Nyck de Vries got a lot of people talking during his debut in Formula 1 last weekend, but not all of that talk, sadly, is going to be about him.
The Dutchman won the 2019 Formula 2 Championship, but there was no room at the Inn in F1, so he turned to Formula E, where he won the title with Mercedes in 2021.
This year, de Vries has been given runs by Williams and Mercedes in Spain and France, respectively, and last weekend in Monza, Aston Martin decided to give him a go in Sebastian Vettel’s car.
Generally, the 27-year-old has performed as expected in his practice sessions – he has shown natural pace, and exemplified why he should be considered for a place on the grid in the coming years.
He finally got his chance to show his performance in the flesh when Alex Albon fell ill with appendicitis, so Williams needed a replacement.
De Vries was available, so at just over an hour’s notice, he chugged down the rest of his coffee, ran to the Williams garage, and jumped into the car for FP3.
Instantly, he was on the pace of team-mate Nicholas Latifi, and he went on to out-qualify the Canadian on Saturday afternoon.
13th in qualifying became eighth for the start of the race when other drivers’ grid penalties were applied, and the Dutch driver held on to finish ninth and claim two points in a fantastic debut.
Latifi, meanwhile, fell backwards from 11th, and he wound up in P15 by the end of a frustrating outing.
Given de Vries’ record in racing before this point, his pace over the weekend should not come as a surprise – there is a reason McLaren kept him on as part of their development programme for nine years.
What is a wonder is how a chance in the pinnacle of motorsport never arrived before this year, but this rapid ascent into the eyeline of several teams on the grid, having been a bit-part member of the paddock before the Italian Grand Prix, might prove fruitful for the F2 and FE champion.
Latifi, who finished runner-up to de Vries in 2019, is out of contract at the end of this season, and he has now been out-qualified 14 times in 2022 by team-mates Albon and de Vries.
The 27-year-old’s only points finishes arrived in Hungary and Belgium last season, while the other two drivers have achieved points four time between them this campaign.
Displays such as those last year, and in Silverstone last year, have been robust reminders of why Latifi is on the grid, and why Williams have kept him around.
If he could just find that pace consistently, he would be a reliable driver they could look to when opportunities arise to score rare points, but good weekends have simply been too few and far between.
There are two questions for Williams to answer regarding their immediate next steps, the first of which is whether they want to put Albon in the car in Singapore.
The 26-year-old encountered “uncommon” respiratory problems after his surgery, but he is now recovered and in good health.
The Singapore Grand Prix is arguably the most physically demanding race on the calendar due to the heat and humidity, as well as the focus, strength and stamina required to get the car through the immensely challenging corners without putting it in the wall.
Therefore, if Albon is not 100 percent, Jost Capito will need to decide whether it is worth risking the safety of his driver and others around the racetrack at the Marina Bay Street Circuit.
The other caveat is that of de Vries’ fitness. There is no better preparation for racing than racing, as he discovered through the searing pain in his shoulders at the end of the Italian Grand Prix.
If both de Vries and Albon are fit enough, and feel they are ready to go, it really might be worth placing the Dutchman in the car alongside the former Red Bull driver.
For Latifi, he is one of F1’s nice guys, and there is no reason why he cannot give it a go in FE or IndyCar, as many former F1 drivers have done over the years.
It has been a shame to see someone so likeable struggle at Williams, but F1 is a cruel sport, and de Vries has shown that, on pure pace, he is the quicker driver.
However, Latifi has given a lot to the Williams team; his heart and soul has gone into helping them develop from the nightmare of 2019 and 2020, and they have become a side capable of running in the midfield.
For kindness’ sake, it would be nice to see the British team keep him until the end of this year before signing another driver, but would anyone really have any arguments if they swapped him out now? Probably not.