From Paddock Club to Monza points: Inside de Vries' F1 debut dream

Nyck de Vries's Formula 1 debut at last weekend's Italian Grand Prix was as unlikely as it was memorable. This is a reconstruction of the Dutchman's "dream" 24 hours, that started in the Monza Paddock Club and ended with points.

From Paddock Club to Monza points: Inside de Vries' F1 debut dream

When Mercedes' Formula E champion de Vries rocked up in the Monza paddock on Friday no one could have predicted the rollercoaster weekend that would lie ahead of him.

As part of his Mercedes duties, de Vries was made available to its partner teams for a reserve role and took the wheel of Sebastian Vettel's Aston Martin in first practice.

He had been praised by Vettel and the team for his feedback but was set to spend the rest of the weekend all but twiddling his thumbs, make the odd media and VIP appearance and then watch Sunday's race alongside Mercedes boss Toto Wolff, as he and fellow reserve Stoffel Vandoorne often do.

But, speaking to the media after his FP1 outing, the conversation focused more on the Dutchman's future than about his practice session.

"I thought we were going to talk about the FP1 session, you are all very aggressive," he said when questions went straight into his 2023 plans.

He added that F1's silly season has been "more volatile than cryptocurrency", perhaps foreshadowing what would come to pass later that weekend.

When on Saturday morning news arrived that Williams driver Alex Albon had been struck by appendicitis, de Vries was the obvious choice to replace him at the Mercedes-powered team. Not only had de Vries just managed to familiarise himself with driving an F1 car at Monza, but he had also completed an FP1 with the Grove team in Barcelona.

De Vries was called by Mercedes' James Vowles to inform him of the news just 90 minutes before FP3 while he was sipping coffee in the Paddock Club as part of his other obligations.

Arriving in the Williams garage, the team was in a rush to prepare him for his only practice session in the car ahead of qualifying, becoming the first driver since Harald Ertl in 1978 to compete for two different teams during a grand prix weekend.

"The team had to quickly adjust a lot of things, like my seat and the pedal positions," he explained. "In FP3, you really only have two runs because you only have two sets of tyres. There's no room for long runs, you immediately have to push before qualifying."

Nyck de Vries, Williams FW44

Nyck de Vries, Williams FW44

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

Recalling Saturday's events, Williams team boss Jost Capito told Autosport: "He came in with a big smile, even though he knew that it would be extremely hard.

"He knows the team and the team did everything to support him to be successful. We believe in him, we knew what he could do."

But, while the low drag Williams was a much different beast than the Aston - and, to de Vries' benefit, more competitive at Monza - that confidence proved justified.

In qualifying, the Dutchman immediately went quicker than regular driver Nicholas Latifi in both his Q1 laps. And, while his fastest lap time was deleted for track limits, de Vries's previous lap was just enough for Q2.

With his fastest Q2 lap ruined by making a mistake under braking, that's where his qualifying ended, but a spate of grid penalties moved him up to an unlikely eighth place for the race.

After the race, de Vries revealed he hadn't been able to sleep on Saturday night because of the adrenalin rush.

"The whole of the last 24 hours have just been a dream - I didn’t really have much time to think because everything was so rushed," he admitted.

“I had a very bad sleep; it went from excitement into nerves, and I didn’t dare even look into my sleep tracking because basically I spent the whole night awake.

“But perhaps it helped me. I couldn’t think and I just had to get on with the job. The closer we got to the race, the more those nerves turned into energy."

Max Verstappen, who started alongside him on the grid, exchanged congratulatory texts with his compatriot overnight and handed him similar advice before the start.

"I just told him he has to enjoy it and not stress too much," commented Verstappen. "You don't have to think too much about having a good start or a good first lap, you just have to let things happen and it looks like Nyck took that on board perfectly."

Indeed he did, because on Sunday the 27-year-old made a reasonable start despite barely practicing the procedures, survived the typical Monza melee in Turn 1 and then defended his place in Daniel Ricciardo's DRS train.

While the Monza traffic meant de Vries rarely got to show his full pace, he perfectly executed his one-stop strategy to come home in ninth as the fans' Driver of the Day.

Following a brief post-race penalty scare due to a delta time infringement under the late safety car, de Vries's ninth place was confirmed, earning Williams two valuable points.

Nyck de Vries, Williams FW44, Zhou Guanyu, Alfa Romeo C42

Nyck de Vries, Williams FW44, Zhou Guanyu, Alfa Romeo C42

Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images

Naturally, de Vries was in high demand after the race and received a big hug from Lewis Hamilton in the media pen, among congratulations from other peers.

"Lewis congratulated me, they’ve all been very supportive and very kind, so I appreciate the support," he said.

"I was a little surprised about our pace, we were able to follow quite comfortably.

"With 15 laps to go, I started thinking: 'We can score points here' but when that thought popped in my mind, I quickly told myself: 'No, stay focused. Focus!'"

Having never completed a race stint before in an F1 car, de Vries admitted he was quite happy to see the race end behind the safety car.

"That I can't deny," he grinned. "I could barely keep my arms up during the cooldown lap and my shoulders were quite sore.

“We took some points, and it was a great performance. And no one can take that away from us."

When Autosport tracked down Williams chief Capito after the race, the German was equally ecstatic but said he wasn't surprised by de Vries' performance.

"I wouldn't say surprised because I rate him extremely high, so that's why my expectations are extremely high and he overfulfilled these," Capito said.

"It's so difficult to get in that car to race for two hours and do the qualifying and not doing any mistake.

"He has to defend, he has to attack, he has to look after the tyres. He has to do the pitstop right, he has to get lapped and not lose too much time with somebody being close behind him.

"And then there's all the switches he has. It's so more complicated than anything else he has driven before and then doing this without any mistake, it's absolutely outstanding job."

While trying to remain coy on de Vries' chances of a 2023 race seat, Capito firmly suggested Williams is keen on signing him and that the ball is now in his court, given he is likely to have appeared on Alpine's radar as well.

PLUS: How de Vries' overdue F1 debut proved him worthy of a 2023 drive

If there's one part of the briefing that de Vries failed to heed during his dream weekend, it was Capito's instructions to get a good night's sleep.

"I told him to sleep well and have nice dreams and Nyck said: 'I will dream about a point'," Capito said.

"And I said: 'Don't dream about it, get it!'"

Nyck de Vries, Williams Racing, the Williams team celebrate after securing points on race debut

Nyck de Vries, Williams Racing, the Williams team celebrate after securing points on race debut

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

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