The Mercedes F1 team has announced that their reserve driver, Nyck de Vries will be taking over from Lewis Hamilton in this Friday’s first practice session ahead of the French Grand Prix. The Dutch driver will be at the wheel of the the Mercedes W13, and will be hoping to make a mark in front of his employers.
The French Grand Prix weekend will see the 27-year-old take part in his second FP1 outing this season, apart from the post-season test he participated in last year in Abu Dhabi. Earlier this year, he tried his hand at Alex Albon’s Williams FW44 in Barcelona. He has become a familiar face in the paddock and is strongly being backed for a possible F1 seat in the future if one becomes available.
According to the announcement by the team, the “substitution” is part of the mandate which requires teams to include two “young driver sessions” for the year. This means that George Russell will also be making way for either De Vries or another developmental driver to take over his car for another session later in the season.
“Nyck is replacing Lewis in first practice this weekend, as part of the allocated sessions for young drivers this year. So, we’re looking forward to seeing how he gets on,” said team principal Toto Wolff, as quoted on the F1 website.
Apart from allowing De Vries to show off his skills, the test is also meant to help Mercedes analyse the upgrades that they are introducing this weekend. They have made massive progress this season, but Wolff knows they still have some ground to cover to catch Red Bull and Ferrari.
“Our understanding of the W13 is growing with every lap and it’s encouraging to see that reflected in our development and results. While we were quicker in Austria, we still weren’t quick enough to challenge at the front,” he said, after seeing Ferrari and Red Bull dominate the most recent race in Spielberg.
Even Championship leader Max Verstappen was easily overtaken by both Ferraris, and only finished second after the second Ferrari of Carlos Sainz burst into flames while attempting to make a relatively easy pass on the Red Bull. Lewis Hamilton made it to the podium once more, but Wolff knows that most of his drivers’ top three finishes happened thanks to reliability issues suffered by the cars in front.
“We need to keep chasing those final few tenths and bringing new developments to the cars, including this weekend in France,” he added, knowing that they are still “the best of the rest” at the moment.
The Paul Ricard circuit is one of the most familiar tracks to the drivers, which is perhaps why Hamilton is confident enough to give up a practice session. Nevertheless, the team will surely still benefit from the input and insights coming from De Vries.
“Paul Ricard is a very different track and challenge. It has smooth tarmac and a wide range of corner types, along with long straights. The aim will be to make further inroads on the gap to the front and hopefully be back on the podium,” said Wolff.
Mercedes are currently third in the championship, 66 points behind Ferrari. Red Bull are still in the lead, a further 56 points ahead of the Italian team.