When Mercedes Formula E champion De Vries appeared in the Monza paddock on Friday, no one could have predicted the roller coaster ride that awaited him. Not even him, of course.
As always, due to his role at Mercedes, De Vries made himself available to his client teams as a reserve driver and contested the first free practice session on Friday in Vettel ‘s Aston Martin.
Sebastian Vettel and the team praised him for his contribution, but the rest of the weekend was going to be child’s play for him: an appearance in front of the media and VIP guests, and then to watch Sunday’s race with the Mercedes director Toto Wolff , as he and his partner Stoffel Vandoorne often do.
And indeed, speaking to the media after FP1, the conversation was more about the Dutchman’s future than his free practice session.
“I thought we were going to talk about the FP1 session, you are all very aggressive,” he said when questions moved directly to his plans for 2023.
He added that F1’s 2022 silly season has been “more volatile than cryptocurrencies”, perhaps foreshadowing what was to come later that weekend.
When news broke on Saturday morning that Williams driver Alex Albon had suffered appendicitis, De Vries was the obvious choice to replace him at the Mercedes-powered team. De Vries had not only managed to familiarize himself with driving an F1 car at Monza, but had also done an FP1 with the Grove team in May, in Barcelona.
Mercedes’ James Vowles was the one who called de Vries to inform him of the news just 90 minutes before FP3, while he was having coffee at the Monza circuit’s Paddock Club as part of his other duties.
Arriving at Williams’ garage, the team rushed to prepare him for the car’s only practice session before qualifying, which would make him the first driver since Harald Ertl in 1978 to compete for two different teams during a grand prix weekend.
“The team had to quickly adjust a lot of things, like my seat and pedal positions,” he explained. “In FP3 you really only have two sprints because you only have two sets of tyres. There is no room for long sprints, you have to push immediately before qualifying.”
Recalling the events of Saturday, Williams team boss Jost Capito told Motorsport.com: “He came in with a big smile, even though he knew it would be extremely difficult.
“He knows the team and the team did everything they could to support him to be successful. We believe in him, we knew what he could do.”
But while the low-downforce Williams was a very different machine to the Aston Martin – and to de Vries’ benefit, also more competitive at Monza – that confidence turned out to be justified.
In qualifying, the Dutchman was immediately quicker than starting driver Nicholas Latifi over both of his Q1 laps. And although his fastest lap was eliminated by track limits, the previous lap he had done was enough to see him through to Q2.
His fastest lap in Q2 was marred by a braking error, and his qualifying ended there, but a series of grid penalties saw him drop to an eighth-place start for Sunday.
After the race, de Vries revealed that he had been unable to sleep on Saturday night due to adrenaline.
“The last 24 hours have been a dream. I haven’t had much time to think because everything has been very rushed,” he admitted.
“I slept terrible, I went from excited to nervous, and I didn’t even dare to look at my sleep tracking because I basically stayed up all night.
“But that maybe helped me. I couldn’t think and just had to get on with the job. The closer we got to the race, the more those nerves turned into energy.”
Max Verstappen, who started next to him on the grid (7th), exchanged congratulatory messages with his compatriot during the night and gave him some advice before the start.
“I just told him he has to enjoy himself and not get too stressed,” said the Red Bull Racing man. “You don’t have to think too much about making a good start or a good first lap, just let things happen and it seems like Nyck took that perfectly.”
In fact, he did, because on Sunday the 27-year-old made a good start despite barely being able to practice the procedures, survived the typical Monza scrum at Turn 1 and then defended his place in the DRS train that formed Daniel Ricciardo.
Although Monza traffic meant De Vries was rarely able to show his full pace, he executed his one-stop strategy to perfection to finish in ninth position and was voted ‘Driver of the Day’ by the fans.
Following a brief post-race penalty threat due to a delta time infringement during the final safety car, de Vries’ ninth place was confirmed, earning Williams two valuable points. In fact, it equaled the team’s best result (Alexander Albon had achieved it) in all of 2022.
De Vries was obviously in great demand after the race and received a big hug from Lewis Hamilton in the media playpen, amidst congratulations from other teammates.
“Lewis has congratulated me, everyone has been very supportive and very kind. So I appreciate the support.”
“I was a bit surprised by our pace, we were able to follow the others quite comfortably”.
“With 15 laps to go I started thinking, ‘We can score points here,’ but when that thought popped into my mind, I quickly said, ‘No, stay focused. Focus.’
Having never completed a race stint in an F1 car before, de Vries admitted he was quite pleased to see the race finish behind the safety car, in less demanding fashion.
“I can’t deny that,” he smiled. “I could barely keep my arms up on the lap back into the pitlane and my shoulders were quite sore.”
“We have added some points and it has been a great performance. And nobody can take that away from us.”
When Motorsport.com reached out to Williams boss Capito after the race, the German was equally elated but said he was not surprised by de Vries’ performance.
“I wouldn’t say I was surprised because I have a very high regard for him, that’s why my expectations are very high and he has more than fulfilled them,” Capito said.
“It’s very difficult to get in that car to race for two hours and do qualifying and not make any mistakes.
“Having to defend, attacking, looking after the tyres. Having to get the pit stop right, having to be lapped and not wasting too much time on someone close to him.”
“And then there are all the buttons and knobs that the steering wheel has. It’s much more complicated than anything I’ve ever driven before and to do this without any errors is an absolutely outstanding job.”
Though he tried to remain coy about de Vries’ chances of securing a 2023 seat, Capito strongly suggested that Williams is interested in signing him and that the ball is now in his court, given that he has also appeared on Alpine’s radar.
If there’s one part of the briefing De Vries missed during his dream weekend, it was Capito’s instructions to get him a good night’s sleep.
“I told him to sleep well and have good dreams and Nyck said, ‘I’m going to dream about a point.'”
“And I told him, ‘Don’t dream about it, get it.’