"A new chapter in my life" - Behind the scenes of Nyck de Vries' Formula E return
Nyck de Vries is back in Formula E. The 2021 world champion, who has been racing in Formula 1 in the meantime, is looking forward to his "homecoming" to the world of electric motorsports. The deal with Mahindra announced this week, as he reveals in an exclusive interview with e-Formula.news, only came about through a chain of coincidences.
It all started with a delayed flight. "I was supposed to land at London City Airport and the plane was delayed. I ended up in Stansted," Nyck de Vries recalls of the weekend he set in motion his Formula E return. For the first time since his premature Formula 1 retirement, the Dutchman wanted to visit "his" old paddock at the London E-Prix and hold talks with former colleagues. But due to the diversion - Stansted is about 45 kilometres outside London - he was left with only a visit to the race instead of half the race day.
For de Vries, necessity became a virtue. Instead of backroom meetings in garages or the VIP lounge, he simply said hello to his colleagues on the grid. "It was circumstantial. I literally just came for the race and met Fred (Bertrand, Mahindra team boss), unintentionally by the way. I was just there as a visitor and we bumped into each other on the grid. We exchanged a few words and he made his interest pretty clear. We arranged to meet on the phone and took things from there. It was a natural thing to do."
Mahindra team boss convinces de Vries with future vision
Frederic "Fred" Bertrand is a charismatic, determined figure. For years he worked with the FIA, reforming the legendary Formula 3 race in Macau and establishing the "Motorsport Games", among other things, before becoming the auto world governing body's Formula E manager. So when he took over the Mahindra reins from Dilbagh Gill ahead of the 2023 season, the paddock greeted him with a certain amount of suspicion: Is an FIA insider really the right appointment for a team manager post? The Frenchman firmly denies the accusation that he has a competitive advantage due to secret information.
And anyway: The powertrain package developed by Mahindra and ZF currently hardly allows any competitive advantages to become visible. Within a very short time, Bertrand became the team's crisis manager and realised that only a reorganisation of the internal structure can help to remove Mahindra from its current backmarker position. This also affects the driver pairing. So it's not surprising that Bertrand sought de Vries' favour when the two met on the grid on that fateful, rainy Sunday in London.
"He was running off the grid with Alejandro Agag at the back of the grid when I called him over and said, 'If you're interested, I'm looking for drivers to help me get out of this area next year and get to the front,'" Bertrand recalls. "I knew him from many discussions from my time at the FIA. A week or two later we spoke on had a call and I explained the project and our ambitions to him."
"I thought you weren't interested!"
"Then we had no contact for a two weeks, that was already in the middle of August. He said: 'I never heard from you again', and I said: 'I never heard from you either! I thought you weren't interested!' That made it easier for us to make the deal, because we realised that we were a good match," he laughs. "From that point on, everything happened very quickly. What I like about him is that he has the understanding of a world champion. His approach is practical and efficient without trying too crazy things with the engineers. It was great to then make that announcement to the guys and the Mahindra Group management."
At Mahindra, de Vries will once again work together with Tony Ross, Mercedes' former Formula E chief engineer and once Nico Rosberg's Formula 1 race engineer. Ross joins Mahindra's team management in 2024 - another of Bertrand's key signings. "We have been the 'nice team' up to this point. That's what we want to remain, but we want the others to be more afraid of us," the Frenchman sums up his vision, well aware that the process will be a lengthy one. Bertrand has a three- and five-year plan to take Mahindra back to winning ways.
De Vries leaves F1 exit behind: "Too often focussed on goals and not the journey"
It was that same foresight that convinced de Vries. "I'm very excited about this project, because I really believe in the team and its plans. I'm happy to be coming home in an environment that I'm very familiar with, back home to Formula E. It's no secret that (Mahindra) had a bit of a rough start to Gen3 but I really believe that the future perspective is very encouraging, and I'm looking forward to being back and start this new journey together" said the 28-year-old.
He has long since come to terms with his inglorious exit from Formula One, having already been ousted by the AlphaTauri management after just ten mostly unsuccessful races. "In life, you go through different stages and phases. This was a chapter in my life. I think it's normal to … Of course, it hurts that it ended prematurely. But having had the time to move away from things and reflect on them, I think what I've primarily taken from it is that life, is not a destination but a journey," philosophises de Vries. "Often, we are so focussed on a single goal that we think that's the end goal. But nothing is an end goal."
"Life is a journey and we go through different phases and chapters in life. And now we're here at the start of a new chapter. I'm truly excited about that."