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.