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Is the F1 opportunity at Williams a tipping point in De Vries' career?

Is the F1 opportunity at Williams a tipping point in De Vries' career?

18 May - 09:05
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GPblog.com

Nyck de Vries will be in action during the first free practice session for the Spanish Grand Prix this weekend. Williams is using the Dutchman for the mandatory 'Young Driver Session', but how did it come to De Vries' F1 debut and what does this mean for his future.

Young Driver Session

In 2022, all Formula 1 teams are required to use 'Young Drivers' during two sessions. The purpose of Rule 8.5 B. II of the 2022 Regulations is to give young and talented drivers the opportunity in Formula 1. Therefore, only drivers who have been active in F1 for a maximum of two race weekends are allowed to participate in this session.

In this way, Formula 1 circumvents the problem that arose at the end of 2020. Then, during a Young Driver Test, Fernando Alonso and Robert Kubica came into action. Since they were not scheduled as regular drivers and had not driven for several years, they were still eligible for this test. That is no longer the case.

Yet they do not necessarily have to be young talents, because there is no age limit set for this test and so drivers who have never had a chance in F1, can now get it during a first free practice. For example, Nyck de Vries at 27 is not exactly young anymore, but he is a driver who has not yet seen any official F1 weekends in action.

Williams drivers

So with this mandatory rule, teams like Williams have to look for a talented driver. The Grove-based team has its own academy, but with Jamie Chadwick, Logan Sargeant, Roy Nissany, Zak O'Sullivan and Oliver Gray, Williams doesn't exactly have a talent in training that is already banging on the door of F1. None of those drivers has access to a super license either.

Williams' backup driver does: Jack Aitken. The Briton was already in action on behalf of the team in Bahrain in late 2020 when George Russell was needed as a replacement for coronavirus-infected Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes. Aitken has not driven a meter in F1 since then, so he would also be allowed to be in action.

Williams has a good partnership with Mercedes, but unlike McLaren and Aston Martin, there was no talk of working with Stoffel Vandoorne and Nyck de Vries prior to 2022. Mercedes' two reserve drivers were made available to the German team's customers, but Williams was not mentioned in this regard.

Despite the link with Mercedes and the fact that De Vries meets the requirements of the Young Driver Session (unlike Vandoorne), it is not necessarily logical that Williams chose the Dutchman. As a reserve driver, you would expect Aitken to be given priority. The Briton may be racing at the Red Bull Ring this weekend in the ADAC GT Masters, but a chance at a first free practice session in F1 isn't something you easily pass up. Especially when there are so many rumours around the seat of one of the regular drivers.

Pressure on Latifi

And that brings us to the main point of this story: Williams is already looking at next year. It is no secret that Nicholas Latifi is under intense pressure within the team. The Canadian performed less than Russell in the last two years, but with Alexander Albon as his new teammate, more was expected of him. However, he cannot live up to those expectations yet.

De Vries and Oscar Piastri are frequently mentioned as potential successors to the Canadian. This could be before 2023, but during 2022 would also be a possibility according to some sources. Williams would have to break Latifi's contract and probably also the associated sponsorship deal with his father. Williams itself denies these rumours.

With these rumours in mind, it is not so strange that De Vries gets a chance at Williams. The Dutchman was already a serious candidate for a seat at the British team for 2022 as a replacement for Russell, but then eventually Albon was preferred because he already had experience in Formula 1. With Latifi under pressure, it is not surprising that Williams is coming out to the reigning Formula E world champion again.

Piquant here is also that De Vries has shown at an earlier stage that he is better than the Canadian. In 2019, they battled for the Formula 2 title and it was the Dutchman who came out on top. Yet it was Latifi who (with the help of a big bag of money) got a chance at Williams and De Vries had to do without a seat in F1.

Important moment for De Vries

In Barcelona it is also Albon who makes way for De Vries in FP1, allowing De Vries and Latifi to come into action in the same session and under the same circumstances. Of course, it is just a practice session, but engineers at Williams will be looking at the differences a bit more than usual on Friday.

In that respect, Williams doesn't necessarily need to see Aitken. The Briton already got a chance in the car once in 2020 and then performed well alongside Latifi in the Williams. In qualifying, Aitken was only narrowly slower than his teammate who had been in that car for a year, but in the race, Aitken made a mistake and hit the wall. The Brit finished the race in sixteenth place.

Although for now, it is only a practice session for the mandatory 'Young Driver Session', much indicates that this is not just another test for De Vries. He was not the obvious choice for Williams and with the rumours surrounding Latifi, Williams could have also protected its driver by not fueling the rumours further. Now the storm will not subside at all, let alone what happens if De Vries is faster in FP1 than Latifi. De Vries is facing an important weekend in his career, that's for sure.

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