[Feature] Nyck de Vries: “I’m aiming for the title”

Member of the McLaren Young Driver Development Programme, Nyck de Vries (Koiranen GP) is aiming to win the Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 title this year. After setting a new lap record for the category at the Circuit Paul Ricard, the Dutch driver looked on from the stands during collective testing in Barcelona due to the testing restrictions for drivers competing in two different championships. Will 2014 be Nyck de Vries’ year?

Like many young drivers, Nyck de Vries began his racing career in a go-kart. It was very much a family affair. “My father was involved in motorsports,” explained the 19 year-old Dutchman. “He bought me a go-kart for my fourth birthday, and really pushed me into it. To be honest, I was a little bit afraid at the beginning, but once I got used to it, I really enjoyed it! From then on, I knew I wanted to continue racing. That was it.”

Having caught the racing bug, very quickly the Dutchman’s talent shone through in all of the categories in which he competed. “I quickly spent my weekends on karting tracks and practising all the time,” admitted Nyck de Vries. “Slowly, I started to increase the intensity. Eventually, when I turned 13 I was allowed to compete in international karting events. We then decided to move to Italy to optimize my preparation because all the go-kart factories are based in Italy. We surprised ourselves with our performances in the first year. We were afraid that we might struggle at some point but as time went by, things just got better and better!”

As he racked up titles and podium finishes, Nyck de Vries’ results caught the eye of many onlookers from the upper echelons of the motorsport world. “In 2009, I won the European Championship in KF3. By the end of the year, I was talking with McLaren, Ferrari and other teams. I finally decided to sign with McLaren. Without their support, I wouldn’t be here today. They support me with everything I need, basically. I have a doctor, a personal trainer and last year, I got track support from one of their engineers. And, obviously, they fund my racing as well”.

After joining the McLaren Young Driver Development Programme, the talented Dutch youngster won two consecutive CIK-FIA World Championship titles before moving into single-seater racing in the Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0. Following a podium finish in his first race at Motorland Aragón, Nyck de Vries was consistently among the front-runners, ending his first season fifth in the overall standings. He also won his first race in an appearance at Assen in the NEC championship.

“The transition was very difficult”, he admitted. “Karting and single-seaters are really different. Some things are related but the position you sit in the car and your view are different. Also, the race format is really different. Braking is probably the most difficult thing to get on top of. And in karting, you have a lot more time to get used to everything!”, commented Nyck de Vries.

“In the end, I was rookie of the year in 2012 so I can’t say we did a bad job. I think if I look back at the beginning of the season, we were actually really strong but for some reason we couldn’t keep that going. In the last couple of races, the weather conditions were hard. I think I struggled there a little bit due to my lack of experience. I remember at Paul Ricard, qualifying was really damp, it was very difficult…”

In 2013, Formula Renault 2.0 changed whilst Nyck de Vries decided to join Koiranen GP. Seen as one of the favourites for the title, Nyck de Vries had a tough start to the season.

“We decided to change teams because I had to fight for the championship in my second year. We didn’t want to take any risks, so we went to a team that had experience of winning races and fighting for the championship. And obviously, R-Ace GP was still a very young team,” detailed the driver.

“Unfortunately, I made a really bad start to the season. Why it happened we are still not sure, but there were a number of little things that, in the end, made a big difference. I think pace-wise we were quite good from at the beginning of the season. If you look at my times in collective testing and free practice I was near the front, but for some reason I wasn’t able to deliver in qualifying, so obviously the races became difficult. So we started to lose confidence and to doubt ourselves. Once you get into a negative spiral, you tend to make mistakes, try to change the setup and so on. I started to overdrive to compensate and it’s really difficult to get out,” admitted Nyck de Vries in an honest appraisal.

“We really needed the summer break to be able to come back for a fresh start. With two wins and five podium finishes, I scored more points than everyone in the last six races. I tend to think it was possible because the team and myself didn’t lose our belief and determination to get over our difficult start to the season. We managed to show everyone we were capable of doing the job.”

Ultimately fifth in the championship, the Dutchman opted to compete in Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 for another year, once again starting as favourite for the title.

“I am aiming for the title, but I’m actually quite relaxed about this season. We’ll just take it as we do normally: focus on every race and maximise our performances in every situation. Then we will see where we are at the end of the year. Hopefully we’ll finish on top, but we are not going to do something really different because we need to win.”

“There are many drivers who are able to fight for race wins. The field is really competitive; last year, there were seven different race winners, it was quite impressive. Two thousandths in qualifying can make the difference between fighting for a win or a podium. The difference between being a hero or a loser is really small. That is also part of why we decided to stay in the Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0. To have the pressure and to have to deliver results.”

Among the front-runners in the collective test sessions held at Motorland Aragón and the Circuit Paul Ricard, Nyck de Vries has a very full schedule ahead of him this year. Also taking part in the ALPS championship, which restricts his pre-season programme in the Eurocup, the Dutchman remains a very busy man.

“I work for my father, who has a tyre storage centre. Right now, people are busy changing from winter to summer tyres, as the rules require this in Holland. I help him to pick up and deliver tyres. Obviously, I have also my commitments with McLaren, which is where I headed last Friday. I’ve also taken part in testing for the FIA Formula E project in the Spark Renault SRT_01E, a project in which McLaren is involved. It is difficult to manage everything as I am busy with different things, but I really want to win the Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0.”

“I’m now going to prepare myself for the opening round of the Formula Renault 2.0 ALPS in Imola. We seem to be ready. The car is in good shape and the pace is good, but there really is very little to choose between everyone,” he concluded. Nyck will return to action in the World Series by Renault at the opening round of the season at Motorland Aragón on 26-27 April.

Nyck de Vries
Birth: 6 February 1995 in Sneek (Netherlands)
Height/Weight: 1.65m/54kg
1999-2011: Karting
2008: German Junior Kart Championship (Champion), WSK International Series – KF3 (Champion)
2009: CIK-FIA European Championship (Champion), German Junior Kart Championship (Champion), WSK International Series – KF3 (Champion), CIK-FIA World Cup – KF3 (5th)
2010: CIK-FIA World Championship (Champion), CIK-FIA World Cup (3rd), WSK Euro Series - SKF (2nd)
2011: CIK-FIA World Championship (Champion), WSK Euro Series – KF1 (Champion)
2012: Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 (5th) and Formula Renault 2.0 NEC* (10th)
2013: Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 (5th) and Formula Renault 2.0 ALPS* (8th)
2014: Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 and Formula Renault 2.0 ALPS
*partial programme