Nyck de Vries looks forward to the first Formula 2 race of the season

Young Driver Programme

There’s an eminent amount of common sense in restoring the Formula 2 name to the international motorsports lexicon. The F2 label was last used in 1984, after which it was replaced by the Formula 3000 moniker (in deference to the series’ 3.0-litre formula); then, in 2005, it received a further rebrand to GP2, which made just a little more sense. Now, it seems, sanity has prevailed.

There is also a high degree of common sense in McLaren Young Driver Programme member Nyck de Vries’ ascent to the Formula 2 series. After a stellar Formula Renault 2.0 campaign in 2014 (he took both the Alps and Eurocup titles), he won a race in World Series by Renault 3.5 in 2015 – and earned the ‘rookie of the year’ accolade – and then won two races last year in his maiden season in the Formula 1-supporting GP3 series.

With the advent of Formula 2, it feels like the 22-year-old Dutchman is now ready to kick off another exciting new chapter in his motorsport career.

Fresh from pre-season Formula 2 tests, in which he was consistently among the quickest drivers, topped the time-sheets of both of the final day’s sessions, and ended that three-day test second-fastest overall, he sat down to discuss his prospects and thoughts about the year ahead.

“The tests were really positive,” he says with a relaxed smile. “It’s very important to get a feel for the car in this championship, and I think we had a really productive few days. And, of course, to come out on top was a nice bonus. For me, that was especially important, because this year my target is to win races and establish myself with Rapax in Formula 2.”

This week’s races in Bahrain will be the first Formula 2 events for 33 years, but, if the championship’s name has changed, it is still very much business as usual: expect the usual Saturday feature race (read: a longer event with a mandatory pit-stop) and Sunday’s sprint race, where the top eight finishers from Saturday are placed in the top eight grid spots in reverse order.

As ever, the old GP2 beats will remain: the races will be fast, loud and frantic. Mistakes, when they come – and they will – will be punished; the racing will be close and unyielding; and the battle for the title will be full of unexpected twists and turns.

Consistency is key

“The most important thing this year is consistency,” says Nyck sagely. “Practice time at the start of the weekend is so limited – you only get 45 minutes to practice – and your learning so condensed within that session, that you can’t really afford to put a foot wrong. Get things wrong in practice and that can easily translate into a poor qualifying session; and, if you qualify poorly for the feature race, your hopes of a good weekend are effectively over.

“Fortunately, I’ve learned enough – both from Renault 3.5, where the cars are quick and the races fairly long, and from GP3, where I raced on a lot of the current F2 circuits – to put me in a good position for the season ahead.

“Also, I’ve already got a really good relationship with the guys at Rapax,” he adds, “and I feel that that relationship is really important – those guys are your sole link to the car, so it’s vital that you can quickly establish a strong working relationship. Fortunately, I can already speak Italian – like a lot of drivers who came up through karting, I spent a lot of time racing in Italy, so I already know much of the important vocabulary.”

Indeed, Nyck has already impressed his new team at Rapax, not only in terms of his speed in the car, but also in terms of his work ethic, focus and dedication to the job.

A strong start

“Going to the Rapax factory felt a little bit like coming home,” he smiles. “It’s situated just outside Padua, and is really close to the Chiesa and Zanardi [karting] guys, so it’s all really familiar to me. It feels like we’ve started off really strongly together.”

Nyck will be mindful of strong starts in Bahrain auguring well for the year ahead. In both 2014 and ’15, the then McLaren Young Driver Programme member Stoffel Vandoorne won one of the opening weekend’s races, establishing himself as the rookie to beat; then, in ’15, he set out his stall as the series’ firm championship favourite (and eventual commanding champion). One year later, he was parachuted in to make his Formula 1 debut as a last-minute one-race replacement for the injured Fernando Alonso.

Nyck de Vries will be hoping to maintain that Bahrain trend when he lines up for his first Formula 2 race at the Bahrain International Circuit on Saturday…