Nicholas stars in Hungary to claim his sixth F2 podium of the season

The 22-year-old, fresh from his first F2 victory at Silverstone earlier this month, was fifth quickest in free practice around the Hungaroring, but the DAMS Racing driver was slightly disappointed to qualify in P7.

“I put in a good banker lap in qualifying and was quite confident that if I improved by two tenths on my second lap I would qualify on the front row,” Nicholas said. “Sadly, I got blocked on that lap. But I knew my race pace would be strong so I didn’t dwell on it too much.”

In the 36-lap Feature Race in hot weather on Saturday, Nicholas came within 0.2sec of claiming a second F2 success.

He seized P4 at the start and moved up to P3 with a confident overtake on lap eight. Once Nicholas made a compulsory pit stop for new medium compound rubber, he was soon back to P3, right in the wheeltracks of Oliver Rowland and Artem Markelov.

Nicholas said: “I took advantage of the pace on the prime tyre after the pit stop and pushed Markelov as he caught traffic. Although I caught him, I wasn’t quite quick enough to overtake him easily.

“I decided to save my tyres for an attack and when the safety car came out and bunched the field up – that allowed me to fight for victory again.”

When racing resumed, Nicholas moved up to P2 when Markelov crashed. He almost seized the lead but another safety car effectively ended the race.

“When we had the restart, Oliver looked to be struggling, but when I went for the lead I got squeezed out wide,” Nicholas explained. “I was pleased to finish P2, but also frustrated, because had I started where I should have started I could have challenged for victory.”

The result handed Nicholas his sixth podium finish of the season and he posted the fastest lap of the race to earn two extra championship points.

In Sunday’s 28-lap Sprint Race, Nicholas started P7 and was soon chasing Norman Nato for P6.

“My start was average, but our race pace was really good,” he said. “I went fast to catch Nato but I damaged my front wing at the restart after a safety car period – it was a case of cold tyres and cold brakes for me and I nudged his car!”

Despite the damage, Nicholas moved up to finish in P6 and scored more valuable points that ultimately strengthen his grip on P4 in the F2 points standings.

“It is a positive set of results to take into the summer break. I’ve also reduced the gap to the third-placed driver in the championship, which is great,” Nicholas said.

“It’s been a satisfying weekend, but when I have a good Feature Race I need to work build on the Saturday success by moving a bit further forward in the Sprint Race. That’s something I’ll work on when we return to racing at the end of August.”

Nicholas, who is proudly supported by Royal Bank of Canada, Lavazza and Sofina in 2017, now turns his attention to his official test of the Renault R.S.17 Formula 1 car at the Hungaroring this week.

“Driving the latest car will be a fantastic opportunity. I’m really looking forward to what’s ahead,” he said.

The FIA F2 Championship resumes at the famous Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Belgium on 25-27 August.

Nicholas Latifi bids to extend his run of podium glory at Hungaroring

The 22-year-old travels to the demanding venue as one of the on-form drivers in the Formula 1 feeder series, having rocketed to fourth in the points standings thanks to a run of podium finishes.

Of course, his crowning glory was domination of the Sprint race last time out at Silverstone and he believes his breakthrough win will stand him in good stead this weekend.

“I’m looking forward to getting back on track again, especially coming from the success I enjoyed at Silverstone,” he says. “My main objective for Hungary is to finish consistently in the points in both races and there’s no reason why I can’t earn those points from podiums or race wins.

With 14 corners, heavy braking zones and typically high temperatures, the Hungaroring can place a heavy toll on machinery. Nicholas is familiar with these demands, having raced at the track in 2015 and 2016, and although he feels more at home on the faster tracks such as Silverstone, he believes his prior experience will be an advantage.

“I know more about what to expect in terms of tyre degradation and also about what I need from the car during qualifying and the two races,” says the Canadian. “Qualifying will be quite important and that’s something I am really putting an effort into improving.”

Mindful of the fact that overtaking on the sinuous 4.381km Hungaroring circuit is notoriously difficult, Nicholas is focusing on hitting the ground running in his DAMS-entered car. He believes his ability to push hard from the start will be an asset when the 45-minute practice session gets underway on Friday.

“In F2 you start with brand new tyres for practice, so your rubber is at its best on your first flying lap in practice,” he explains. “However, that’s also when you’re still finding your reference points around the circuit. At both the Red Bull Ring and Silverstone, my first timed lap relative to those of my rivals was actually the quickest. I think being able to get up to speed more quickly than my competitors is a really good skill to have.”

The 37-lap Feature Race takes place on Saturday, ahead of the 28-lap Sprint Race on Sunday morning. Then F2 enters a four-week summer break, but for Nicholas there is another important task to complete before he can relax.

He has been tasked by the Renault Sport Formula One Team to drive the Renault R.S.17 in the post-grand prix test session. Nicholas will drive next Tuesday, having already racked up valuable test mileage at Circuit de Catalunya earlier in the year.

“I’m very excited for an opportunity to get back in the R.S.17 and to be able to experience the new-era F1 machinery with the latest tyres and aero package.

“My first test in the car was all about evaluating Pirelli’s tyres; next week’s test will be one of only four days the Renault team will get during the season to try whatever they want to – such as new parts, new set-up philosophies or just gathering information.

“It’s an important day and I’ll have to get up to speed quickly, so it should help that I’m racing at the track the weekend before in F2.”

Nicholas’s bid for FIA Formula 2 Championship success is proudly supported by Royal Bank of Canada, Lavazza and Sofina in 2017.

Video: Nicholas’s track guide to the Hungaroring

PEERLESS NICHOLAS SPRINTS TO MAIDEN F2 SUCCESS AT SILVERSTONE

Nicholas regards the legendary circuit as his favourite on the F2 calendar, and he lapped at the sharp end from the outset, placing P4 in free practice and grabbing P6 on the grid for Saturday’s longer Feature Race. But he still wasn’t entirely happy with that result.

“I was really confident for qualifying,” the Canadian explained. “I thought I could honestly challenge for pole, but we made a few changes that didn’t really work in our favour and the car felt really tricky to drive. I also messed up the Maggots and Becketts complex on my fastest lap. It was probably the first major mistake I’ve made in qualifying all year, but still, P6 wasn’t such a bad place to start.”

When the lights went out, Nicholas conceded a couple of spots and dropped to P8. The 22-year-old then pitted at the end of lap seven to trade in his soft Pirelli tyres for the more durable hard-compound rubber.

Rejoining the fray in 13th, Nicholas fought back strongly and moved back into the points with ten laps remaining. Once all the pit-stops were complete, the Renault Sport Formula One Team Test Driver engaged in an entertaining multi-car scrap for fifth, ultimately taking the chequered flag in P8.

“Something didn’t feel right with the clutch from the beginning, and that resulted in my worst start of the season,” he said. “After that, it was probably one of the most difficult races I’ve ever had to manage because the car gave me no confidence.

“After settling into a rhythm, I tried to salvage something and things were a little bit better in the clean air on the prime tyres. P8 clearly wasn’t what we had been aiming for, but a silver lining was pole position for the Sprint Race.”

And he was determined not to squander his front row opportunity. After heading off a challenge from a fast-starting Luca Ghiotto from the line, Nicholas pulled away with a string of fastest laps, holding an advantage of more than five seconds when the Safety Car emerged with a couple of tours remaining.

That set the scene for a last lap shootout, but Nicholas coolly held his nerve and edged clear once more to flash across the finish line 1.7sec to the good – in so doing confidently securing his first F2 success and strengthening his fourth position in the drivers’ championship standings.

“We made some changes to the car to try and give me more confidence,” revealed Nicholas, who is proudly supported by Royal Bank of Canada, Lavazza and Sofina in 2017. “I had to defend through the first few corners, but once I got my head down, I was able to add to my advantage while looking after the tyres.

“I’m really thrilled to get the win – it kind of makes up for the one that got away in Barcelona. I haven’t won in single seaters for too long, so this gives me a massive boost going forward.

“I’ve worked really hard to take a big step forward in my race pace since last year, and right from the first round of 2017, we showed we can challenge at the front. Since Baku, we’ve been consistently on the podium at least once every weekend.

“The goal is to keep fighting for more podiums and wins over the second half of the season – and there’s no reason why we can’t do that.”

Nicholas Latifi: ‘I know what I have to do at Silverstone’

The Canadian had an up and down weekend in Great Britain last year, which was his first full season in the then GP2 series. He got off to a strong start with P3 in Qualifying, and ran in the same position for much of the Feature Race before his inexperience showed and tyre degradation issues dropped him out of the points.

Now, after another 12 months of hard work and experience, 22-year-old Nicholas is eager to set the record straight. And with three podium finishes from his last four races, he heads to the championship’s sixth round placed fourth in the drivers’ standings and brimming with confidence.

“Silverstone is my favourite track, simple as that,” Nicholas said. “It’s very fast and flowing and I love the high-speed corners and the amount of downforce they generate. That’s where you understand what these cars are really all about. You get to push yourself and the car to the limit.”

“My experience last year is going to be invaluable. Everything was going well in the Feature Race until we pitted for the option tyre 10 laps before the end and it just all went away. I know what I have to do differently this time.”

This week’s fixture starts earlier than normal, with practice on Thursday afternoon and Qualifying on Friday before the Feature Race and Sprint Race in their traditional slots on Saturday and Sunday.

“My objective is to keep the momentum from Austria and start with some solid results in Practice and Qualifying,” Nicholas explained. “It’s important to qualify near the front at Silverstone because in the high-speed corners turbulence from the cars ahead makes it difficult to follow. I’ll be looking to get as close as I can to the limit in Practice, which should make it much easier for a top-five place in Qualifying.

“My recent race pace gives me plenty of confidence, and we’ll carry over some changes we made to the car in Austria, so that’s looking good too.”

Coming one week after the previous round at the Red Bull Ring, Silverstone is the first of two double-headers this season, meaning a quick turnaround for Nicholas and his Le Mans-based DAMS Racing team.

“I was straight back to DAMS Racing after Austria so we could go over the weekend. After that, we quickly switched focus to Silverstone and I spent time in the simulator on Tuesday before heading to the UK ready to arrive at the circuit on Wednesday. I can’t wait,” he said.

Nicholas’s bid for FIA Formula 2 Championship success is proudly supported by Royal Bank of Canada, Lavazza and Sofina in 2017.

Video: Nicholas’s track guide to Silverstone

FURTHER PODIUM JOY FOR NICHOLAS IN AUSTRIA

The Canadian impressed with two third place finishes at the previous round in Baku, and he kept up the momentum during Saturday’s Feature Race in Austria, when a battling drive and a shrewd race strategy propelled him to second place, just 1.3 sec behind the winner.

The weekend got off to a strong start during Friday’s free practice session, where Nicholas laid the foundations for success on the 4.3km track.

“I put a big emphasis here on being quick in practice and I think I ended with the best session I’ve had so far in GP2 or F2,” he said. “I was quickest for a while and ended P4, but the times were very close and I felt confident. We made a few adjustments to try and improve the balance of the car in qualifying but we probably made a few too many, and I didn’t have the same confidence. P8 was a bit of a disappointment after the practice but still, it was a good place to race from.”

Saturday’s 40-lap Feature Race was run in hot and humid conditions, and Nicholas and his DAMS Racing team made an inspired call on how best to use the allocated supersoft and soft tyres.

Nicholas said: “Before the race, we were debating our tyre strategy back and forth for hours, and we left it until we were on the grid to finally decide. In the end, we went for the supersofts first and the primes later, and I think that was the right call. I had a great start from P8, which was key, and got in front of all the guys on the same strategy. It wasn’t easy to maintain my position, after three laps the supersofts were gone and getting to the pit window ahead of my team-mate was tricky.”

Nicholas was the first supersoft driver to pit, on lap 7. “Once I had the soft tyres I was quite conservative for the first half of the stint, I ran my own race and was just managing the tyres,” he said. “Then for about the last 12 laps the package felt really good and I could push harder. When I heard the guys ahead were pitting, I knew that they would struggle quite quickly on the supersofts. But I kept my tyres and it paid off in the end because I climbed to second.”

In comparison, Sunday’s 28-lap Sprint Race was a trickier affair. Starting from P7, Nicholas’s hopes for a clean getaway were dented in the congestion that followed a start-line shunt between Boschung and Marciello. “I got a good start but was a bit unlucky in the first corners, I got hit from behind in turn one and pushed down the straight, then I got squeezed off the track at turn three. It wasn’t a disaster, just unlucky. You can’t win them all,” he said.

After a Safety Car period, Nicholas settled into P6 and elected to bide his time and preserve his tyres before a late push. However, that strategy changed when he was handed a five-second penalty for speeding in the pit lane. “It was my mistake, I hadn’t put the pit limiter on when we drove through behind the Safety Car. After the earlier contact, I was talking on the radio to the team, asking them to check the car was okay as I drove by,” he said.

Informed of the penalty, Nicholas pushed harder straight away, but his tyres – and his later pace – suffered. He finished P8 to take another championship point and remain fourth in the standings with six rounds remaining.

The championship resumes next weekend at Silverstone in the UK, with Nicholas eager to maintain his momentum. “Overall it has been a very positive weekend. Now we have to continue this form into Silverstone. It’s my favourite track of the year. I can’t wait,” he said.

Nicholas’s bid for FIA Formula 2 Championship success is proudly supported by Royal Bank of Canada, Lavazza and Sofina in 2017.

Nicholas carries podium momentum to Austria

Latifi, who turned 22 last week, vaulted to fifth in the drivers’ championship when he secured a pair of third-place finishes in Azerbaijan, and he hopes to maintain that momentum when the fifth round of the F2 series gets underway with free practice and qualifying on Friday.

“I feel pretty confident coming off a good double podium weekend in Baku. It’s given a lot of confidence to myself and the team. I feel my championship is back on track and I have good momentum. I hope that will help me in Austria,” the Renault Sport F1 Team test driver said.

“I’m hoping to score good, consistent points in both races but obviously the goal is to finish a few steps higher on the podium. Following the podium in the Baku Feature Race with another from sixth on the grid in the Sprint, showed it was no fluke or luck. I’ve showed consistently that I can be a front runner and a podium contender for every race. After coming so close to a win in Barcelona, there’s no reason why I can’t do that again.”

The DAMS Racing driver attributed his recent upturn in form to the work that he has done to improve his pace on the first day of an F2 race weekend. Being able to qualify strongly is vital in F2 because it not only improves a driver’s chances in the Feature Race but it also means scoring points is more likely during Sunday’s Sprint Race as well.

“My focus recently has been on stronger qualifying and part of that is to be stronger in free practice too,” he explained. “I was P8 in free practice in Baku, my best position in F2 or GP2, so I’ll be putting a strong emphasis on being quicker in practice in Austria too.

“If I can do that, it means there’s less of a jump to make from practice to qualifying. I have been able to make that jump in the past, but it makes it harder. We saw last year in Austria that the lap time difference from practice to qualifying is very minimal – like a three-tenth improvement – so it’s even more important to be quick in practice so you are closer to the qualifying pace.”

One of the keys to success this weekend will be having the ability to find some clean air on the 4.32km Spielberg track that is notoriously compact and features only nine corners, compared to the 19 corners that made up a lap of Baku’s street circuit last month. Traffic could present a big problem and that’s something Nicholas is aware of.

He said: “On most tracks drivers try to create a gap to the car ahead before a hot lap and that means slowing in the final section. The problem in Austria is that the second half is all high speed. It’s difficult to judge what people are doing, and that can lead to traffic.

“But it’s a track I like quite a bit. It’s smooth and not too abrasive or hard on the tyres. It’s quite high speed, fast and flowing and for a good lap every corner has to be spot on.”

Nicholas’s bid for FIA Formula 2 Championship success is proudly supported by Royal Bank of Canada, Lavazza and Sofina in 2017.

Video: Nicholas’s track guide to Austria