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F1 season review: did Nyck de Vries deserve better?

Nyck de Vries only made it ten races into the 2023 season at AlphaTauri before he was replaced by Daniel Ricciardo

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Nyck de Vries and his short-lived Formula 1 career was one of the most interesting storylines of 2023. It was also one of the most depressing ones.

De Vries after Qualifying at the 2023 British Grand Prix (Image Credit: Dan Istitene – Getty Images)

The story actually begins when Alex Albon got appendicitis back in September of 2022, and was forced to sit out of the Italian Grand Prix.

Williams Racing called on De Vries, a former Formula 2 and Formula E champion, to fill in for that one race.

De Vries out-qualified his teammate (Nicholas Latifi) and finished ninth to score two points for Williams, making his long-awaited Formula 1 debut one of the big stories of the season.

After making waves in that one-off performance, De Vries quickly became the subject of numerous silly season rumours, and ended up signing a contract to race with AlphaTauri for 2023.

What happened next was a let-down for De Vries and everyone who touted him to be a contender in the field. Ten, mostly average, races into the 2023 season, he lost his seat to Daniel Ricciardo and his Formula 1 career was over almost before it began.

Start of the season: things looking… fine

Starting off his first season in Formula 1, De Vries qualified 19th in Bahrain but made up five places to finish 14th in the race. It wasn’t a perfect start by any means, but he was left feeling “pretty satisfied” by the result, and there wasn’t much more anyone could have asked of him.

The next Grand Prix was a similar story, as De Vries qualified 18th and again finished 14th. In Australia he managed to get into Q2 for the first time this season, qualifying 15th, though behind his teammate, Yuki Tsunoda, yet again.

Several races later, in Miami, De Vries out-qualified his teammate for the first time, equalling his best starting position of 15th that year, while Tsunoda failed to get out of Q1. This victory was tainted, however, by the results of the race, where Tsunoda made his way up to 11th and De Vries fell down to 18th.

De Vries in his AlphaTauri during Qualifying at Monaco (Image Credit: AlphaTauri F1)

The best result of the season for De Vries came in Monaco, where he qualified 12th and managed to hold his position to finish 12th in the race. Tsunoda, who qualified ninth, dropped to 15th in the race and finished behind his teammate.

Notably, De Vries wasn’t blowing anyone out of the water. He wasn’t regularly outperforming his teammate, he wasn’t scoring points, he wasn’t doing the things that might have been expected by people, given his performance at Williams in 2022. But also notably, he wasn’t doing all that poorly either, when you consider that he was a rookie and only a few races into his Formula 1 career.

Lack of improvement

The Australian Grand Prix, the third race of the season, was the first that didn’t go at least somewhat well for De Vries. Qualifying 19th and retiring alongside three other drivers after a red flag restart pileup a few laps from the end, it was a weekend to forget for the rookie.

But the next race weekend didn’t go any better, as De Vries qualified last for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, failing to even set a time within 107% of the fastest lap of Q1. He was allowed to start the race from 20th, but crashed just nine laps in, hitting the barrier at Turn 5 and bringing out a Safety Car.

As the season continued, the fact remained that De Vries was not improving. He qualified 15th in Miami and finished 18th. He qualified 18th in Canada and stayed 18th in the race. His final two races, the Austrian Grand Prix and the British Grand Prix, saw him pick up two 17th places in a row.

De Vries
De Vries at the 2023 Canadian Grand Prix (Image Credit: AlphaTauri F1)
Losing his seat

All of these results culminated in AlphaTauri announcing that De Vries would be replaced by Ricciardo with immediate effect after the British Grand Prix.

The news came as a bit of a shock to the Formula 1 world, although the Red Bull family does have a reputation for being quick to cut drivers who aren’t performing up to standard. 

But while De Vries hadn’t been at all what he was prophesied to become after his one-off appearance in the 2022 Italian Grand Prix, he hadn’t done anything that seemed worth being fired mid-season over.

Ricciardo broke his wrist not long after stepping into the AlphaTauri, and was replaced by Liam Lawson for several races while he recovered. And the fact that Lawson and Ricciardo, both contesting fewer races than De Vries in the 2023 season, managed to score points in the AlphaTauri, is perhaps more damning to the Dutch driver’s reputation than anything that happened when he was actually in the car.

A product of unrealistic expectations

The reality is that De Vries’ short-lived Formula 1 career peaked in his first race, the one he did back in 2022 before he was even an official member of the grid.

By the time he landed a full-time seat at AlphaTauri, the standard he’d set for himself during his brief stint at Williams was impossible to uphold. Expectations from the media, the public, and the team were so high, that it was inevitable he would fall short.

De Vries and Tsunoda ahead of the 2023 Canadian Grand Prix (Image Credit: Bryn Lennon – Getty Images)

It’s easy to follow the narrative that De Vries performed so poorly that AlphaTauri had no chance to replace him, at least until you take a closer look. He only qualified dead last on two occasions, and maintained or made up positions in seven out of ten Grand Prix he contested in 2023.

He wasn’t doing particularly well, but not much worse, if at all, than his fellow rookie Logan Sargeant was doing at Williams. Of course, Sargeant is much younger and was coming off the back of a fourth-place finish in the Formula 2 championship and was not a well-established professional driver like De Vries. But the idea that, as a rookie, he was only given ten races to get up to speed before AlphaTauri gave up on him sets a worrying precedent for any rookies that follow in his footsteps.

In a way, the race that got him his shot at Formula 1 was also the race that damned him to be judged so harshly that he wasn’t even given a full season to get up to speed. On the other hand, if he hadn’t done so well in Monza he would never have gotten those ten races in the first place, so it’s up to De Vries to decide whether or not it was worth it to have raced in Formula 1 alongside some of the greatest drivers of this generation, but with such disastrous results.

Season rating – 3.5/10

Feature Image Credit: AlphaTauri F1

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