The 20-year-old will kick off his first full GP2 campaign at Circuit de Barcelona, Catalunya in Spain this weekend (13-15 May) when he drives for the highly-decorated DAMS team.
Taking to the track in Friday’s opening GP2 practice session is a moment Nicholas is relishing as it will be his first chance to put five months of tough pre-season preparation to the test.
“I’m very excited,” he says. “It’s been a very long pre-season. In the past I’ve always competed in winter championships to get some races in before my European season starts. But that’s something I haven’t done this year and it’s made me more anxious to get going.”
Nicholas’s build up to the new season has included taking part in three official GP2 tests, spending time working with DAMS at its headquarters in Le Mans, France, driving the team’s simulator and undertaking weeks of physical training in the Pyrenees Mountains.
It’s been a lot of hard work but, with the GP2 margins being so fine and Nicholas being determined to accelerate his learning in 2016, he knows preparation is the key to him achieving his goal of eventually earning a place on the Formula One grid.
“When the GP2 season starts and you turn your first lap, you have to be on it straight away,” he explains. “You have to be ready to make the most of the opportunity you’ve got. I’ve done a lot of preparation so that my approach to the race weekend is perfect and so that I know exactly what I have to do when I get on the track for practice.
“There is such little track time in GP2 – you only get 45 mins of practice before you’re straight in to qualifying – so it’s imperative you get up to speed and find your rhythm quickly. If you have a bad practice, you generally don’t find any good references for qualifying, and the qualifying session is so important to put yourself in a good position to race from.”
Racing at Circuit de Barcelona, Catalunya will be a new experience for Nicholas because he’s only ever tested formula cars at the track in the past. But it’s a circuit he enjoys for one simple reason.
“The first two sectors are fast and flowing and that requires certain car characteristics and driving skills,” he says. “But the last sector is slower and more technical so that needs something completely different from the car and driver. The package has to be good across all of the characteristics and that’s a challenge that I like.”
Nicholas’s hopes of putting in a strong performance at the opening GP2 race of the new season were boosted last week when he enjoyed some welcome seat time at Silverstone in the UK. As a Renault Sport Formula One Team Test Driver, Nicholas was required to complete more than 400km in the team’s 2012 F1 car so he can apply for his FIA Super Licence.
“It was beneficial because otherwise the last time I would have driven a race car would have been at the final GP2 test in March,” he explains. “Driving the F1 car definitely helped to sharpen my skills and test me physically. All of these things are important before the first race because they all add up to me being in the best state of mind and being able to deliver the best performance I can.”