With two top-six finishes in three races, Nyck de Vries - the best-placed rookie in the driver standings - missed his first first podium place in Santiago due to a technical infringement. While the Mercedes-Benz EQ driver appears to have rapidly adapted to life in the ABB FIA Formula E Championship, in reality, the Dutchman laid the foundations for his impressive start many years ago.
As recently as December 1 – one week after the start of the Formula E season in Diriyah – de Vries was still racing in FIA Formula 2, having opted to make the move to the electric racing series during the latter part of last year’s Formula 2 season. Despite that, de Vries' path in all electric racing was already well established.
“I love racing and the feeling of sitting in a racing car,” says the 24-year-old driver. When Spark Racing Technology approached him to test the Gen1 Formula E car back in 2014, he was quick to accept. At the time he was part of the young driver programme at McLaren.
By taking part in regular test drives to develop and optimise the Gen1 model, de Vries experienced what it was like to sit in an electric race car. At the same time, it gave him a foot in the door of Formula E and a good alternative to Formula One. It wasn't long before a number of Formula E teams approached him for testing, including Audi in 2017, Virgin and NIO in 2018, and finally Mercedes-Benz EQ in the summer of last year.
By this point he had long since proven his talent as a racing driver, having won the Karting World Championship in 2010 and 2011 as well as the Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 in 2014, pipping current Formula One driver Charles Leclerc. By 2019, he was leading the Formula 2 driver’s championship. For de Vries, it was clear that with the championship title in Formula 2, he was more than ready for the next step.
Already working as the simulator driver for Formula One squad Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport, the Dutchman stepped up to the challenge of becoming one of the first drivers for Mercedes' first entry into all-electric racing. But the beginning was far from easy. “It was extremely difficult. The differences between a Formula 2 car and a Formula E car are huge. The engine, the downforce, the tyres, the tracks – it’s a completely different feeling," said de Vries.
"The races and the concept behind them are not the same either.” But the Mercedes driver would not have made it this far in his career if he hadn't learnt to master challenges. As a 13-year-old he left his native Netherlands and moved to Italy to be closer to a number of kart manufacturers.
His willingness to learn is what sets him apart. “I’m not in top shape just yet. I’m a rookie in the championship and still learning. There are still a lot of things that I need to improve. Race management is certainly one of the areas where I can do better,” he says candidly. "[Formula E is] exciting, but it can also be frustrating.” With much of the season ahead of him, will the young Mercedes driver manage to hold his place as one of the most successful rookies and take on the seasoned elite?
Published on 30th January 2020