The issue when poor finishes or retirements come, and in such regularity, is the self-imposed pressure that driver’s then place on themselves to ‘make up those points.’ This leads to further mistakes and unnecessary risks being taken.
Last season, De Vries felt this. This season, he saw it in others. He continued: “I can see that difference the same way in our opponents this season. As soon as we started to grab the lead and have a little advantage, you could tell that they were sometimes making mistakes which were not necessary because they had the feeling that they had to try and catch up.”
For De Vries, there was no panic, not when he started the season off the podium, not when he failed to win in Round 2, and not when Nicholas Latifi started to run away with an early-season lead. He had seen it all unravel before, he knew how that story played out.
Self-belief was key, but so too was patience. He knew he had the ability to win the title, he just needed to wait for his chance to take the lead from Latifi, and when he did, make sure he didn’t let it go.
In Baku, it was a slow pitstop that cost him the lead in the Feature Race. He had stolen P1 from polesitter Nobuharu Matsushita in the early stages, before falling behind Aitken when they changed their rubber. Latifi won the Sprint Race and increased his lead.
In Barcelona, it was Qualifying which cost him in the Feature Race. Fifth place left him with too much to do. Latifi won again and his lead grew in scale once more.
Everything changed in the Sprint Race: it sparked a remarkable turn of form – but not a surprising one. Not for De Vries or his ART Grand Prix team anyway. The Dutchman, who started P4, lunged to second off the line and eyed up the late Anthoine Hubert. The Frenchman made him fight for it though. His initial defense was stubborn and steely. The 24-year-old would wait for another lap for his chance, slicing the gap to within 0.5s and taking advantage of DRS on the long main straight.
For De Vries and ART, it was proof of something they thought they knew but hadn’t so far proven. On the result, he said: “I’m just so relieved. I can’t wait to just go back to the guys and thank them because it’s been a tough weekend. We’ve been there all the time but we were just not really able to turn it into proper results. We’ve been taking points but the win was really missing out.”
In the confines of his season, it was at that moment that things began to fall into place for De Vries. Although, not a turning point, he said, because that wasn’t how his mind was working in 2019, it was wired differently. Had he considered that moment a turning point, it would have placed more significance on the poorer results that pre-dated it, or, the poor results that could possibly have followed it. “you’re as good as your last race,” he told reporters.
His next victory was different. It was measured, it was controlled. Championship leader Latifi went quickest in Monaco Free Practice and looked confident and assured, but then, De Vries scored pole position, with the perfect demonstration of how to execute a lap around the snug streets of the principality.
His race wins the following day was just as impressive and secured him back-to-back victories – the first of his Formula 2 career. The achievement was made all the more lucrative given Championship leader Latifi’s struggles further back when he would finish 12th.