The 21-year-old, who came desperately close to taking the first F2 win of his career at Barcelona earlier this month, will lock horns with his rivals on the 3.33km Monaco track when Free Practice gets underway on Thursday afternoon.
Then, only a handful of hours later, Nicholas will do battle in a frantic Qualifying session that lasts only 16 minutes – but will almost certainly determine whether he can fight for the podium places once again.
“Qualifying in Monaco is the most high pressure moment of the season because, with overtaking opportunities so limited, where you line up on the grid invariably dictates the whole weekend you’re going to have,” he explained. “It’s not a session where you can leave any margins. You have to be flat out everywhere because everyone will be on the limit.
“When you look at the qualifying in recent years and the mishaps that some drivers have had, the session can easily be disturbed by a yellow or red flag. That means you have to make every lap count. If you don’t qualify at the front of the grid, it’s much harder to recover in the race.”
At any of the other ten tracks on the 2017 F2 calendar, Qualifying lasts for 30 minutes and the drivers and teams have two sets of ‘option’ super soft Pirelli tyres that they can use to stake a claim for pole position.
But, because of the unique nature of the track in Monaco, the F2 field is divided into two separate Qualifying groups to limit congestion – each running for 16 minutes – and there’s only time for one set of super soft tyres to be used. Monaco therefore presents the drivers with a unique challenge.
Nicholas, who races for DAMS Racing, said: “The good thing about Monaco is that because of the way the qualifying is, we end up putting one set of our super soft option tyres on during Free Practice and save the other set to qualify on later in the day. Running a set in Free Practice gives us a good idea of the grip that’s on the track as the track evolution is big in Monaco.
“That little bit of extra running on the options helps us to make the jump between practice and qualifying. Sometimes between practice and qualifying the gap can be as much as three seconds if you’re using the hard compound ‘prime’ tyre in Free Practice and the super softs in Qualifying.
“You have to make the most of the sessions you have on track because this is the Qualifying session that means the most and is the most rewarding. If you brush a few walls along the way and come back into the pits with the Pirelli writing missing from the sidewalls, it’s not uncommon. You have to push.”
But in order to achieve his objective of qualifying at the front of the grid in Monaco, Nicholas knows he needs to find some improved speed over one lap. His P13 and P9 qualifying performances at the first two events of the season in Bahrain and Barcelona fell short of Nicholas’s high expectations and he’s hoping to do better this weekend.
“The game plan is definitely to improve the qualifying from the first two races as a team,” he said. “For sure, we’re not where we want to be but we’ve been able to come back in the first two races of the season and score some good results. But that won’t be something we can do if we don’t qualify where we should be in Monaco.”