Mercedes-EQ’s Nyck de Vries heads the way in the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship with a narrow six-point lead over Robin Frijns (Envision Virgin Racing) after a pair of second-place finishes in London. The Dutchman's been there or thereabouts all season, and says he'll be doing everything in his power to maintain his slender advantage to the final chequered flag of the season.
Nyck de Vries flew out of the blocks and topped every session on the way to a maiden Formula E race win in the Diriyah season opener. From there, it looked a certainty that the talented 26-year-old would be in the mix throughout the series' first campaign as an FIA World Championship.
Another victory would follow in Valencia, with the Dutchman getting it right where many others got it horribly wrong. After that point, though, Mercedes-EQ traversed a tricky spell in mid-season, where de Vries scored just once between Rounds 6 and 11 - with the trip to New York at the end of that patch and a costly mistake in Monaco proving to be his lowest points this season.
Mercedes Team Principal Ian James has admitted his team had ‘failed massively’ in keeping their consistency following their early form this season, but despite a troubled run of form, de Vries finds himself atop the standings - albeit with a slender six-point advantage over Robin Frijns (Envision Virgin Racing) - while Mercedes-EQ sits second in the Teams' running heading to home turf and Berlin this weekend (August 14 & 15).
A double podium in London propelled de Vries to that Drivers' World Championship lead, but in reality he's never been far away, the Silver Arrow 02's pace has rarely been in doubt and he doesn't feel his lead changes a thing with eyes on ticking all the boxes and getting everything just-so at Tempelhof - his approach "never changes".
"I’m not sure it means for the championship itself, but it's great to be in this position," says de Vries. "Ultimately, we will do everything we can to maintain this.
"Our struggles in the middle of the season were, first of all, admittedly our own lack of competitiveness in some events, such as, perhaps a little bit Monaco – we will acknowledge that. Monaco was a bit unfortunate, because I hit the power switch in qualifying, which put me into low power mode so that was a shame. In both pre-practice sessions, we were around the top six - we were there or thereabouts.
"Still, we didn't feel competitive enough in qualifying on a single lap. We were really strong in the race from the back of the field but that is not going to give you points.
"Then I think New York was probably our most difficult weekend. Again, I do believe that we had the kind of element of a bit of - I don't like to call it bad luck - but on the second day, we were finally in qualifying group two and then it rains just for that group, and the whole qualifying group is lost. Some drivers managed to get into the points from further down the grid and we didn't because we were not competitive enough.
"So, that that is my honest, honest read, but then I'll be critical as well of the group qualifying format, which I have said I do think is artificial, and it is not entirely fair and consistent. Whenever you can qualify in the top 10, I think you're in a good place to score good points if you have a good race and a strong package. But the problem is, you know, when you're when you start to qualify around mid-pack then it becomes a bit random and you need a bit of luck for it to come together.
"How do you deal with that? It’s the nature of the championship, and everyone has to deal with it. So, our approach never changes. Nothing has ever suddenly clicked, nor have we found some magic."
De Vries has won titles at the top before. Formula 2, the ultra-competitive junior category to Formula 1, is notoriously cutthroat. The Dutchman sealed the crown in 2019, just before he joined Mercedes in Formula E. The experience of a title scrap - and a first Formula E podium in that Mercedes one-two at last year's finale - will help, he says, but it won't alter his ultra-cool, measured approach.
"Ultimately, I think the approach is always the same," says de Vries. "The first priority is preparation; control what you can control, and then focus on your own job - making sure we as a team do everything right. Then, the result comes, but you never go into weekend focusing on the final result, you focus on what you need to do to achieve that result. So, it doesn't really matter in which series or championship it is - at least for me.
"Of course an FIA World Championship is that bit more special, but I’m a racer and a sportsman. I know how highly Formula E is rated in our world and our sport and ultimately, that is the highest satisfaction. I want the pride for myself. It’s nice to have on the CV but I’m not a dreamer, I’m rational and realistic – winning the Formula E title speaks for itself."
"It helps in general to have experience in the sport and to have gone through similar situations and scenarios. But at the end of the day, you just have to be rational and there is no point for me to get carried away or focus on things that ultimately won't help me to perform at my best.
Group Qualifying has been a sore subject for several drivers this season, with de Vries a vocal critic on a number of occasions. As the laps pass in qualifying, the circuit cleans and grips up, favouring the later runners and hindering those setting the pace in the standings who make up the early groups. With the teams extracting ever more from the Gen2 regulations, margins are ever tighter. A tenth of a second can mean the difference between Julius Baer Pole Position and eighth or 10th spot.
In New York City, de Vries slipped back down the groups thanks to that sticky patch in mid-season but rain, localised right around Group 3, put paid to any hopes of capitalising.
"An FIA World Championship is that bit more special, but I’m a racer and a sportsman. I know how highly Formula E is rated in our world and our sport and ultimately, that is the highest satisfaction. I want the pride for myself. It’s nice to have on the CV but I’m not a dreamer, I’m rational and realistic – winning the title speaks for itself."
Track evolution hasn't been quite as severe as at the likes of Puebla on previous visits to Tempelhof but it is likely that the early runners will still have a tougher time extracting the most out of their flying laps. With everyone in the same boat during a Formula E campaign, the focus for de Vries and Mercedes is on preparation; ensuring every T is crossed and every I dotted.
"We do the same work ahead of every event and we obviously try to do the best possible job we can throughout the weekend," adds the 26-year-old. "We always see track evolution and with the cars getting ever closer together, qualifying can cause more of an issue. It’s definitely exciting, going into the last race knowing that pretty much the whole grid can win a championship so it will be exciting to watch.
"We need to focus on what we control, and we need to hope for fair and consistent conditions with a fair opportunity for everyone. Doing a good lap in qualifying and having a good package is not a given fact - we still need to do our job in order to put ourselves in a position to have a good shot at it.
"We have a strong package, a strong team, we need to focus on our job and what we can control. We will go in with the same kind of preparation as we always do, thinking we are as prepared as possible and then we do our job and then we'll see where we end up."
Mercedes-EQ is right in the mix, too, just a half dozen or so points from Envision Virgin Racing at the top of the Teams' World Championship. It's been a strong second season for the German team, and de Vries can feel the positive momentum building as each weekend passes.
"Firsly, I feel sorry for Stoffel, because he definitely deserves to be up there as well but I think we had a good season," adds de Vries, "Last year, we were already competitive but I felt like we were still a kind of new team.
"Even though they had a prep season with HWA, there was a lot of change going into Season 6. I was a bit more unlucky on my side of the garage with some penalties and, and infringements and technical things that were a bit unfortunate. So, I think my initial position last year didn't reflect our potential.
"I definitely feel that we as a team made a step thing into Season 7, becoming more robust and solid. You can't force relationships – they have to have to grow naturally and you can just feel that the team is growing as a group together and is now a united team – it’s great to see. You can see it in our performances and in the way we work and deliver on track as well."
Published on 10th August 2021