said Verstappen. “You don’t have to think too much about a good start or a good first lap, you just have to let things happen and it seems Nyck has picked that up perfectly.”

He did, as on Sunday the 27-year-old got off to a decent start despite barely practicing the procedures, surviving the typical Monza melee at Turn 1 and then defending his place in Daniel Ricciardo’s DRS train.

Although the Monza traffic meant that De Vries could rarely show his full pace, he executed his one-stop strategy perfectly to come home ninth as the fans’ Driver of the Day.

After a short post-race penalty for a delta time violation under the late safety car, De Vries’ ninth place was confirmed, earning Williams two valuable points.

Nyck de Vries, Williams FW44, Zhou Guanyu, Alfa Romeo C42

Nyck de Vries, Williams FW44, Zhou Guanyu, Alfa Romeo C42

Photo By: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images

Of course, de Vries was in demand after the race and he received a big hug from Lewis Hamilton in the media pen, in addition to congratulations from other colleagues.

“Lewis congratulated me, they were all very supportive and very nice, so I appreciate the support,” he said.

“I was a bit surprised at our pace, we were able to follow quite comfortably.

“With 15 laps to go, I started thinking, ‘Here we can score points,’ but once that thought crossed my mind, I quickly said to myself, ‘No, stay focused. Focus!'”

De Vries, who had never completed a racing stint in an F1 car before, admitted he was quite happy to see the race finish behind the safety car.

“I can’t deny that,” he grinned. “I could barely keep my arms up during the cool down lap and my shoulders were sore.

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“We got some points and it was a great performance. And no one can take that away from us.”

When TBEN tracked down Williams chief Capito after the race, the German was equally ecstatic, but said he was not surprised by De Vries’ performance.

“I wouldn’t say I’m surprised because I rate him extremely highly, so therefore my expectations are extremely high and he’s lived up to them too much,” Capito said.

“It’s so hard to get in that car to race for two hours and do qualifying without making any mistakes.

“He has to defend, he has to attack, he has to take care of the tires. He has to do the pit stop well, he has to get a lap and not lose too much time with someone close behind him.

“And then there’s all the switches he has. It’s so more complicated than anything else he’s ridden before and then doing this without fail, it’s an absolutely excellent job.”

While trying to remain coy about De Vries’ chances of a race seat in 2023, Capito strongly suggested that Williams is keen to sign him and that the ball is now in his court, as he has also likely appeared on Alpine’s radar.

PLUS: How De Vries’ overdue F1 debut proved him worthy of a 2023 drive

If there’s one part of the briefing that De Vries failed to heed during his dream weekend, it was Capito’s instructions to get a good night’s sleep.

“I told him to sleep well and have nice dreams and Nyck said, ‘I’ll dream about a point,'” Capito said.

“And I said, ‘Don’t dream about it, get it!'”

Nyck de Vries, Williams Racing, the Williams team celebrates after scoring points on race debut

Nyck de Vries, Williams Racing, the Williams team celebrates after scoring points on race debut

Photo By: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images