If it wasn’t for McLaren, Lewis Hamilton might not exist in Formula 1. The support he received from the team during his youth career influenced how the driver development programs operated in later years.
With Nick de Vries, McLaren sought to repeat the success they had enjoyed with Hamilton. But de Vries will start as a full-time driver next year with a different team, after a long break with McLaren. So what separates the team and their promising young talent?
After taking Hamilton up to F1, McLaren (whose young driver development program was run jointly with Mercedes) only had Guido van der Garde on their books in the junior single seater. In the year He entered the scheme in 2006 at the same time as joining the ASM team in the Formula 3 Euro Series, having taken over the seat held by Hamilton the year before.
His entry into the program immediately drew comparisons to Hamilton; The same was true for McLaren’s next signing, Oliver Rowland. Briton Carter signed up in May 2007 aged 14 – a year older than Hamilton when he joined the team a decade earlier. Both won Super 1 national titles at the junior level a year ago.
McLaren is associated with the inevitable parallels. “There is no next Lewis Hamilton driver,” they said at the time. “Every driver is individual and we certainly didn’t bring Oliver into the program with the aim of following Lewis’ exact career path.”
Rowland himself added “It is not for me to compare with Lewis” and he was right. Because it was the Dutch, rather than the British, who felt the real pressure of being ‘the chosen’ next to Hamilton.
Ron Dennis, during his time as team principal, like any other part of McLaren, was very selective in supporting young drivers and made sure that McLaren had almost every say about Hamilton Jr.’s career. But in the year In 2009, he was replaced by his right-hand man, Martin Whitmarsh, in charge of the McLaren F1 team. His approach was different, but he still had a great influence on the structures and systems that Dennis put in place, as well as Hamilton’s success.
In March 2010 – specifically the week that McLaren bought back 29% of Mercedes’ 40% stake in the team – an expanded, eight-member young driver program was announced.
Rowland and van der Garde remain, joined by four single-seater racers and two more long-term karting entries. One was Alexander Albon, the other Nick de Vries.
But Albon was stripped of his Red Bull sponsorship for his karting exploits, so de Vries effectively became the ‘Hamilton’ of the Whitmarsh era: a driver who would jump from karting to the team and take him straight into F1 racing. by McLaren.
Adding to the similarities, Hamilton’s father Anthony was hired as De Vries’ manager following his son’s success at McLaren. But the increased control came from de Vries and his father’s decision-making power.
De Vries, winner of the 2010 and 2011 World Karting Championship, was considered a prodigal talent. In the year When he moved into cars in 2012 – jumping straight into Formula Renault 2.0, just as Hamilton had done – McLaren sponsor Lucozade came on board as its main sponsor.
As a sought-after talent, de Vries could have had the teams’ picks. But McLaren organized trials with three teams and chose the one with the closest connection based on his relationship with Hamilton Jr.’s career. The R-ace GP team, which De Vries joined in 2012, is linked to ART GP, formerly known as ASM, and the team with which Hamilton won the F3 and GP2 titles.
Like Hamilton, De Vries finished fifth in the Eurocup as a single-seater. But R-ace has been outbid by several teams, including de Vries, who he wanted to join in the first place.
De Vries found his way and in 1998 On top of that, McLaren now have 2012 Euro Cup champion Stoffel Vandoorne on their books.
So de Vries had to spend his third season in Formula Renault and in 2010 In 2014, he won the Eurocup and the Alps series comfortably. Although the original plan was to move to F3 for a third year in the car, like Hamilton, the double title success was at least an encouraging sign of progress.
But the results on the track have overshadowed how De Vries’ place at McLaren is shrinking. De Vries was once an integral part of the McLaren team, appearing in their short-lived animated series alongside 2012 championship-winning Hamilton and Jenson Key, as well as several team legends. But in the year In 2014, McLaren In 2014 there was no team that won the race and Dennis from Whitmarsh took over again.
After that it was very easy. McLaren funded de Vries’s career, but sponsors were funding McLaren with a return on their investment and as McLaren slipped down the F1 pecking order, they were losing their ability to pay sponsors. In the year The replacement of Mercedes by Honda as engine supplier in 2015 brought additional funding to the team, but further reduced McLaren’s competitiveness.
He made changes to the young driver program. This continued with new Honda investment and Honda juniors, just as the partnership with Mercedes allowed McLaren to support young drivers such as Hamilton in the 2000s.
When the Honda deal was done, Hamilton left McLaren to race for the Mercedes factory team in F1, a move that allowed him to achieve top records in the world championship.
Once the support of young drivers became a factor in the internal political game at McLaren, it left De Vries without direction in the team. When Hamilton was a junior, he was thrust into direct testing in F1 and given various jobs with the team, which means that even if the results are reduced, he will strengthen the value of Dennis (as they did in his first year of racing in F3) .
Even though he’s a simulator driver (a role he didn’t have in Hamilton’s youth), de Vries is the closest the line-up is to vintage cars at events like the Goodwood Festival of Speed. In more than nine years at McLaren, he had surprisingly never driven a top-of-the-line F1 car, and missed opportunities to impress the other seniors in the team just how good he was.
This loss of sitting time, which helps keep the feet under the table, has become a two-fold issue. As Hamilton rose through the ranks there were so many Mercedes juniors, he was essentially the only talent backed by McLaren. Once De Vries arrived at FR3.5 in 2015, his McLaren stablemate Vandoorne had already established himself in GP2, and – although De Vries was plagued by the same problems he had at McLaren – was thought to be headed for an F1 seat.
The second part of the problem was another management change. In the year By the end of 2016, Dennis was out again and Zach Brown was in. And he had his own driver he wanted back.
While Hamilton, Vandoorne and later Lando Norris were financially supported all the way up to F1, McLaren stopped funding de Vries racing after 2016, but kept him on as a junior. This decision no doubt added several years to De Vries’ road to F1, and coupled with the Dutchman’s subsequent decision, extended his wait to reach the top.
Although McLaren refused to fund De Vries in Formula 2, they still wanted paid simulator work at their Woking headquarters. De Vries, believing on-track results were now more crucial than ever to his F1 hopes, turned his attention to F2 instead.
In the year He underperformed in GP3 with ART GP in 2016, was unable to cross straight from FR3.5 to GP2 when McLaren’s money was dwindling, and had no chance of securing an F2 seat in 2017 when he was dependent on his own budget. With the team and getting the most out of it, like Hamilton and Vandoorne have in the past, in an amazing rookie season.
De Vries instead found his way to the grid with the underfunded Rapax team, but had to switch to race engineering mid-season and finished seventh with one sprint race win. At this point his McLaren story is essentially over, especially if Brown’s defender Norris arrives for 2018 F2.
Fellow driver Sean Galel’s father helped de Vries to a second consecutive season, making him Galel’s team-mate for back-to-back champions Prima in 2018, but a troublesome new car introduced that year meant De Vries was only driving Primas despite coming close to the title and winning three races. He finished after Norris.
De Vries was known for his maturity when he entered FR2.0, but by the time he and his rivals reached F2 he was nothing special, and his media persona was also shaped by McLaren’s rather corporate past.
In the year In a different world, had Max Verstappen not burst onto the scene in 2015, he could have been the driver to unlock Holland’s feverish passion for F1.
De Vries joined ART GP for 2019 and won the Formula 2 Championship, with some exemplary performances in the wet and dry and was quick in qualifying and sprints. A few days after finishing 17th to third at Monza, De Vries was announced as Mercedes’ first Formula E driver. No matter how dominant the 2019 campaign was, the ship turned to F1 opportunity on board.
Perhaps it’s no surprise that, like Hamilton, De Vries became world champion with Mercedes. His Formula E crown was followed by a lopsided title defence, but his F1 test performances from 2020 and now his stellar racing form at the recent Italian Grand Prix have convinced several teams.
De Vries is not the only young driver to have been unduly stymied by F1 team management changes. Ferrari’s hottest goalkeeper, Raffaele Marcelo, He suffered a similar fate in 2015, but fulfilled early career expectations by joining Mercedes to conquer the world of motorsport. He is not the first talent linked to an F1 team to be replaced by a new arrival – a regular occurrence at Red Bull’s junior team over the years.
But de Vries may be the best case study in why F1 teams are paving the way for wasted talent from an early age, doing more harm than good and leading to a long, rather than quick, rise to F1 (which it was for him). period) of Hamilton and the most extreme examples since. Finally, de Vries got his chance in F1, and he made it count.
2022 F1 season
Browse all 2022 F1 current articles