Latifi suffers frustrating GP2 weekend in Monte Carlo

The 20-year-old arrived at the famous street circuit after scoring impressive P2 and P7 finishes at round one in Barcelona (13-15 May) and was hoping to build on his fourth place in the GP2 Drivers’ standings by securing some more championship points this weekend.

Things started well for the DAMS driver as he secured P9 during Thursday’s qualifying session. However, contact with the barrier inside the Monaco tunnel prevented him from finishing Friday’s opening 60-minute race and his frustration was compounded on Saturday when a gear selector issue meant he was forced to retire from race two.

“It’s been a disappointing weekend,” Nicholas said. “There are positives to take from practice and qualifying when I picked my mark, gained the confidence and knew there was much more left. But things didn’t quite go to plan during the races and that’s a frustration.”

Nicholas put his retirement in race one down to a mistake he made as he defended his P8 position from Artem Markelov on lap 23.

“My goal was to finish at least one place ahead so I could benefit from the reverse grid in race two, but I didn’t feel particularly comfortable with the set-up I had chosen,” he said.

“I was pushing hard when I made a mistake coming into the turn before the tunnel and Markelov was able to get on the inside of me. I was a little ahead so I thought okay, I’m going to have the inside line for the chicane, but off-line in the tunnel the surface is really dusty and as soon as I hit that I couldn’t turn the car anymore.”

And Nicholas’s luck didn’t get any better as he started from the back of the grid during Saturday’s second GP2 race.

“Stuck behind the slower traffic my objective was to finish the race, bring the car back in one piece and try and take as much experience as possible for next year. I didn’t want to take any risks,” he explained.

“But soon after the VSC, I started to feel some strange things under braking. The gearbox wasn’t downshifting when I wanted it to and then, half a lap later, it started to stick in gear. I knew it was all over when I was stuck in third for the whole straight.”

Despite missing out on championship points this weekend, the highs of the season opener ensure Nicholas holds eighth in the Drivers’ standings heading to Baku, Azerbaijan (17-19 June).

“For me this season is all about learning and building experience, and as part of that you have to accept that mistakes will happen – from me, the team and the car,” Nicholas added. “Of course it’s disappointing, but I’ll be able to put everything I have learned this weekend to good use when I return to Monaco in 2017.”

Monaco challenge excites GP2 racer Nicholas Latifi

The GP2 Series heads to Monte Carlo this weekend for its second round of the season and Nicholas is hoping to back up his P2 and P7 finishes at round one in Barcelona with another strong performance on Monaco’s famous street circuit.

The Canadian has spent the time between each round preparing with his DAMS Racing team at its base in Le Mans and he feels he’s ready to take on the unique challenge that Monaco presents.

“Monaco is definitely the race that I’ve been most looking forward to on the 2016 calendar,” the 20-year-old says. “Street tracks are a challenge that I enjoy; it’s the thrill of driving between the walls with the extra pressure of knowing that if you make a mistake it will cost you.”

Monaco will be the third street circuit that Renault Sport Formula One Team Test Driver Nicholas has raced on during his career – after Pau and Macau – and he took some valuable experience away from the Mediterranean Principality in 2015 when he raced there in the Formula Renault 3.5 series.

But, given the unique challenge that the tight and twisty Monaco circuit presents, Nicholas is acutely aware that it’s hard to predict an outcome. As with other street circuits, preparation will be the key to success this weekend.

He says: “Monaco is, like other street tracks, a bit of a lottery. Everyone tests at Barcelona so you have an idea of the progress that people are making. But Monaco is completely different as it’s a track that’s only there once a season.

“I’ve studied the Monaco races from the past few years in GP2 to analyse the characteristics of the track and the race. What’s clear is you do see some overtaking – but not a lot. There are only one or two places to overtake if you have a sheer pace advantage and are much quicker than the guys in front.

“That’s why it’s so vital to have a clean weekend and to do as many laps as possible so you can take confidence into qualifying. It’s important to start at the front if you want a good result in Monaco. But you also have to be smart. There’s no sense taking any unnecessary risks because you’ll find yourself at the back of the grid.”
Nicholas, whose 2016 GP2 campaign is proudly supported by Royal Bank of Canada, Lavazza and Sofina, heads to Monaco holding fourth place in the GP2 Series drivers’ standings. But he knows he’ll need to be on top of his game if he’s going to add to his championship points haul in Friday and Saturday’s GP2 races.

“Barcelona was a strong weekend but the team and I are taking nothing for granted,” he explains. “The focus this season is on learning and building my experience in GP2. There’s a lot of hard work still to do. If we can qualify at the front and do well in both races that will be a good return on a tricky circuit.”

Nicholas Latifi makes history at GP2 Series opener in Barcelona

This weekend’s GP2 races were Nicholas’s first with his new DAMS Racing team and it was his first opportunity to put all of his preparation and hard work during pre-season to the test in a fiercely competitive GP2 field that contains 21 other drivers in 2016.

“Overall, I’m really happy with the way the weekend went,” Nicholas said. “Going into Barcelona, the goal was finish all the races without any trouble and to do as many laps as possible to gain some more experience. Finishing on the podium definitely wasn’t something I expected and then to get P7 in the second race was fantastic.

“I’ve always known the potential has been there to run at the front but I thought it would take a bit longer to put everything together. I’m thrilled to come away from Spain with fourth place in the championship.”

Nicholas got off to a perfect start in Friday afternoon’s qualifying session. With his car proudly displaying Royal Bank of Canada, Lavazza and Sofina branding for the first time at a GP2 race weekend, the 20-year-old sped his way to P4, just a tenth of a second behind his more experienced team-mate Alex Lynn.

That put Nicholas in a prime grid position for Saturday’s 60-minute main race and he made the most of his opportunity when the race started. A great get away from the line allowed Nicholas to pass Lynn for third place, and although Nicholas lost time when Sergei Sirotkin forced him well wide in turn three as the duo battled side-by-side through the 150mph sweeper, Nicholas fought back.

He fended off the advances of those behind and settled into his own race, running consistently within seven seconds of Pierre Gasly’s lead and reeling in the top-three by lap 20.

Four laps later, Nicholas’s pressure paid off as he took full advantage of Sirotkin’s spin to move into P3. And he went one better shortly afterwards. Scenting blood after Norman Nato passed Gasly for the lead on lap 27, Nicholas piled the pressure on the Frenchman in a bid to snatch P2.

With just three laps remaining, he forced Gasly into defensive measures. Following ever more closely on lap 32, Nicholas pounced decisively at turn one and took the position in fine style.

Had the race not been time-limited, Nicholas could have gone one better as Nato was beginning to fall into his grasp – just 1.3 seconds ahead of Nicholas on the final lap.

But as the chequered flag dropped, Nicholas took P2 and became the first Canadian to score points and make the podium in GP2 history.

In Sunday morning’s sprint race, Nicholas held his own off the start, retaining seventh – his reverse grid position – as the pack jostled into turn one. 

At half-race distance, positions stabilised and Nicholas comfortably made his way past Sergio Canamasas into P6. An untimely safety car on lap 22 effectively put an end to the racing and Nicholas, battling against fading tyres, was unable to prevent Ollie Rowland passing him for P6.

With the first round of the season successfully negotiated, Nicholas’s attentions now turn to the second round of the series at Monaco in two weeks.

“Monte Carlo is a completely different track but all of the work we have done in pre-season has paid off in Barcelona and that’s given us some really good momentum that we’ll be trying to take into the next few races,” Nicholas said.

“I hope I can reward myself and the team – who gave me an absolutely amazing car this weekend – by putting in another strong race weekend in Monaco.”

GP2 preparation is key to success for Nicholas Latifi

The 20-year-old will kick off his first full GP2 campaign at Circuit de Barcelona, Catalunya in Spain this weekend (13-15 May) when he drives for the highly-decorated DAMS team.

Taking to the track in Friday’s opening GP2 practice session is a moment Nicholas is relishing as it will be his first chance to put five months of tough pre-season preparation to the test.

“I’m very excited,” he says. “It’s been a very long pre-season. In the past I’ve always competed in winter championships to get some races in before my European season starts. But that’s something I haven’t done this year and it’s made me more anxious to get going.”

Nicholas’s build up to the new season has included taking part in three official GP2 tests, spending time working with DAMS at its headquarters in Le Mans, France, driving the team’s simulator and undertaking weeks of physical training in the Pyrenees Mountains.

It’s been a lot of hard work but, with the GP2 margins being so fine and Nicholas being determined to accelerate his learning in 2016, he knows preparation is the key to him achieving his goal of eventually earning a place on the Formula One grid.

“When the GP2 season starts and you turn your first lap, you have to be on it straight away,” he explains. “You have to be ready to make the most of the opportunity you’ve got. I’ve done a lot of preparation so that my approach to the race weekend is perfect and so that I know exactly what I have to do when I get on the track for practice.

“There is such little track time in GP2 – you only get 45 mins of practice before you’re straight in to qualifying – so it’s imperative you get up to speed and find your rhythm quickly. If you have a bad practice, you generally don’t find any good references for qualifying, and the qualifying session is so important to put yourself in a good position to race from.”
Racing at Circuit de Barcelona, Catalunya will be a new experience for Nicholas because he’s only ever tested formula cars at the track in the past. But it’s a circuit he enjoys for one simple reason.

“The first two sectors are fast and flowing and that requires certain car characteristics and driving skills,” he says. “But the last sector is slower and more technical so that needs something completely different from the car and driver. The package has to be good across all of the characteristics and that’s a challenge that I like.”

Nicholas’s hopes of putting in a strong performance at the opening GP2 race of the new season were boosted last week when he enjoyed some welcome seat time at Silverstone in the UK. As a Renault Sport Formula One Team Test Driver, Nicholas was required to complete more than 400km in the team’s 2012 F1 car so he can apply for his FIA Super Licence.

“It was beneficial because otherwise the last time I would have driven a race car would have been at the final GP2 test in March,” he explains. “Driving the F1 car definitely helped to sharpen my skills and test me physically. All of these things are important before the first race because they all add up to me being in the best state of mind and being able to deliver the best performance I can.”

Nicholas completes first test with Renault Sport Formula One Team

The 20-year-old was unveiled as the team’s official Test Driver in March but needs to earn his FIA Super Licence before he can drive in any of this season’s FP1 sessions that get a Grand Prix weekend underway.

Nicholas therefore headed to the iconic Silverstone circuit in England to get some track time in Renault’s V8-powered E20 Formula One car from 2012. His goal was to complete 300km of running – the minimum required distance to secure a Super Licence.

Thanks to a near-perfect performance behind the wheel, Nicholas exceeded his mileage target by 116km as he completed a total of 140 laps in dry and warm conditions.

“I’m really pleased with the way things have gone,” he said. “The main thing was that I accomplished the 300km minimum distance but we were able to go even further because everything ran so smoothly. That’s a nice feeling when you’re jumping in a car for the first time – especially when it’s a Formula One car.

“The goal was to build each run and to get some confidence in the car. We weren’t really trying things with the set up because it wasn’t an official test day. But I felt really good in the car and my physical preparation during the closed season helped with that. My neck feels a little sore but, as I haven’t been able to drive a race car since the last GP2 test a month and a half ago, that’s to be expected.”

Nicholas drove Renault’s 2012 car because FIA rules don’t allow a driver that’s qualifying for their Super Licence to drive anything less than two years older than a team’s current car. But Nicholas was thrilled to drive a car that proved to be a race-winning package during the 2012 season.

“It was a good car for the team and the V8 engine sounded really nice around Silverstone,” Nicholas said. “There isn’t as much technology as the current Renault F1 car because there’s no hybrid system, but everything still runs smoothly and seamlessly in terms of the gear change and power delivery. It’s a lot of fun.”

And the Renault Sport team was pleased with Nicholas’s display on his first test with them. Alan Permane, Trackside Operations Director, Renault Sport Formula One Team, said: “Nicholas delivered exactly what was required from today and fulfilled a vital part of his programme as Renault Sport Formula One Team Test Driver. He was a pleasure to work with and had a mature approach to the tasks at hand.”

Nicholas will now apply for his FIA Super Licence, but in the meantime, he’s focused on the opening GP2 race of the season at Barcelona next weekend (13-15 May). He’s determined to get off to a solid start with his new DAMS team and believes his experiences at Silverstone today will have helped.

He added: “Although it’s faster, driving the Renault F1 car is pretty similar to driving the GP2 car so today will get me back in the driving mind set. Seat time is always good for a driver that’s continuing his learning and developing all the time like I am.”