Russell says de Vries 'had it tougher' in his F1 debut

Nyck de Vries (NLD) Williams Racing FW44 Reserve Driver. 11.09.2022. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 16, Italian Grand Prix, Monza, Italy, Race
© XPB 

If anyone knows what Nyck de Vries was going through last weekend when he was suddenly called up to take part in his first Formula 1 Grand Prix at Monza, it's surely George Russell.

Both drivers had been long-time Mercedes proteges and competed against each other in the 2018 Formula 2 championship, which saw Russell win the title.

But while Russell signed up to spend three seasons with Williams at the back of the F1 grid, de Vries opted to race with the team's Formula E squad and took last year's title.

But de Vries' sights are now firmly set back on F1, and this year he's taken part in free practice sessions for three different teams - Williams, Mercedes and Aston Martin.

He'd just completed the last of these in Monza when he was relaxing in the Paddock Club on Saturday morning drinking a cappuccino when he got a phone call telling him to report to the motorhome as soon as possible. Or sooner.

That's where he was told that Alex Albon had been taken ill, and that he would be in the Williams in less than an hour for final practice, and then for qualifying and Sunday's Italian Grand Prix.

Russell had empathy for de Vries, recalling the moment in 2020 when after 36 outings with Williams he was told he was being catapulted into the best seat on the grid at Mercedes after Lewis Hamilton tested positive for coronavirus.

Although Russell had actual race experience at this point, and had almost a full week's notice before the Sakhir Grand Prix to get prepared rather than the 40 minutes de Vries had to wrap his mind around what was to happen, the British driver appreciated the similarities.

“I think probably tougher for him to be honest than it was for me,” Russell acknowledged. “I was obviously a full-time race driver then."

Although on the face of it de Vries had the advantage of having been on track the previous day with Aston, Russell suggested that this might have been another hurdle the 27-year-old Dutch driver had needed to overcome on the day.

"Jumping from Aston Martin on Friday into a Williams ... It’s a different car, the seating position is different," he explained.

“I remember when I was doing testing with Mercedes and Force India at the time and driving F2. It took quite a few laps just to get used to the different feeling of how those cars reacted."

Russell went on to finish his first race with Mercedes in the points in ninth place. Coincidentally, de Vries did the same thing last Sunday - arguably a more significant achievement given that he was in a Williams.

After Sakhir Russell returned to Williams for the remaining race of the season and for the whole of 2021 during which time he claimed four more points finishes before finally being promoted to Mercedes full time at the start of 2022.

Although he's yet to win a race, Russell has enjoyed a remarkable run of consistency this year which he extended at Monza with his seventh podium of the season, meaning he's currently fourth in the drivers championship standings.

Now the question is whether de Vries will follow a similar trajectory and use his impressive debut performance in Monza to secure himself a full time spot on the grid next season.

It's not yet certain whether Albon will be recovered from his bout of appendicitis and post-operative complications to be ready in time to race in Singapore at the end of the month.

Even if he isn't, it's not clear whether de Vries would get another chance behind the wheel. Williams' official reserve driver is Jack Aitken, but he was competing elsewhere last week which is why the team turned to de Vries under a driver sharing arrangement with Mercedes.

Ironically it was Aitken who got his own F1 debut covering for Russell at the 2020 Sakhir GP, although the FW43 wasn't up to the job of finishing in the points on that occasion.

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