How De Vries could partner Verstappen at Red Bull

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In 2023, there will be two Dutchmen racing full-time on the Formula 1 grid, namely Max Verstappen and Nyck de Vries. It is not a unique situation given that Robert Doornbos and Christijan Albers were Minardi teammates 2005, although they were firmly rooted towards the back of the pack and rarely challenged for points. Eighteen years on things are different. Verstappen is favourite to claim a third-straight World Championship with Red Bull and rookie de Vries plans to spring a surprise with AlphaTauri, having finally been handed his F1 chance. Italian Grand Prix changes career By winning the 2020 Italian Grand Prix Pierre Gasly stunned F1, claiming AlphaTauri’s maiden victory and the first for the Faenza squad since Sebastian Vettel’s 12 years earlier at the same venue. It was an opportunity Gasly, who proved that his troubled days – and demotion from Red Bull’s senior team in 2019 – were behind him, desperately needed. Similarly, de Vries’s career also changed during the 2022 Italian Grand Prix following an unexpected call-up from Williams on Saturday morning after Alexander Albon was diagnosed with appendicitis. He qualified 12th, then held his own throughout the race to come home ninth and bank two points on debut – something not even Verstappen had managed! The 2020/21 Formula E World Champion’s drive opened the doors for a full-time F1 seat. Much like Gasly’s feat two years prior, that Italian Grand Prix drive proved a launchpad for de Vries, just as AlphaTauri are looking to rejuvenate themselves following a poor 2022. They slipped to ninth in the Constructors’ Championship with just 35 points as a bulky car proved too much for Gasly and Yuki Tsunoda to overcome, posting the team’s worst showing since 2018 while still racing as Toro Rosso. In 2023 the team plans to bounce to midfield respectability, providing a chance for de Vries to impress at the top level – an opportunity he thought may never come, and something Doornbos and Albers couldn’t do given their backmarker equipment. Why not Red Bull? Critics suggest that at the age of 28 de Vries is too “old”, but forget not that two decades ago drivers regularly made their debuts in their mid-20s, unlike the teenagers of today. As Fernando Alonso continues to prove, age is just a number with former rival Mark Webber also a good example of a late bloomer. The outspoken Australia debuted at 25 with Minardi in 2002 before moves to Jaguar, Williams and finally Red Bull – where he enjoyed nine race wins and came within missing a South Korean wall of winning the 2010 title. With solid results and a smidgeon of luck, Red Bull could be de Vries’s next step. Verstappen’s racing career has been rather different than that of de Vries: the F1 World Champion was propelled into F1 at just 17 after a single season of car racing, while de Vries has waited nearly a decade longer for his opportunity, albeit with stops in various categories along the way. However, it’s not impossible for the two Dutch drivers could end up as teammates, especially if de Vries performs consistently, i.e., proves quicker than teammate Tsunoda and fully exploits ‘outlier’ moments such as Gasly, whose seat he takes after the Frenchman signed for Alpine, did in 2020. However, the current incumbent of Red Bull’s second seat could be stumbling block: team boss Christian Horner says Sergio Perez knows that he must deliver, namely provide full support for Verstappen by chasing the Dutchman and grabbing opportunistic wins when things don’t pan out for the team leader. The Mexican enjoyed his best-ever season in 2022, taking two wins and finishing third in the Drivers’ Championship – but is now 33 years old with a contract that expires at the end of 2024. He is also aware that reserve driver Daniel Ricciardo is breathing down his neck, anxious to make a return to racing with Red Bull. Promotion to the senior Red Bull team is some way off for de Vries – who has just one F1 start to his name – and thus has his focus on his maiden season, but he must build on his superb Monza performance. If he delivers at AlphaTauri and the timing is right, de Vries could be next in line for a Red Bull drive – especially as Horner and Helmut Marko are not averse to shuffling drivers. That means outshining Tsunoda from the off, then proving he is capable of out-pacing (and -racing, not the same thing) Perez and Ricciardo. De Vries is well-placed ahead of his first F1 season – with the pressure at AlphaTauri not as white-hot as at the sharp end of the pack – provided the team delivers a competitive package that enables him to fight at the front of the mid-field. De Vries has proven he belongs in the pinnacle of motorsport – his FE and Formula 2 titles attest as much – but needs to make a case for moving beyond AlphaTauri to Red Bull, thus following in the slipstreams of Vettel, Verstappen and Gasly by using AlphaTauri/Toro Rosso as stepping stone to the very top.

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