Canada’s Nicholas Latifi closed on the FIA Formula 2 Championship lead in Hungary this weekend with a virtuoso race-winning display.
The 24-year-old arrived in Hungary keen to close in on title leader Nyck de Vries, having returned to the podium at the last round in Great Britain.
A difficult practice session left Nicholas without a representative effort in his DAMS car but in a rain-lashed qualifying he secured third place on the grid.
“I’m usually competitive in the wet, so the rain in qualifying spiced things up a bit,” Nicholas said. “I was on provisional pole, but didn’t quite get the right balance after and slipped back to P3 – but that was still a good place from which to start.”
In Saturday’s Feature Race, Nicholas immediately outlined his ambition by surging into the lead through Turn 1, passing rivals Luca Ghiotto and De Vries.
He stretched his advantage through the course of the race, undertaking a slick pit stop before taking the chequered flag under Safety Car conditions.
A fourth win of the season made him the most successful driver of 2019 so far, and followed previous victories in Bahrain, Azerbaijan and Spain.
Describing his crucial getaway, Nicholas said: “I got a good start off the line and was able to pull alongside Luca, maybe just a bit in front of him. As Nyck defended the inside line it gave me the opportunity to brake later around the outside. Nyck had a bit of a lock-up and I was able to just get the cut back.
“That was probably the race defining moment, because at this track, even though tyre wear does play a factor, it’s always much easier in clean air.
“I’m really happy to bring it home. A big thanks to the team, the car was amazing to drive.”
Nicholas’s win earned him P8 on the grid for Sunday’s reversed-grid Sprint Race and in a processional encounter he picked up more points by finishing P7.
“For Race 2 I had high hopes, but also some concerns about how the tyres would cope,” he said.
“In Race 1, I was by myself and running in clean air. But the sprint races are always more processional – so even if you are quicker it’s much more difficult to pass.
“The top seven positions didn’t change. I was quite a bit quicker than De Vries, but as soon as I got close I hurt the tyres, so I settled for P7. It’s slightly disappointing, but overall I’m happy with the performance and the team’s job this weekend.”
Nicholas leaves Hungary P2 in the Drivers’ Championship, chasing a 30-point deficit to De Vries.
Shortly after the conclusion of the Sprint race, DAMS announced that the French squad’s founder and owner, Jean-Paul Driot, had passed away at the age of 68 after battling illness in recent months.
Paying tribute, Nicholas said: “I’ve been part of the DAMS team since 2016, and Jean-Paul has been an instrumental part of my growth and development over these past four years.
“He gave me an opportunity, trusting in a driver with not much pedigree beforehand, and he remained one of my biggest supporters to this day.
“I’ve had ups and downs throughout my time at DAMS, but Jean-Paul never once lost confidence in me and was always someone I could count on to give the right advice at the right time.
“His racing spirit and passion to always want the best for his drivers and team will be really missed, but I can guarantee that everyone at DAMS will be pushing 100% to finish off the year as he would have wanted. I especially want to dedicate my win on Saturday to him, for without his belief and support in me I would not be where I am today.
“My thoughts are with his wife Geneviève and his sons Olivier and Gregory.”
The Formula 2 Championship resumes at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium from 30 August – 1 September.