In recent years Nyck de Vries has driven F1 machinery across several outings and so had an early indication of the tough task that awaited him when he was suddenly called up to race at the Italian Grand Prix. As we all know, de Vries delivered a great debut performance in the Williams car, but after the long race, the Dutchman struggled to get out of his car. That moment caused de Vries to realise that he needed to focus on his fitness if he was to drive a full Formula One season. In 2023, De Vries is ready to embark on his first full-time F1 drive with AlphaTauri. Since signing the deal, he's been preparing for the new season with Pierre Gasly and Daniil Kvyat's former performance coach, Pyry Salmela. The always cheerful Finn is known as an incredibly strong and tough coach, who knows exactly how to prepare a driver for an F1 season. RacingNews365 sat down with Salmela to discuss De Vries' winter. "We just finished a two-day session in Austria and they were very busy and long days," said Salmela, who is very pleased with his pupil's progress. "This session in Austria is an important moment in the preparation for the new F1 season. This is because here we look at different data [points] and can see a driver's progression. "The data showed, as we expected, that we had a very good winter. Nyck made a lot of progress, we already saw that during the winter, but to see it reflected in the data as well gives an extra nice feeling." However, Salmela is cautious of anybody reading into the fitness metrics too much: "In the end, it's about the racing, about the points gained. I am happy with the progress made, especially since we have made it in a short time. "Still, it's only about the performance and that's done on the track. It is important for a driver to be in good physical shape, but at the end of the day, only the performance on the track counts."
For that, I want to give a lot of credit to Nyck
From zero to hero?
De Vries is the third Formula One driver Salmela has worked with. The performance coach thought during his early years in F1 that he would soon be working with athletes in other sports but, several years later, Salmela still feels in place is in Formula 1. "I am extremely happy with the drivers I have had the opportunity to work with so far. with both Daniil and Pierre I have been able to learn a lot and I can take that with me when coaching Nyck. You can still learn a lot from the drivers," continued Salmela. "After all, you can still learn so much; in the end it is the experience you have to gain. That can't be bought and can't be taught, for that you have to keep doing your job. "That way you learn a lot and you would do things in the past a little differently with the benefit of experience, because thanks to the experience you know even better what to do. "For example, through the experience I gained with Daniil and Pierre, I can now work even better and more efficiently with Nyck." "Thus, even prior to our collaboration, I was able to tell Nyck exactly what he had to take care of, what was needed to get everything in order, so that we could get off to a good start right away. That worked out well, especially because Nyck immediately gave me confidence. For that I want to give him a lot of credit, because it made my life much easier. "When you start working together, it usually takes some time to get used to each other, but Nyck trusted me right away. In addition, he himself also knows very well what to do, is very knowledgeable, and that also makes everything a lot easier. You can coach him well, he picks things up quickly and that makes it ideal to work with him," Salmela said with a satisfied smile on his face. "You know, actually I've worked with three drivers now, with whom it's been very nice to work. That's nice, that you're dealing with guys who want to learn things and realise that you can't just go from zero to hero."
The Dubai training camp
During the winter, De Vries and Salmela not only trained in the Dutchman's hometown of Monaco, but the two also headed to Dubai. Coincidentally, several drivers appeared to have chosen that country for preparation for the new season. "We left for Dubai this winter because I wanted to get him away from his home situation. Not because that situation wouldn't be good, but because this is my way of getting athletes to focus on the new season," explained Salmela. "At home you always have some distractions, because life is always going on there. Whether it's friends you want to see or you have to do laundry. The focus can never be 100 percent there." "Since we already have so little time it is therefore important to make the most of the time we do have, and that is possible in Dubai, where I live myself. There I know everything and everyone and so I can guide my athlete precisely. For example, Pierre Gasly and Yuki Tsunoda were also in Dubai to prepare for the new season, which also allowed us to do some group training. So we played football together and some padel together." All three drivers mentioned above seem to be ready for the new F1 season. However, that also means more commitments for the drivers, and so Salmela's job will get tougher in the coming weeks. "We have just put Nyck on a plane to New York, because the presentation will take place there. Then he will return to Europe where he has several marketing activities and meetings with the engineers scheduled. He also has to drive a few more laps in the new car before the shakedown and so the weeks are actually already full." "Fortunately, Nyck is used to the hustle and bustle and I have gained enough experience to guide him well in such a busy period like this. The physical foundation for the F1 season has been laid and for now the task is to make sure Nyck stays in the same condition. That means that we are always making sure that not only the physical side but also the mental side is absolutely top notch. That's how a driver can perform best," said Salmela, who was about to start his second training session of the day. "I always say: good example follows. You are a leader by doing everything yourself and setting an example. That's the way I always go about things and so I also make sure that I myself am in the ideal condition, both physically and mentally. That transfers to the athlete, who will subconsciously follow it. That is why I myself am looking forward to the new F1 season immensely, because I myself prepare for it as much as a driver does." To finish, Pyry gave us another example so that we could better understand his training style: "Very often you see that a group of successful athletes come from a certain environment. In my opinion, this is because the right group of people have found each other and are pulling together. As a result, they get everything out of it together and suddenly you see that many successful athletes come from just a small group. "That, in my mind, is the explanation of the 'lead through example' method."