Nyck de Vries’ crushing performance in the opening round of the 2021 ABB FIA Formula E World Championship came as no surprise to his Mercedes team boss Ian James, who felt the “masterful” drive had been brewing all through de Vries’ rookie year.
A clean sweep of every timed session, a first pole position achieved with a margin of 0.6s and a lights to flag victory resulted in a dominance not seen since Sebastien Buemi’s early form with the Renault e.dams team in the second Formula E season in 2015/16.
De Vries completely controlled the race and was never in any significant danger even when Rene Rast’s Audi got to within a second of him at the midway stage of the 45 minute and one lap season opener.
The only point de Vries missed out on was the bonus for setting the fastest lap of the race, which went to Rast (de Vries’ Mercedes team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne’s even faster lap being ineligible for the bonus point as it was set with Fanboost).
James was effusive in his praise for de Vries’ start to 2021.
“I think Nyck’s performance was masterful ever since we’ve arrived here,” James told The Race.
“I’s been fantastic really to see him come into his own at this event.”
But James also played down the ease with which de Vries beat his direct opposition, saying he “wouldn’t read too much into that at the moment” when asked about the gaps the Mercedes had been able to pull out at times during the race.
“We know how close it’s going to get as we go forward,” James insisted. “But I think for Nyck, just hats off to him because he performed superbly.”
De Vries had an impressive if slightly low-key first Formula E season in which the odd mistake or team errors scuppered initial chances of podiums or even wins.
The 2019 Formula 2 champion finished his first FE year only 11th in the championship – nine places (but just 27 points) behind team-mate Vandoorne, who he followed home in Mercedes’ breakthrough 1-2 in the final Berlin race last August.
His engineer Albert Lau told The Race last autumn that he had always been expecting de Vries to do well in qualifying “because that’s how he’s always driven, so I had no other expectation other than for him to be Stoffel’s equal in qualifying.
“But in the race, that’s where we had to say, ‘OK, well, we need to finish races, we need to get the mileage in you and we go from there’.”
James reiterated that analysis.
“We always knew that we had somebody with the right talent to be able to perform in Formula E,” he said.
“And by that I mean raw driving talent but also the right intelligence to understand exactly what it takes to win.
“Last year, it was his rookie year – we know how different this series is to other series and for that reason he was on a steep learning curve, as we all were.
“But at the end of the day, we could see throughout that season just how strong a driver he was, and it’s fantastic to see now that really come to fruition with this win.”
De Vries’ only cause for concern during today’s race was a brief period when he swung from under-consuming his car’s energy to over-consuming in the early stages.
Lau was again a reassuring presence during this period as Rast briefly closed on the Mercedes before floundering after – like de Vries – his final attack boost was compromised by the second safety car triggered by Maximilian Guenther’s shunt.
“It was difficult to know how we could manage the energy and there was quite a lot of communication going on,” said de Vries.
“We were under and over [on energy] and we were a bit all over the place.
“Actually at the first safety car we thought we were in a really good position and then I got informed that Rast was 1% up so then I was a bit confused.
“But they kept me calm and we got it in the end.”