VIDEO: Nicholas previews F2 round nine at Monza

Monza is a high-speed, low downforce track, with long straights and tricky chicanes. It is famed for corners like the Lesmos and the Parabolica, and it’s where Nicholas has vowed to bounce back after the disappointment in Belgium.

The action starts on Friday, with practice and the all-important qualifying session – where Nicholas recorded an F2 career-best result last week before his engine blew.

“We head to Monza straight away and that’s a good thing, because it doesn’t give me much time to dwell on Spa,” Nicholas said. “Back-to-back race weekends is the best situation after this kind of disappointment.”

Nicholas gives his thoughts on the Autodromo Nazionale Monza in his latest F2 track guide.

Latifi lowdown: Italy F2 track guide

Nicholas vows to recover quickly from Belgian F2 disappointment

Nicholas Latifi is determined to bounce back from the disappointment experienced in the latest rounds of the FIA Formula 2 Championship at Spa-Francorchamps this weekend, where circumstances beyond his control robbed the Canadian of the chance to continue his recent run of strong form.

The race weekend at the super-fast Belgian circuit started brightly for the 22-year-old, who qualified on the front row of the grid in challenging wet-but-drying conditions.

It was Nicholas’s best starting position yet in the series and further proof of his growing ability to successfully exploit the Pirelli tyres and Dallara chassis to maximum effect.

He had his eyes firmly on a podium finish, but immediately prior to the Feature Race on Saturday afternoon, disaster struck: the 4.0-litre V8 engine in Nicholas’s car suffered a freak failure before he had even taken up his grid position and he was unable to take the start.

“It was a big shame that the engine blew because it was a big opportunity to score some important points,” reflected Nicholas. “I had out-qualified two of the competitors I’m trying to beat in the championship, so the failure was frustrating.

“The engine that failed was brand-new at the previous race in Hungary. We think one of the pistons broke and blew up inside the cylinder. I had two seconds of warning, lifted off the throttle and then it just went boom!”

The unexpected drama put a dent in Nicholas’s aspirations for the weekend, because the grid for Sunday’s Sprint Race is determined by the finishing position of the Feature Race. Hence Nicholas found himself down in P18 on the grid for the 18-lap encounter.

However, the DAMS Racing driver vowed to attack from the start and, racing on the medium-compound Pirelli tyre, which he enjoys, he delivered on that promise, making up nine positions during the race to finish in P9.

Any chance of moving up into the points-paying top-eight positions was stymied when the safety car was deployed for the final four laps due to an accident and the race was neutralised.

“Starting close to the back in the Sprint Race was hard because I didn’t have any experience in the Feature Race to know how the car was reacting on the track. I had to explore and find my way as I went,” Nicholas said.

“In terms of positives from this weekend, qualifying on the front row and achieving my best-ever qualifying position in F2 was pleasing, because that’s been an area of the race weekend I’ve been trying to improve on.

“Also, I think I got the best result I could from the Sprint Race. It was fun being involved in the battles – overtaking four cars on one lap just before the safety car was deployed was a highlight.”

Nicholas will get an immediate opportunity to get back on the points-scoring trail as the F2 series moves to the Monza circuit in Italy next weekend (1-3 September).

“We head to Monza straight away and that’s a good thing, because it doesn’t give me much time to dwell on Spa,” he said. “Back-to-back race weekends is the best situation after this kind of disappointment.

“I need to bounce back strongly at Monza because I can’t really afford another mechanical problem or racing incident, especially in the all-important Feature Race.”

Nicholas, who is proudly supported by Royal Bank of Canada, Lavazza and Sofina in 2017, is now fifth in the FIA F2 standings with three events remaining.

Nicholas raring to go as Formula 2 reignites at Spa

Nicholas scored his sixth podium of the year at the last round in Hungary, then drove Renault’s R.S.17 Formula 1 car at the championship’s mid-season test before returning to his home town Toronto.

“It’s one of the few opportunities in the season when I get to be home for a decent length of time,” Nicholas said. “It was great to catch up with family and friends, but at the same time I couldn’t wait get back to F2. It’s no real substitute, but I managed a few days in a shifter kart to keep sharp.”

“I got back to DAMS early this week for some proper race preparation, and a bit more simulator time than normal because it’s been a longer break out of the car. I feel relaxed, confident and itching to get going again.”

Featuring iconic sectors like Eau Rouge and Pouhon, Spa is one of Nicholas’s favourite tracks and one that last year marked an important stage in his development as a race-winning driver in F2.

“Of course it’s beneficial to return to a track where I’ve driven the F2 car before, but Spa will be an interesting one,” the 22-year old explained. “I had two average races there last year. They weren’t terrible, they weren’t great, but in terms of my understanding in the car that weekend was a turning point. After a difficult point in the season, things started to come together.

“Reaching that same race again this year, knowing the jump that me and the team have made in the first half of the season, brings a lot of confidence.”

In particular, Nicholas expects his work in the area of tyre management to prove beneficial. “In Spa we will have the new medium-compound tyre as the prime, instead of the hard, so there should be more degradation – and that’s something I’m all for,” he explained.

“Tyre management is part of my strong suit this year, so for me the more degradation the better. I think the new tyre will spice things up a bit. It will be interesting to see how they will affect the races.”

After a maiden F2 victory, five additional podiums and a fastest lap last time out at the Hungaroring, Nicholas has set the bar high again when it comes to expectations this weekend.

“There’s no reason why I shouldn’t be consistently challenging for feature race wins now. I’ve shown several times this year than I’m able to fight for victory when I’ve done well in qualifying – and so putting a good practice and qualifying session together on Friday is the target,” he said.

“Beyond that, I want to take good points from both races. With eight races to go, I’m P4 in the championship and close to third. The plan is to try and chip away at the guys ahead and do my best to outscore them over the weekend.”

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

Latifi lowdown: Belgium F2 track guide

Nicholas’s F1 test garners valuable feedback for Renault Sport

As part of his duties as the squad’s Official Test Driver, Nicholas remained in Hungary after his podium-winning F2 performance last weekend, to drive the team’s current R.S.17 car during the opening day of the test (Tuesday).

The Canadian completed 54 laps with a best time of 1min 20.302secs, the seventh quickest of the day. This was the second test day in the car for Nicholas, who also drove for the team at a Pirelli test in May.

Tuesday’s programme was focused on aerodynamic assessments and evaluations, and Nicholas was able to provide the team with plenty of data before morning running was curtailed by a technical issue.

A resulting engine swap ate into the afternoon session, but Nicholas returned to the track for the final hour to experiment with different settings and gather more data.

The 22-year-old said: “After the Pirelli test in Barcelona I was really looking forward to getting out in the car again. Okay, the delay was a bit frustrating but 54 laps in a current-spec F1 car is more good experience and I really enjoyed the seat time.

“The main positive is that we were able to complete the team’s testing objectives for aero development. The car felt great and I hope I gave the team all the feedback required.

“I was a bit frustrating knowing we had two sets of ultrasoft tyres waiting in the warmers, but the test was still a positive experience and a great way to round off the this part of the season and head into the summer break.”

Alan Permane, Renault Sport Formula One Team sporting director said: “Nicholas did a good job on his second time in the R.S.17. In the morning we focused on aero elements around the rear wheels and he gave us good feedback. Unfortunately, we had an unscheduled engine change at lunchtime which meant a modified run programme for the afternoon.”