Nyck de Vries moves through life at full speed. Both on and off the circuit. From a young age, the 2020–21 Formula E world champion has lived life on the road. Going wherever the next race takes him, focusing on whatever is necessary to finish first. It’s a journey that started in the Dutch province of Friesland and lead him all around the globe. His current home is in Monaco, but he isn’t planning to settle down anytime soon.
Nyck’s life in international racing began when his family moved to Italy. It was here as a young teen he started his international career in kart racing, earning a European and two world championships. It’s also when he first became aware of his ambitions and more importantly, what he needed to do to live his dream as a professional race car driver. At 15, he was recruited to join the McLaren Young Driver Programme and in turn the racing world. Though more and more people and organizations have become involved in his career, he remains adamant it’s up to him to achieve success.
The ultimate manifestation of this took place in 2019, when Nyck became Formula 2 world champion. He seemed destined to join Formula 1, but signed to Mercedes in Formula E, the world’s competition for electric race cars instead. He was crowned world champion once again after last year’s 2021 season. Despite Mercedes’ decision to leave Formula E when the current season ends, which brings a level of uncertainty for the future, his spirit and dedication will be the only fuel needed to take on whatever new challenge lays ahead.
We got together with Nyck de Vries on a beautiful day in February. He ditched his usual high horsepower for the weekend, choosing to travel in his custom-renovated vintage car. Nyck has had the 1987 Mini Moke completely redesigned to his liking – almost like a made-to-measure suit. While overlooking the Mediterranean coastline from the incredible Corniche Roads, we captured him in his self-curated collection of flexible, layered outfits – perfect for a warmer climate and being on the road. We reminisce about the constant travel that has dictated his live, bringing him many victories, championships, and opportunities beyond racing. We also look back at some of the larger life lessons that made him into the independent man he is today. He has a constantly evolving set of goals that he approaches at full speed and with maximum dedication to continue to be the best he can be in everything he does.
Today we are just outside of Monaco, where you’ve been living for the last few years. Where did the journey start that eventually brought you here?
I started kart racing in Sneek, Friesland when I was 5 years old. From the age of 13 it got serious, because my father, sister and myself moved to Italy and I started participating in all the big kart racing competitions in Europe. That was when I started competing with the best in the world.
How do you look back at those early years in kart racing?
It was very playful in the beginning. I was discovering what racing is and whether I liked it. It’s an organic process, as you get older it starts to get more and more serious. At a certain moment I started to see that this is what I wanted to do, for sure. In my opinion, the kart racing sport is undervalued by the general public. It’s a beautiful and important sport, but most people just see it as a hobby. In my eyes it’s actually a smaller, but just as interesting, variation of Formula 1.
Were you already into competitive karting before the move to Italy?
For sure. Before our move, I was dedicated to competitive karting in the Netherlands. I attended a normal school in Sneek, in the north of the country. The education system there is compulsory, but we wanted to take the next step. It was clear we would need to travel a lot as we were dependent on racetracks and events that take place all over Europe. So, it became a choice between staying at home and attending school or focusing on racing. My dad decided to take the necessary steps to support my racing and we moved to Italy.
"I live by the rule that without goals, there's no direction, and without direction, I don't know where I’m going. I base all my choices and considerations on the goals I’ve set for myself."
That was an important step.
It put me right where it was all happening, and I finally could practice my sport in the best possible way. It also became a force of motivation: my father, sister and myself were in this together. Looking back, it was a turning point, because as soon as I was able to compete on an international level, I was able to stand out. Before, when I was just racing in the Netherlands, I couldn’t always do that. This period, from 13 to 16, was both an unforgettable experience and successful in taking me to a competitive level, as I became European and world champion in kart racing.
During my second year of international kart racing, I signed an agreement with McLaren. Even in these early years, they started mapping out a plan for my career which they financed as well. That was important because racing is a very expensive sport.
What are your fondest memories of your time in Italy?
I have only good memories from that time. What I remember most is that we moved from circuit to circuit, almost like a circus. You hang out with a very large group of people, with a similar lifestyle, living an almost nomadic life. During those years our family of three revolved completely around kart racing.
Looking back, it was quite unusual of course, but we didn’t know any better. Everyone around us was doing the same. We had very little luxury; we lived in a motorhome, we often had to take showers at the racetrack. We lived in a small apartment, where mine and the mechanic’s beds were in the living room. Yet, somehow none of that mattered, because it was all about the sport and we did it as a family. We also had some support from the factory I raced for of course, but it was a very simple life, and it became the foundation for my life as a racer today.
With where you are now, it’s probably much easier to see the significance of your father’s decision.
I am very aware that my dreams and goals were also his dreams and goals. I even think without a family that was 100% supportive, it wouldn’t have worked. When you are a teenager and you don’t have a family to support you, it’s impossible to get to a certain level.
What I also admire to this very day is that my father sacrificed everything. He has completely sacrificed 4 years of his life to me, literally putting all his time into my dream. Despite it being unusual, I know the three of us look back at it as a very special time in our lives. It was beautiful.
You subsequently became part of the McLaren Young Driver Programme, and also had to deal with the first setbacks in your career.
What didn’t help me in that period was the fact that I wasn’t fully physically developed. I was mentally mature enough, but even when I was 17 my body wasn’t very strong yet. Someone like Max Verstappen, for instance, was already driving Formula 1 at 17. In motorsport you need to feel in control of your vehicle at all times, otherwise you don’t have the confidence to do what is necessary in the split seconds that decide a race.
At some point, McLaren and I decided to part ways and soon after my first partnership with Mercedes started. At that point I was finally ready to compete at the highest possible level. It was my last year of Formula 2, when I was eventually able to win the championship. That could have also been the moment to be promoted to Formula 1, but there weren’t any open seats. Mercedes was also putting together a new team in Formula E and that’s how I ended up where I am today.
Unfortunately, Mercedes have announced they are leaving Formula E. It goes to show nothing is a given in life. I hoped after my success in Formula 2 and Formula E, I would have a 10 to 15 year career in the Formula E class. I won the championship last year, but now there is some uncertainty about my future. Naturally, if you perform well there are always new opportunities, but at the same time you are only as good as your last race, and this world changes at high speed.
"I’m very serious about my sport and my work, and I want to dress the part. I'm quite a perfectionist and this also applies to my clothing. The collection we’ve created represents me as a person and the life I live."
Your life has evolved a lot in the last few years with a lot more responsibilities, on and off the track.
Being in this sport revolves around much more than just racing during the weekend. You have to make your simulator hours, do your physical training, work with your team. And all kinds of partnerships, like ours, also come into play. I race in different classes along with Formula E too, so I also deal with different teams with different interests and calendars.
So, there’s a lot to it, and despite the fact you could leave things to ‘managers’, I think it’s important to be the one in charge of all my responsibilities. Ultimately, it’s about my future, and I like to be the best at everything I do. That’s my drive. So, I like doing things myself.
I’m super grateful for what I’m allowed to do and how I can live my life because of racing, but that all exists by the grace of me performing well. That’s how and why teams are structured; for me to excel on the grid on Saturday or Sunday. I mean it when I say that I achieve every success together with my team, but ultimately, I am expected to carry everyone ‘on my shoulders’ when the race takes place. This mindset also applies to everything else in my life. When push comes to shove, it’s up to me to get things done.
And you are hardly ever in idle mode.
Every week is different. Last week, I had a training camp in Monaco, this week I’m on the road with you and with other marketing commitments. Next week I’ll be in a simulator in England for 5 days, followed by marketing duties for Mercedes again here in Monaco. The following week I’ll be back in England, then travel with the Formula 1 team to Bahrain. Shortly afterwards we have another race in Formula E, again.
Everything I do has a focus on racing, but I always try to develop myself more broadly during periods when there are no competitions. This doesn’t directly make me a better driver, but I do like to do different things in life.
How do you decide to spend the little time you have in a day?
I always try to make the most of my time. I’m not going to do random things. I don’t want to waste any time. Everything I do must be in the context of racing, but it’s important to me to approach this from a wider point of view. That is something I learned the importance of over time. I used to just focus on racing and nothing else, but that became too much at some point.
I learned that if there’s nothing but racing, I’m not racing my best. I often compare it to skiing, because in that there is also a lot of technique involved, but it’s just as much about courage and self-confidence. In my eyes, those two elements often trump everything else in many situations. I used to watch tapes of races and make endless notes on what I needed to do better in the next race. You can imagine that if you commit yourself to do better on all those accounts, the next time you’re in the car, you’re technically just focusing on what you did wrong. You no longer let your feelings, your talent, and your intuition do its job. Now I still do the necessary work, but I also rely on feelings and intuition in many situations. To be free and rely on this has proven to be an important step that has helped me a lot in life.
As I get older, I’ve learned that in the end it’s all about priorities, and that’s how I try to live my life. I have specific goals and I have a strategy and a plan to achieve them. I always weigh up what’s important to me and trust myself when I decide how to move forward.
It’s about confidence and self-awareness, I think. At some point you will know what you want, what you are good at, and how you want to use that in your life.
And how you can get the best out of yourself. That is also very important.
Did that change positively being in an environment like Monaco?
In the beginning everything was quite new and I had to still find my way, even though I had a lot of connections here already. Almost all racers and other the people from my world are here. It’s a very international environment. And a very ambitious environment. Many people in my building’s gym are athletes. There is an ambitious, athletic vibe here. I find that very motivating and I feel it’s important I live in that kind of environment.
It almost seems as if there is somewhat of a parallel with your move here and being more in control of things. Both as an athlete and on the business side, where you’re able to make your own choices and create things for yourself as you deem fit.
That’s true, there is a parallel between me being in Monaco and my career going to the next level. Technically, I moved here when I became professional, and all the other facets followed in this process. To me it also represents becoming older and more mature in how I live my life.
"I live my life to reach the goals I set for myself, and I’ve learned that self-confidence plays a critical role in achieving them. So that’s what I’m looking for in the clothes I wear."
How do you see the future?
I have a very clear goal for myself this year and how I want to shape my future. I live by the rule that without goals, there’s no direction, and without direction, I don’t know where I’m going. I base all my choices and considerations on the goals I’ve set for myself. It determines my direction, which for now is finishing this season on the same level as last season. And then joining a new team.
In addition to Formula 1, you have 2 other professional motorsport classes. The Formula E and the World Endurance Championship. It’s my dream to combine these classes. They are the toughest competitions after Formula 1. To compete in both the Formula E and the World Endurance Championship at the same time would be amazing. That’s my goal for the future and what I’m working towards. My long-term goal is to excel at the highest level in both classes for as long as possible.
And beyond being active in motorsport? Have you ever thought about that?
I’m convinced I will stay active in motorsport. This is my world and this is where my skills and expertise lie. For example, I’m already helping a talent who will race for my old Formula 2 team with some advice and guidance. I see a future where I continue to be active in this world. At this point I don’t see any other way, to be honest.
So, you want to continue this way of life?
If you refer to having a busy schedule and always traveling, yes. Without a doubt. This is how I grew up, and this is the life I know through and through. The thought of being in the same place for more than a month makes me feel restless already. More importantly, this is where my passion lies. This is what I love. So, there is really no reason why I would stop. Maybe this will change one day, but for now, that’s how I feel about it.
What role does clothing play in the pursuit of your goals in life?
I’m very thorough when I start something. I don’t like doing things halfway. I’m also very aware that along my career on the circuit, I’m creating a personal brand, and I think clothing plays a huge role in that – the way you can present yourself as a person, but also as a brand. That’s why I find our partnership so interesting. I am a rather short person, so it’s extremely difficult to find clothes I’d like to wear in my size at all. Made-to-measure is a remarkable solution for that problem. I also love the fact that there is much less waste.
From the moment I became aware of made-to-measure, the fit has been everything I wanted it to be. The whole thing has been an eye opener. Plus, I like a casual chic appearance because I think this suits my personality. I’m very serious about my sport and my work, and I want to dress the part. I’m quite a perfectionist and this also applies to my clothing. That’s why I think I’ve found a great match in Atelier Munro. The collection we’ve created represents me as a person and the life I live.
"Someone once told me "Look good, feel good" and that always stuck with me. I think clothing is crucial to self-confidence. When you feel good about what you wear it results in confidence. It shows from the moment you put the right clothing on."
The clothing reflects the ambition you represent.
Yes, but not by showing off. I mainly want to be myself and represent what I feel good in. This is the most important element. Someone once told me “Look good, feel good” and that always stuck with me. I think clothing is crucial to self-confidence. When you feel good about what you wear, and it fits the way made-to-measure fits, it results in confidence. It shows from the moment you put the right clothing on.
I live my life to reach the goals I set for myself, and I’ve learned that self-confidence plays a critical role in achieving them. So that’s what I’m looking for in the clothes I wear. That’s what I see in the collection we’ve created together.
Special thanks to Hall of Frame, Utrecht
Get inspired by Nyck’s curated travel collection,
designed for life on the road.