Nicholas consolidates P2 with F2 podium in Sochi

Canada’s Nicholas Latifi returned to the podium and strengthened his grip on P2 in the FIA Formula 2 Drivers’ Championship during this weekend’s penultimate event in Russia.

He set the pace during Friday’s free practice session and secured P2 on the grid, behind title rival Nyck de Vries, in a closely-fought qualifying session.

Nicholas remained in contention for victory throughout Saturday’s 28-lap Feature Race as he battled a brake issue, and ultimately placed runner-up to his Dutch rival.

The outcome of the race secured the title for de Vries, and season-long rival Nicholas was quick to offer his congratulations.

“It’s unfortunate to lose the title but Nyck did it in style, so credit to him, and to his team,” he said.

“On my side, Race 1 was very difficult for me to manage as I felt I had a brake issue on the way to the grid and it stayed there the whole race.

“In the circumstances I was happy to get P2 as it looked as if my overall pace wasn’t great.”

That result put Nicholas P7 on the grid for Sunday’s reversed-grid Sprint Race and he rose up the order during a chaotic start, eventually securing more points for P4.

“The goal was to move forward, score more points, and consolidate P2 in the standings,” he said.

“I avoided the mess at the start, but I didn’t have huge confidence in the first lap or two, so my team-mate got past.

“It took me a few laps to get into the rhythm and overall the pace was pretty decent after that. I got the fastest lap – which was a positive – and then my team-mate’s penalty meant I got P4.”

Nicholas leaves Sochi Autodrom 10 points clear of nearest rival Luca Ghiotto, and will have to wait until the end of November to resume the runner-up battle, when the final round is contented in Abu Dhabi (29 Nov – 1 Dec).

Before then, he will resume his role as ROKiT Williams Racing’s Test and Reserve Driver.

“It’s a long time to wait now until the final round but I have some FP1s with Williams to keep me occupied,” he said.

 

Latifi pushing to close F2 points gap in Russia

The Canadian, who has four F2 wins to his credit this year, heads to Sochi occupying P2 in the Drivers’ Championship. He is 59 points behind title leader Nyck de Vries, with 96 still up for grabs across the four remaining races in Russia and Abu Dhabi.

The semi-permanent Sochi Autodrom will host Russia’s F2 round this weekend and, as a venue that winds its way between sports arenas that were used during the 2014 Winter Olympics, will provide a distinctive backdrop to the latest chapter in the F2 title story.

“Getting towards the end of the year the goal is always the same – to score as many points as possible. But as the rounds are counting down you want to make sure you’re still consistently scoring those points as there’s less rounds to make up what you lose,” Nicholas said.

“It was a bit of a shame to lose some points at Monza last time out, because that unfortunately means the title chase isn’t really in my hands at the moment. I can have an amazing last two rounds and Nyck can score some average points and still win the title.

“My focus is to get the best performance, get those big points, fight for those podiums and wins and we’ll see what happens. Mathematically I know it’s still more than possible but realistically it’ll be difficult. We’re still going to fight for it, though!”
Nicholas, who holds the role of ROKiT Williams Racing’s Formula 1 reserve driver, claimed a podium finish at the 5.85km-long Sochi Autodrom in 2018 and is confident that he and his DAMS team can fight for the leading positions once more this season.

“Sochi is a track where we had our best result last year, both me and the team, so that brings confidence going into the weekend,” he explained.

“We were quick both in qualifying and that race, so the confidence is high. I’m not worried about my performance, I know we’ll be at the sharp end of the grid but it’s about having a clean weekend and coming away with some big points.

“You get a bit of a street track feeling in Sochi even though it’s not a pure street track. There’s a lot of corners that are very similar in nature in that a lot of them are 90-degree corners or just above, so you get the same rhythm and flow through most of the lap.

“That makes it a bit simpler from a set-up point of view as normally you’re trying to find a good overall balance, whereas the range of corners is similar, so getting that sweet spot is an advantage.”

Practice and qualifying will take place on Friday, with Saturday’s F2 Feature Race scheduled for 16:45 local time (GMT+3). Sunday’s Sprint Race will begin at 11:20.

Nicholas rues missed opportunities at incident-packed Monza

Canadian racer Nicholas Latifi left this weekend’s FIA Formula 2 Championship round empty handed after a double dose of misfortune at Italy’s Autodromo Monza.

The 24-year-old began the tenth round of the season lying second in the drivers’ championship and determined to narrow the gap on leader Nyck de Vries.

Nicholas started Saturday’s Feature Race P6 on the grid after a rain-affected qualifying, and hopeful of taking points from his Dutch rival who was relegated to the back row after a fuel infringement.

Starting with soft tyres on his car, Nicholas quickly made up two positions and was locked in a tense battle with team-mate Sergio Sette Camara for P3 before he pitted for mediums.

But shortly after rejoining, Nicholas’s race was effectively over when he collided with Guanyu Zhou at Turn 4 and was forced to pit again for a new front wing. The incident plunged Nicholas down the order while Zhou was later penalised for the move.

“The rule is clear on defending position in this situation, you have to leave a car width, but he didn’t, he pushed me off track, and that’s why we touched,” Nicholas explained. “It was a massive disappointment during a race when I had a golden opportunity to outscore Nyck. In one move it was taken away.”

Having finished P13 on Saturday, Nicholas reset for another big push during Sunday’s Sprint Race. Again however, the race turned out to be one to forget, following a spin on the way to the grid.

“Today was my mistake – driver error,” Nicholas acknowledged. “The track looked completely dry but at Turn 3 – the long flat-out right-hander – I was caught out by a damp patch in the shade under the trees. I hit it at high speed, spun, and flat-spotted all four tyres. The fronts were especially bad.

“After that I didn’t have a chance to fight. I was missing so much performance from the tyres in the corners, understeering everywhere and with such massive vibrations on the straights I almost couldn’t see through my visor. I was fighting a losing battle.

“I clung on to see if I could get a point or two, but P10 was the best I could do. My race was over before it started. It’s a huge shame and I feel bad for the team – they deserved more from the weekend. All I can do is learn from it and move on.”

The penultimate round of the championship will be held at Sochi, Russia from 27 – 29 September. Now trailing De Vries by 59 points in the title race, Nicholas accepted his title chances are looking slim.

“Mathematically it’s still possible, so of course I will give it everything, but Nyck now has a good chance of claiming the title at the next round,” he said.

“While Sochi was a good track for me last year, the title fight isn’t really in my hands any more. The focus has to be on consolidating P2 in the drivers’ championship and keeping the lead for DAMS in the teams’ standings.”