More GP2 mileage and learning for Nicholas at the Hungaroring

The Canadian was optimistic that experience gained at the Hungaroring on his GP2 debut in 2015 would play into his hands this weekend. However, the track surface, which was recently resurfaced, did not behave as was expected and made overtaking even more difficult than normal at the notoriously tight circuit.

“I raced in Hungary last year, so that would usually be a benefit and the team was also fast here too,” Nicholas said. “But with the new surface this year, it was completely different. The tyre degradation is usually very high – but this time there was almost none.

“I was preparing for the degradation to come, driving quite conservatively in the opening stages, but people ended up getting faster towards the end. It was quite strange, the polar opposite to what happened here last year.

“It made the races more processional because nobody dropped off. You’re just following the car in front and there was little you could do unless somebody made a mistake.”

The 21-year-old took P16 in Saturday’s Feature Race and avoided opening-lap drama to make up places in Sunday’s Sprint battle, coming home in P12. But Nicholas did rue an opportunity missed in qualifying.

“Qualifying made the races more difficult than they should have been,” he explained. “We’d only put fuel in the car for one timed run and I made the same mistake that my team-mate did on that lap.

“I was up on my fastest time and it was looking like it would have been good enough for top four, maybe even top three. Sometimes that happens. The way we did it, fuelling for one lap, is a risk but it almost paid off.

“It meant we started much further back on a track where it’s difficult to overtake and follow. The more qualifying sessions I take part in, the more confident I’ll become in extracting everything from the tyres. It’s something you can’t replicate in practice.”

Round seven from the Hockenheimring, Germany comes in just a week’s time (30-31 July) and will provide an opportunity for Nicholas – proudly supported by Royal Bank of Canada, Lavazza and Sofina during his first full season of GP2 racing in 2016 – to bounce straight back.

“The positive ahead of Germany is that it comes so quickly. We’ll analyse why the pace was missing in the car but then the focus switches to Hockenheim,” Nicholas said.

“It’s a circuit I know well from F3 and one the team has been competitive on. Hopefully, all being equal, it’ll be an advantage to us.

“My goal is the same as it has been at every round this season – to finish both races well and accumulate as much experience as possible.”

Nicholas aims to put his limited GP2 experience to good use in Hungary

The sixth round of the series will be played out near Budapest and the 21-year-old is optimistic that the experience he gathered during the corresponding races in 2015 – his debut event in the GP2 category – will help as he targets success in both the Feature and Sprint races.

“I only did a handful of GP2 races last season, but one of them was in Hungary so I’m looking forward to going back this weekend,” Nicholas says. “Of the 11 tracks on the 2016 calendar, this is the first of only two that I have experienced before in a GP2 car so I’m hoping that will help me.

“Every race that I’ve done so far this season has reinforced how much of an advantage it is to have had previous GP2 experience. Every track requires something different from the car and something different from the driver when it comes to managing the tyres. Knowing the little tricks to save the tyres is invaluable.”

Nicholas, who is proudly supported by Royal Bank of Canada, Lavazza and Sofina during the 2016 season, performed confidently when he made his GP2 debut in Hungary last year. He qualified in P12 and completed both race distances as he recorded a best finish of 14th place.

“I did 65 racing laps at the Hungaroring in 2015 and it’s a very technical track,” he explains. “A lot of the corners are back-to-back and that means there isn’t a lot of rest for the driver. It’s very important to find a good rhythm if you’re going to set some good lap times. If you make a mistake at one particular corner in Hungary, it’s quite likely you’ll make another mistake at the next one.

“You need to have a high level of concentration and to be mentally focused if you’re going to put a lap together during qualifying and to drive well in the races.”
Nicholas’s hopes for this weekend have been further boosted by the form that his DAMS team showed when it contested the GP2 races at the Hungaroring last season.

He says: “My team-mate Alex (Lynn) got pole for one of the races and the team finished one-two in the Feature Race so it’s obviously a track that the DAMS guys know well.

“But I know I also need to be on top of my game this weekend. Since the last GP2 race, I’ve been training in the Pyrenees; firstly recovering from the back-to-back races at Spielberg and Silverstone, and then preparing mentally and physically for Hungary.

“I’m ready for what I expect will be a tough weekend.”

Silverstone learning experience will benefit Nicholas in GP2

The proud Canadian rates the home of the British Grand Prix as his favourite track on the GP2 calendar and, after putting a frustrating practice session firmly behind him, the 21-year-old showed his talent during Friday qualifying for the fifth round of the GP2 Series.

A storming lap close to the end of the session not only secured P3 on the grid for Saturday afternoon’s Feature Race, but also confirmed Nicholas’s best-ever qualifying performance in his short GP2 career.

When the opening 60-minute race got underway on Saturday, Nicholas settled into P3 and looked comfortable as he carefully tracked the leaders ahead. However, the complexion of the race changed dramatically when the Renault Sport F1 Team Test Driver completed his mandatory pit stop with 10 laps remaining.

The switch to the Pirelli option tyre significantly affected the performance of Nicholas’s car. He rejoined the action in P13 and was only able to gain a couple of places as the race drew to its conclusion.

“In hindsight, I think we chose the wrong strategy. But it’s easy to say that afterwards,” said Nicholas, a podium finisher at the opening race of the season in Barcelona. “The first part of race was good but I was really struggling with the tyres after about 10 laps and completely lost the tyres at the end of the stint. Keeping pace was even more of a problem on the soft tyre afterwards.”

Sunday morning’s Sprint Race proved to be another challenging encounter for Nicholas who is proudly supported by Lavazza, Royal Bank of Canada and Sofina during his first full season of GP2 competition.

Starting from P11, he moved up to P10 in the early exchanges, before a dramatic loss of tyre performance at mid-distance meant Nicholas slipped back to P15. But even more drama was to follow.

As the rain began to fall with three laps remaining, Nicholas, who had worked hard to bring his tyres back to life at three-quarter distance, saw his opportunity and launched a magnificent fightback in the unpredictable conditions.

While those ahead of him struggled for pace on their slick tyres, Nicholas drove confidently and snatched an astounding five places on the last couple of laps. That elevated him to P10 in the final classification.

“The races didn’t quite deliver what I’d hoped for after such a good qualifying but that’s because I haven’t raced at Silverstone before with this car and these tyres. That’s quite a disadvantage,” Nicholas explained.

“There are things I would have done differently had I known certain things would have reacted in certain ways with the tyres. That’s one of the negatives with this being my first full season in GP2. There is so much to learn and experience is so important.

“But this season is a learning process for me and, having completed both of the races at Silverstone and done all the laps, I’ve definitely picked up on a lot of things that I can take forward into this season and use to even greater effect in 2017.”

Nicholas Latifi shows his GP2 speed in Austria’s mixed weather conditions

The notoriously changeable weather at the Spielberg circuit created difficult conditions at the fourth round of the GP2 series, though Nicholas, competing in his first full GP2 season, showed flashes of pace to cut it in all weathers.

Friday practice yielded early promise as the 21-year-old found himself among the fastest drivers on track, but a mistake and spin in that same session meant the 21-year-old lost valuable running ahead of qualifying.

“It set the tone for the way I feel this weekend went for me,” Nicholas explained. “My first few laps were really good and we were matching the top five for pace, then I spun on the soft tyre which flat-spotted them and damaged them.

“In practice, you only get one set of tyres. If you use another, it’s one you have to race on come Saturday and Sunday so I ended up doing just one lap. It would have been good to get some better references for qualifying.”

Nicholas, proudly sponsored by Royal Bank of Canada, Lavazza and Sofina throughout 2016, felt he was hindered by traffic on each of his three timed laps when it came to that all-important qualifying session. He was set to line up in P17 until race officials adjudged he had blocked Gasly on a flying lap and he was demoted three places on the grid for Saturday’s main race.

“If I hadn’t been blocked, I’d have probably been fighting for the top-ten,” said the proud Canadian. “Then unintentionally, as I was trying to find my space, I impeded Gasly and got a penalty for that – I just couldn’t see him.”

Nicholas matched the pace he’d displayed through practice right from the off in race one. A cool head ensured he avoided contact through the opening laps at a circuit that can become infamously congested and he picked his way through the field to P12 as the rain began to fall on lap 16.

A number of drivers struggled to keep their car on the road as the rain fell and it wasn’t long before the safety car was deployed. The red flag was flown shortly afterwards so that Anton Markelov’s badly damaged car could be rescued from the pit lane exit.

When racing resumed, Nicholas found himself promoted two places during the safety car period, and with seven laps to go, Nicholas wasted no time in looking to make his move up the concertinaed pack, with P6 to P10 separated by a hair’s breadth.

Battling hard, the DAMS driver was looking to take P9 from Charles Pic but by the chequered flag, after the position changed hands on several hard-fought occasions, Nicholas had to settle for P10 and one championship point – no mean feat considering he had started the race 10 places further back.

Today’s sprint race was a similar tale. An initial charge, this time on wet Spielberg asphalt, enabled Nicholas to fight his way to an impressive P5 having started five places back on the grid.

At the half-way stage, however, the Canadian’s tyres began to fall away as the circuit dried. Despite him looking after the set of full-wets and running in standing water where possible to keep them cool, the rubber deteriorated rapidly and there was nothing Nicholas could do as the car swapped ends and spun out of the race at two-thirds race distance.

Although he only emerged with a single championship point, Nicholas felt there were some positives to take from his performance in Austria. He said: “I felt great in the first race when the conditions were dry and it was much like the feeling I had in Barcelona when I scored a podium. Everything felt good in the first half of the race when it was wet. But we will have to analyse the second half to see what we can do better and where we can improve.

“I’m hoping the positives that we’ve seen this weekend can be carried across into next weekend at Silverstone so we can build some good form and have a chance of shooting for some more points.”