Saturday, March 2, 2024

Nyck de Vries: “I feel we are making progress, but the midfield is still very tight”

This weekend will mark Nyck de Vries’ first sprint race in the FIA Formula 1 World Championship, but it will not be the Dutchman’s first taste of the Baku City Circuit.

The Scuderia AlphaTauri driver finished on the podium on three occasions in Azerbaijan during his time in FIA Formula 2, and he will be bidding to use that experience to get up to speed quickly during the one and only free practice session on Friday.

De Vries says there is excitement to get back to racing after a four-week break, and he is eager to break into the top ten for the first time this season and score points for his new team.

“Baku will be my very first Sprint weekend and that will be particularly challenging with just one hour of free practice before qualifying, but I’ve been to the track before, with three second place finishes in Formula 2,” said de Vries. “We’re all excited to go racing again after this long break.

“The track is quite unique in the sense that, usually on street tracks, overtaking is very challenging, but the extremely long straight produces opportunities, which is why the races at Baku have often been quite eventful, so hopefully things will go our way and we’ll have something to cheer about come the end of it.”

De Vries feels AlphaTauri are making progress with its car this season but with the midfield being extremely tight, it is a challenge for the team to breach the top ten.  However, with straight-line speed not one of the team’s strengths, he is not expecting to be as competitive as he would like.

“I feel we are making progress, but the midfield is still very tight, and it is very challenging to fight for points because in a “normal” race the top ten is solidly occupied,” de Vries added.  “We need to make sure we are ready to capitalise on any mistakes made by those who would normally be top ten.

“While I see signs of progress, Baku demands a lot of straight-line speed and so far, our straight-line speed has not been that competitive. Let’s wait and see how it works out.”

“In the past, I performed quite well in Baku” – Yuki Tsunoda

Team-mate Yuki Tsunoda scored his first point of the season in Australia, the Japanese racer staying out of trouble to improve on the eleventh place finish he had achieved in both Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.

Tsunoda has shown good pace and performances at Baku across the past two years, finishing seventh in 2021 before losing a top ten place last season due to a DRS failure.  However, he has fond memories of the circuit and is looking to build more good memories this weekend.

“In the past, I performed quite well in Baku, qualifying eighth the last two years, and finishing seventh in 2021, although last year I had that DRS failure when I was running in sixth place and ended up down in P13,” said Tsunoda.

“I have good memories from there and I like the track. The past two years our car suited that circuit and we had a good understanding of the track, so I hope that will again be the case this year and we can aim for points this weekend.

“We’ve got some updates coming, particularly for the rear wing to suit the low downforce configuration for this track. So far this year, we have struggled a bit in terms of top speed, and you definitely need straight line speed for Baku.

“This should help and hopefully the pure set-up of the car should suit the Azerbaijan circuit. I will approach the weekend in my usual optimistic way and I’m looking forward to being back in the car after such a long break.”

Tsunoda is excited for the first sprint weekend of 2023 and with the new format that sees a standalone Qualifying session for each of the races, although it does mean a change to the schedule and the reduction of free practice to just a solitary session.

“This will be our first Sprint weekend of the year, and with the changed format I’m feeling more excited about it than usual,” he added.  “The changes mean that the work we have done in the simulator becomes even more important to make up for less practice time on track.

“It will be vital to have a good car right from FP1. Certainly, our last simulator session was very useful, starting with looking back at Australia to get a better understanding about the car and then looking at these next couple of races in Baku and Miami, as we will be going straight to Florida from Azerbaijan.”

Yuki Tsunoda wants to build on his first points finish of the season in Australia this weekend in Azerbaijan – Credit: Peter Fox/Getty Images