Podium return for Nicholas Latifi in Baku

Canada’s Nicholas Latifi delivered a pair of standout performances at this weekend’s F2 Championship round in Baku, battling to a podium and a fifth place to kickstart his title campaign with a haul of 20 points.

The 22-year-old arrived in Azerbaijan aiming to bounce back from a difficult opening round in Bahrain, and while further disappointment during Friday’s qualifying didn’t help his cause, Nicholas was on sparkling form when it counted during the races.

Starting Saturday’s Feature Race from 20th on the grid, Nicholas deftly picked his way through the field and made up 15 positions to collect fifth place and 10 points.

Fourth on the grid for Sunday’s Sprint Race, Nicholas got a terrific start and vaulted into the lead by the first corner. Avoiding trouble in a frenetic race, he brought his DAMS car home in third place – his third podium from his last four outings in Baku.

“It’s been a really positive weekend. I’m happy to collect my first podium of the year and it feels good to get a useful haul of points on the board too,” Nicholas said. “To be honest, it’s also a relief to have an outcome like this after things got off to such a bad start in qualifying.”

Nicholas’s efforts in qualifying were hampered by two yellow flags near the end of critical laps. And as he approached the end of the session with no time on the board, he faced a difficult choice.

“The safe option would have been to drive conservatively and qualify somewhere near the middle, but instead I decided to go flat out,” Nicholas explained. “It was a risky strategy and unfortunately I pushed too hard, locked the rear tyres and spun. I had the pace for top five, but it turned out to be a Friday to forget.”

“In contrast Saturday was much better. As expected there was a lot to look out for in the Feature Race, like stalled cars and safety car restarts. The main thing was to kept a cool head and make no mistakes. It’s never good being in the position where you have to fight from the back, but considering where we started from I was happy to have recovered to P5.”

Having made some changes to the car, Nicholas began Sunday’s 21-lap Sprint Race from the second row with a textbook launch that fired him into the lead.

“The start was really good, but I struggled in the first few laps to get a confident feeling for the grip and that meant I couldn’t keep the pace,” he explained. “From leading to ending up third is not where I want to be, so we have some things to analyse, but still it was a fun race, with some great fights and there are lots of positives to take.”

Nicholas will return to F2 competition at round three when the series visits Spain’s Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya (11-13 May).

His F2 campaign in 2018 is supported by Royal Bank of Canada, Lavazza and Sofina.

Nicholas aiming for podium repeat in Baku

Nicholas Latifi is targeting a repeat of last year’s double podium-winning form when he returns to Azerbaijan’s Baku City Circuit this week for round two of the FIA F2 Championship (27–29 April).

The 22-year-old Canadian collected two third places at the track in 2017, banishing the disappointment of a mechanical failure at the previous round.

This year, after a challenging season debut in Bahrain, Nicholas is again aiming to get his title challenge back on track at Baku’s high-speed street circuit.

“The main objective is to have a strong comeback weekend,” Nicholas explained. “I was disappointed to come away from Bahrain without any points. The stall on the grid in race two was especially costly. Getting back to tenth place after starting from the pit lane showed the pace was good, and I feel I missed out on a strong points-winning opportunity.

“The goal for Baku is to recover a bit of momentum. Last year the race was a comeback as well – coming off the back of Monaco where I had a mechanical failure. That turned out quite well with the double podium and I’m hoping for more of the same this weekend.”

Nicholas is a fan of street circuits and Baku is one of his favourites. At 6.003km long, it’s one of the longest laps in the F2 calendar, notable for a flat-out 2.2km straight on which cars reach more than 300kmh.

“Street circuits are always special, but with its long straight Baku is a specific challenge,” Nicholas said. “The races always seem to throw up a few surprises, and often you need a bit of luck because there are so many variables that can be difficult to manage in the race.

“I know what I need to do to have a good weekend in Baku and that begins with a strong qualifying – because starting nearer the front puts you clear of the mess that will most likely happen! That’s going to be the key and it’s a track that suits my driving style – especially in qualifying. I know how to drive fast there and I want to make that experience count.”

In the three weeks since Bahrain, Nicholas has spent time with his DAMS Racing team in France, analysing data gathered during the opening round and his first races in the 2018-spec F2 car.

“I now understand more about the differences between this car and last year’s – how you have to set it up for the race, how you have to set it up for qualifying, and how you have to drive it in the race,” Nicholas said.

“It was a longer trip to DAMS than normal because there was more to go over from Bahrain with the new car. There were still some unknowns going into those races, and a major topic of our discussions has been starts and clutch management.

“I think it took me a race weekend to understand a few things, and I’m confident the knowledge the team and I gained will help us straight away in Baku.”

This week’s timetable begins with practice on Friday morning, followed that afternoon by qualifying, which will determine the grid for Saturday’s 29-lap Feature Race. The weekend rounds off on Sunday with a 21-lap Sprint Race.

Nicholas’s F2 campaign in 2018 is supported by Royal Bank of Canada, Lavazza and Sofina.

VALUABLE LESSONS LEARNED IN FORMULA 2 SEASON OPENER

The 22-year-old took his DAMS Racing-prepared car to an 11th-placed finish in Saturday’s Feature Race at the hot and dusty Sakhir International Circuit, followed by 10th in the Sprint Race on Sunday.

Although the results were not what Nicholas had hoped for, he achieved one of his aims for the weekend, which was to gain more experience of the all-new technical package.

“I’m disappointed because I was hoping for a much stronger weekend, especially after my pace was quite strong during race simulations in pre-season testing,” said Nicholas. “However, there were positives to take from the Sprint Race at least.”

The DAMS Racing driver headed to the challenging desert circuit with the intention of maximising his time in the car as he continued to fight back from a pre-season that was disrupted by illness.

Nicholas qualified 15th on the grid for the Feature Race after he was baulked by slower cars on what would have been a faster lap.

“Nevertheless I was still looking forward to the race because I’d set competitive times during race simulation runs at this circuit in pre-season testing. However, the race wasn’t at all what I expected. I made a change to the set-up shortly before the start of the race and it didn’t have the desired effect on the chassis balance – quite the opposite in fact. I’ll chalk that down to still learning about this new Formula 2 car.”

Sunday’s Sprint Race didn’t get off to the best of starts when, struggling with an inconsistent clutch, Nicholas stalled the engine as he set off on his grid formation lap. It meant he had to start the race from the pitlane, right at the back of the pack.

However, he displayed encouraging race pace and carefully managed his Pirelli tyres to battle up to tenth position by the time the chequered flag flew after 23 laps.

“Although I still experienced some issues with the balance of the car, it was a much better event overall,” said Nicholas. “I was much happier with the way I managed the race and I was happy that I ran all of the laps of both races.

“Going into the weekend that was a goal of mine, especially at a track like this where you really learn a lot about the tyre degradation, which I feel I did. Now we just have to apply that knowledge for the rest of the season.”

The next FIA F2 Championship event takes place on 27-29 April at the Baku circuit in Azerbaijan. Nicholas went well there last year, and feels he’s taken a positive step in terms of learning about the new-for-2018 car.

“Perfecting the balance of the car is something myself and the team need to continue to work on. It’s a long championship and next up is a track where I took a double podium last year, so I’m optimistic.”

Nicholas’s 2018 F2 campaign is proudly supported by Royal Bank of Canada, Lavazza and Sofina.

NEW F2 SEASON BECKONS FOR TITLE HOPEFUL NICHOLAS

The 22-year-old was one of last year’s F2 front-runners, and following a race win and a string of podiums he returns for another season with DAMS Racing in 2018, his sights set firmly on the title.

This weekend’s races herald the beginning of a new technical era in F2 when a new specification car, fitted with a 3.4-litre, V6 turbocharged engine, makes its competitive debut.

“After all the pre-season preparation, I can’t wait to go racing again,” Nicholas said. “There’s always plenty of excitement about the first race of the season. The changes to the car make it a special challenge and I’m raring to get going.”

Nicholas got his first taste of the new car at a pre-season test in Bahrain last month. He pushed hard as he sought to make up ground on his rivals after missing the previous three-day test in France through illness.

“Missing the first test wasn’t ideal, and there are more unknowns going into this first race that I would like, but in general I’m feeling quite confident. My fitness is back up to 100 per cent,” Nicholas said.

After testing, it’s difficult to tell where all the teams and drivers are in performance terms. Especially on the long runs, you never know what everybody else is doing, what fuel they have and what settings they are trying.

“You can look at performance in terms of one-lap pace, but it’s going to be interesting to see how things shake out after the first qualifying session. I expect it will change quite a bit from testing.”

“Bahrain is one of the toughest races we have all year, and probably the biggest challenge in terms of managing tyres. That was one of my strengths last year, and in testing, so I’m hoping to turn that to my advantage.”

The Bahrain race weekend itinerary begins on Friday morning with free practice and that evening a 30-minute qualifying session to determine the grid for Saturday’s 32-lap Feature Race.

“The different track conditions we will face on Friday is another part of the challenge,” Nicholas explained. “We practice in the middle of the day when conditions are scorching hot. But qualifying is at night under floodlights, when the temperature will have dropped dramatically and we’ll be on the softer compound tyre.

“Last year there was about 4.5sec difference between practice and qualifying, and that’s quite a big jump to make in only a handful of laps. That’s a special feature of this race and I’m hoping my experience last year will help me cope with it.”

The weekend finishes with Sunday’s 23-lap Sprint Race, which Nicholas finished in fourth position last year. This year he’s hoping for a podium in both races.

“It really is the race that makes the difference here. Qualifying is important, but last year I had a pretty bad qualifying and was looking good for a top-five finish before my front wing was damaged, and I just missed out on a podium in the second race. Knowing where I am now, compared to last year, I’m quite confident I can aim for the podium in both races,” he said.

Nicholas’s 2018 F2 campaign is proudly supported by Royal Bank of Canada, Lavazza and Sofina.