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Following Le Castellet, De Vries' attention switched to consistency and maximisation of points. The lead was his, there was little to be gained in risking a strong points’ finish, for a race win. This can be seen in the amount of podiums the Dutchman achieved, without finishing in first. In the five races that followed France, he achieved four podiums. Third, third, third, and second. The risk was larger than the reward, when it came to winning.
This could be seen in Spielberg, when he controlled Free Practice, and was then untouchable in Qualifying. He clearly had the pace to win and he was leading the Feature Race with five laps to go, but his tyres had taken a battering and had he attempted to retain first, he risked a DNF. He knew this, and didn’t put up much of a fight when Nobuharu Matsushita and Luca Ghiotto successfully blazed past him.
There’s an argument to be made that he was only in that position because he had been too keen earlier in the race and burnt out his rubber. “Apparently I was too eager in the first phase of the prime stint and asked too much from my tyres,” the Dutchman claimed. While this may be true, he still opted to avoid the risk at the end and was satisfied with another podium. “we'll take P3 and the points,” he said.
The podiums and the plaudits kept on coming. In Silverstone, he lacked the pace of recent events, but still, he delivered third place. “Unfortunately, this weekend we were not competitive enough to win. In that case you need to try and bring home as many points as possible. We do that through fighting,” he asserted.
The trend continued. Even in Budapest, when Latifi secured a first win since Round 3, De Vries backed him up in second place and therefore minimised his rival’s gain. The Dutchman wasn’t allowing the Canadian any room to breathe – he was suffocating him with consistency. In Monza, De Vries finished third again in both races. Latifi failed to score a point.
De Vries summarised: “We were consistent and they his title rivals were taking points off each other. I never looked at it that way but after one race one of my friends, who were all very much involved and supportive, made that comment. I thought it made quite a lot of sense but we just stayed focused on our job.”
That’s not to say he was ever boring, in fact, his title success was littered with overtakes and draw-dropping moments, none more so than in Monza, when his team was found to have made a mistake with his fuel load in Qualifying. He was subsequently disqualified and would start the race from last.
The Dutchman was magical in the events that followed. His drive in the Feature Race from last, to P3, was imperious and served as a reminder of his undeniable ability to fight and battle when he needed to.
“Everyone makes mistakes,” he admitted. “It's part of racing. We're here as a team, we take it as a team and today we fought back as a team. I'm certainly proud of how we came back and kind of saved the day.
“When you start from the back you also need to attack. There is no time for waiting around and we needed to attack. I'm happy that we succeeded today. Thanks for the team for giving me an amazing car.”
Arriving in Sochi a few weeks later, his lead at the top of the table stood at 59-points and the title was there to be taken with a round to spare. For De Vries, who had targeted consistency for so long, he wanted to clinch it in the right way. He had been so focused on scoring strong points regularly, he hadn’t tasted champagne on the top step since Le Castellet in June. He had now built up a big enough buffer to go all out for victory once more, and he didn’t disappoint.
“We really wanted to do it in style and we have had a long consistent run up until this point, with a lot of podiums, but our last win dated back to Paul Ricard, so a little while ago. It really felt like we had to kind of win this, not only to clinch the Championship, but also for ourselves, just to make sure that we really deserved this.”
Having Qualified on pole, his win was briefly put into doubt by Ghiotto, who was on the alternate strategy and had overtaken him. In reality, the race never looked like playing out in any way, other than how De Vries wanted it to. By the time the 24-year-old crossed the finish line, the gap between himself and second placed Latifi was a healthy 4.9s.
The gap in the standings? 70 points. If he headed towards the Parc fermé with any doubt in his mind that he had really done it, it would have quickly evaporated. Sat in his spot stood a board reading ‘2019 FIA Formula 2 Champion.’
“We were kind of uncertain whether it was really done or not. They told me 'wait until you get to the pit lane and then you'll see'. Just looking at the board in front of me when I arrived, that was pretty cool. There were some goosebumps there.”
What happened next was spine tingling. He arose from the chamber of his striking black and white ART machine and unlike any celebration that had come before it, removed his helmet. He wanted every drop of emotion to be felt by those who had helped him to this point. His fists pumped in the air, a smile beamed from his face and he let out a scream of uncontrolled emotion, before leaping from the top of his car and into the sea of team members waiting to celebrate with him.
He lauded the victory as “revenge” for the disappointment of last season, but it was so much more than that. It was vindication. After all, it was supposed to go this way.