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The big gamble of Nyck de Vries (and Felipe Drugovich)

The big gamble of Nyck de Vries (and Felipe Drugovich)

27-09-2023 13:33 Last update: 15:38
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Ludo van Denderen

That Nyck de Vries would resume his career in Formula E after a failed adventure was to be expected. After all, as a former champion, the Dutchman has a lot of value in the electric class. His decision to opt for Mahindra is surprising, though. The Indian team has had a disastrous season, which makes De Vries' move not without risks.

Mahindra got plenty of media attention last year, but not in the way the team wanted: the car was not fast enough and - worse - at times too dangerous to race. Mahindra and customer team ABT Cupra were forced to miss the South African ePrix due to rear suspension problems.

Mahindra had a difficult season

Speaking to GPblog earlier this year, team boss Frederic Bertrand said he was "a bit frustrated" with the results, but there was hope. Mahindra, by necessity, started late in the development of the Gen3 car and was actually constantly behind the times. But Bertrand also touted his team's potential and - he said - was sure Mahindra would be a factor at some point.

For Mahindra, the time between season nine and the upcoming 10 in Formula E is mostly about improving the software on the cars (most other things, such as the power unit or chassis, may not be modified). With an all-new line-up formed by familiar Formula E driver Edoardo Mortara and Nyck de Vries, next season should be better than last year.

So much for paper reality. In reality, it remains to be seen to what extent Mahindra can move from the last rows on the grid - and let's remain cautious - to a place in the middle of the pack within a few months. Indeed, not only does Mahindra use the months between seasons to improve, but so do its competitors.

Can Nyck de Vries still do it?

During his adventure in Formula 1, plenty of people have come to doubt his qualities. No doubt De Vries wants revenge on all those critics and certainly on the executives within Red Bull, although the Dutchman is not the type to speak this out loud. Still, with Mahindra under construction, there is a real chance that De Vries and Mortara (both of whom have had a difficult period in their careers) will not be able to compete for wins, so they may not even compete in the midfield.

That De Vries signed a multi-year deal with Mahindra shows that he has a lot of faith in the Indian team's rise. If not in the short term, then in the longer term. Along with this, it is expected that he will also sign with world champion Toyota soon to embark on an adventure in the World Endurance Championship(WEC).

The Japanese have been the dominant team in endurance racing for many years, but at the same time, they are seeing increasing competition in the WEC with more and more hypercars. Toyota will inevitably have to relinquish the crown at some point, as already happened to Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

De Vries' long-term commitment to Mahindra also means that he has really put a renewed adventure in Formula 1 out of his mind. On the quiet, the Dutchman might have hoped that the likes of Williams - where he filled in for a Grand Prix in 2022 to his fuller satisfaction - would want to give him a second chance, but that door now seems closed.

Drugovich also taking a risk

With De Vries and Mortara at Mahindra, as well as the announcement that Jehan Daruvala is stepping in at Maserati, there is only one more seat free in Formula E for 2024. Lucas di Grassi, who left Mahindra, is the leading candidate to fill the vacancy at ABT Cupra, thus returning to the team with which he became Formula E world champion in 2017.

If all the seats are filled, it means one interesting name is probably missing. Felipe Drugovich, currently reigning Formula 2 champion and reserve driver at Aston Martin F1, could count on a lot of interest from the FE (Maserati, Andretti Global). The Brazilian is also being linked to Williams as a replacement for Logan Sargeant. Red Bull junior Liam Lawson is also in the picture for this spot.

So not only is Nyck de Vries taking a gamble, but so is Drugovich. Indeed, if Williams decides not to choose him, another year on the sidelines awaits. At the age of 23, the Brazilian should be putting in the miles. Otherwise, a future like Ferrari reserve driver Robert Shwartzman could be waiting for him: also once a great talent, but now completely out of the picture.