Nicholas Latifi ends 2016 GP2 season with points finish

Ninth in Saturday’s 31-lap Feature Race was Nicholas’s seventh top-ten result from the 11-round series, and added to a points tally that started with second place in the opening race in Barcelona.

But while another top-ten was a positive way to end his 2016 campaign with DAMS, Nicholas was left rueing a difficult qualifying that promised to deliver more than his start position of 13th.

“After the first set of tyres I was P7, even with room for improvement. The car felt good and as I went for the second set I felt confident I could get P5 or P6,” Nicholas said.

“But my brake warm-up didn’t go to plan and they got way too hot. All the heavy braking corners were difficult and at turn 11 my foot went right to the floor and I had nothing. It wasn’t a problem I had experienced before, and it meant the session was a big missed opportunity.”

But once the floodlit race began, a shrewd tyre strategy enabled the Renault Sport F1 Team test driver to quickly make up ground – putting him on track for another points finish.

“I started on the option tyre. This was always going to be the exciting strategy because we knew from last year that it would be almost impossible to get them to last the opening six laps,” Nicholas explained.

“I made a good start and picked up three positions, and by the time I was at turn two I was already thinking about saving my tyres. I tried to keep ahead of the other drivers on the super softs because we were all going to dive into the pits as soon as it opened.

“Once I had the prime tyre, my pace was good enough to get into the points. It was a good result and one that showed progress has been made.”

Sunday’s sprint race, run in the searing heat of the day, was more of a challenge for 21-year-old Nicholas.

“Managing tyre degradation was always going to be difficult in these conditions – especially running in the pack the whole race because everyone was on the same strategy,” he explained.

“We made some set-up changes in anticipation, but still I really struggled with the rear tyres – they were spinning up way too much and I couldn’t battle with anybody. It was a frustrating race because I wanted to push to go quicker but I knew doing that would just make it worse.

“P13 wasn’t where I wanted to end the last race of the season. But when it comes to my development, every learning experience is of benefit.”

With a second season in GP2 confirmed for next year, Nicholas, who is supported by Royal Bank of Canada, Lavazza and Sofina, is now fully focused on the forthcoming three-day GP2 test in Abu Dhabi (30 November – 2 December).

“It’s very important to try and learn as much as possible to prepare for next year,” Nicholas said. “Track time is so limited in GP2 that it’s crucial to further my knowledge and understanding as much as possible.

“In testing you’re allowed to run many more sensors, so it’s easier to see what’s happening on the car based on the inputs I’m making. So I’ll be storing up as much information as I can, and making sure I use this to my advantage next year.”

Nicholas Latifi looks for a positive performance at GP2 season finale

The 21-year-old’s first full season in GP2 got off to a near-perfect start at Barcelona in May when he finished second in the opening race, before then going on to record a further six top-ten finishes in the ultra-competitive 11-round series.

With a second season in GP2 confirmed for 2017, Nicholas is determined to end his current campaign brightly as he knows a positive result in Abu Dhabi will set the right tone for next year.
“You never want to end the last race of the year on a negative so I’m hoping for some positive results this weekend to reward the mechanics and engineers at my DAMS team, as well as the other members of my team that are working in the background and, of course, my family,” Nicholas said.

“A positive finish is also something I can carry into post-season testing – it’s very important when you’re trying to establish some momentum and build on your first full season in a racing category.”
The Renault Sport F1 Team test driver’s hopes for the weekend are boosted by the fact that he dominated the last GP2 test that was held at Yas Marina in December 2015.

After three days of running, Nicholas proved to be the fastest driver on the 5.55km track and he admits Yas Marina is a venue where he feels comfortable.

“It’s definitely a track where I know how to drive fast and I’m very comfortable with the configuration and how to approach certain corners,” he said. “Yas Marina is a track where a lot of the post-season testing happens so I have plenty of experience that I will be looking to call on this weekend.

“My DAMS team has always been pretty competitive there in the past; they were fast there in testing and had the pole there last year, as well. That’s nice to know and it’s certainly a positive to take into qualifying.”

Nicholas, who is proudly supported by Royal Bank of Canada, Lavazza and Sofina in 2016, is also relishing the prospect of racing at night in Abu Dhabi – something that the GP2 field will do on Saturday as the 31-lap Feature Race gets underway at 18.40 local time.

He said: “There’s no other event like this because you qualify and race in the dark – it’s quite a unique experience and brings a whole different atmosphere under the lights and darting between and underneath the brightly-lit hotels and buildings. It’s pretty cool and one of the best events of the year from that perspective.”

And with temperatures set to be markedly lower on Saturday night than they will be for Sunday morning’s 22-lap Sprint Race, Nicholas is particularly looking forward to the first race when tyre wear won’t be as big an issue as it has been at other tracks during the season.

“The night running changes the characteristics of the race and with the track temperature being much cooler on Saturday we’ll be at the lower end of the tyre deg (degradation) scale which is something I’m happy about.

“Managing the tyres has been a challenge at some tracks this year, but I’ve been making steps to improve my understanding and of that and I think the race one conditions should help me a bit more with that this weekend,” he concluded.