February 27, 2024


All Sports To The Max

JONATHAN McEVOY: 10 races and you’re out… Nyck de Vries now knows just how ruthless F1 can be

Never was Formula One’s ruthless streak more apparent than in the sacking of Nyck de Vries, fired this week after just 10 races.

It is a boost for the sport in many ways given his replacement at AlphaTauri is the highly marketable Daniel Ricciardo, an infectious personality who made so many friends on Netflix’s Drive to Survive.

The 34-year-old Australian will return to the cockpit in Hungary next week, ending a spell out of the sport that looked terminal. His early performances on the simulator at Red Bull, where he pitched up as a reserve driver after leaving McLaren last year by ‘mutual consent’, were given something approaching a C- by the powers that be.

He was way off the pace, and several senior figures at Red Bull thought there would be no way back for Daniel. He must have improved, as tyre testing at Silverstone last week apparently suggested.

Red Bull’s motorsport adviser Helmut Marko said of De Vries: ‘We expected him to be at least equal to his team-mate Yuki Tsunoda this year, but that was not the case. He was always three-tenths of a second slower. We didn’t see any improvement.’

Nyck de Vries (above) was axed by AlphaTauri after just 10 races in his first season in F1

Nyck de Vries (above) was axed by AlphaTauri after just 10 races in his first season in F1

Australian Daniel Ricciardo, 34, will return to the cockpit in Hungary next week

Australian Daniel Ricciardo, 34, will return to the cockpit in Hungary next week 

So poor De Vries is cast adrift in his rookie season. He has hardly set the world alight, and been culpable for unforced crashes. Azerbaijan was a conspicuous case in point: he encountered the tyre barrier in practice and then retired from the grand prix when he broke his suspension in contact with the wall. But surely he should have been granted longer to prove himself?

The one driver watching this with most interest must be Sergio Perez, Max Verstappen’s underperforming sidekick. The Mexican has not reached Q3 on the last five occasions, while Verstappen has taken pole at each of those races.

Perez has substantially more of a track record than De Vries — a winner of two races this season, and second in the championship standings, and a great rear- gunner in Abu Dhabi in 2021 — but there is only so long you can clutch at past achievements, even if, in financial terms, his market appeal in Mexico outweighs that of any Dutch driver.

Whatever Red Bull say publicly, they will be looking to rejuvenate the team, as all top-tier organisations do. That is why the sight of Lando Norris’ manager, Mark Berryman, in talks in the Silverstone paddock with Marko caused waves.

Norris, fast and marketable, would be a great addition to the Red Bull team, as his second place to Verstappen in the British Grand Prix indicated.

But I suspect any driver going up against Max in the form of his life would be blown away.

Albon’s another diamond

Who was the star British driver of Silverstone? By all accounts Lando Norris, for his bravura holding off of Lewis Hamilton. 

Fine, but a word of acclamation for Alex Albon, who has turned out to be a diamond of the season. 

The London-born Thai driver and I have history. He was dragooned into not saying anything about his mother going to jail to fund his career. It was documented on Netflix, and we move on. 

Alex Albon is showing his strengths at Williams after being jettisoned by Red Bull

Alex Albon is showing his strengths at Williams after being jettisoned by Red Bull

Alex, 27, seems to be an excellent guy and just what Williams need. He is in a good team, an organisation going places under their new boss James Vowles, and Albon’s eighth-place finish at Silverstone is a testament to his abilities. 

He was another driver jettisoned by — trigger-happy — Red Bull, having landed the gig too early. They believed in him, nonetheless, and secured him a seat at Williams, where he is showing his strengths. 

He is one of the best of the budding British generation, and that all looks good with Hamilton, George Russell and Lando prospering.

A role model for all

Sir Jackie Stewart is the one-man show who refuses to yield to time or to anyone.

We revealed last week that the triple world champion had suffered a mini-stroke while in Jordan, but he was typically back working at the British Grand Prix, as a Rolex ambassador. 

Stewart, even aged 84, remains the single prototype for all aspiring Formula One racers. Beyond managing his career as a driver to great heights, he has used his fame since he retired in 1973 to build on his legacy. Is there anyone whose name endures so brightly all these years on? The answer is ‘no’, not least after the death in 2020 of a fellow knight, Sir Stirling Moss. 

Bizarrely, though neither would admit it, Stewart and Lewis Hamilton have a lot in common, their craft on the track apart. 

Both were or are full-out rebels — Hamilton for his diversity push and Stewart for his campaigning for safer tracks.

Hamilton considers options

It is a matter of days, not weeks, said Toto Wolff of Lewis Hamilton’s new contract. 

That was weeks ago. What is happening? My best guess is that Lewis is assessing whether Mercedes is the place to reside for the rest of his career. 

He has one shot at this, and he doesn’t want to go early on his decision-making. Ferrari remain an option. 

If he did end up at Maranello, an 80-20 against possibility, who would be the last to know? Mercedes, just as McLaren were when Lewis quit them, as this newspaper revealed on the day of his departure. 

All of which means Wolff’s outdated statements come with a significant caveat.

Lewis Hamilton with McLaren's Lando Norris on the podium at Silverstone on Sunday

Lewis Hamilton with McLaren’s Lando Norris on the podium at Silverstone on Sunday

Happy elder statesman

An observation, not a criticism. 

But I wonder whether the clear warmth of Lewis Hamilton’s on-podium congratulations at Lando Norris’s second place to his third place at Silverstone was not telling. 

Would a younger Lewis have played the happy elder statesman role so willingly?