The GP2 field is returning to Malaysia for the first time since 2013 and that means almost the entire grid will have no previous experience racing at the track. Nicholas is determined to add to his championship points haul this weekend and facing a new track is an attractive prospect for the 21-year-old.
“It’s a fresh challenge for me and I’m pretty sure for the whole field,” the DAMS Racing driver explains. “This is only the second new track of the year after Baku and that’s great news. The more experienced drivers won’t have an advantage like they do at other tracks.
“Based on the prep that I’ve done with my team back in Le Mans and in the sim, the layout of the Sepang track is something that I like a lot and it should suit my driving style. That gives you a good feeling, but there is still plenty of hard work to do on the track. For instance, the circuit has recently been resurfaced so we will have to see how that affects the tyre wear.”
A second challenge that Nicholas will have to overcome early is a change to the traditional GP2 race weekend timetable. Practice and qualifying are normally held on a Friday afternoon, but in Malaysia a shortened 30-minute practice will be held on Thursday – 24 hours before qualifying gets underway. Making a fast start will be imperative.
“Losing 15 minutes from practice and having it a day earlier than quali makes the weekend a bit more of a challenge,” Nicholas says. “That gives people less time to get up to speed and to learn the track. It’s always nice to have practice and quali on the same day because you have a bit of rhythm. Okay, everyone is in the same boat, but it’s clear the prep that’s been done before the weekend will be more important than ever.”
With one event remaining after Malaysia, Nicholas – who scored a podium finish at the opening race of the 2016 season in Barcelona – is determined to end this year on a high and feels he and his DAMS Racing team have identified some key areas in which they can improve after the last event at Monza in Italy.
“We did plenty of analysis at the shop and we’ve identified some small adjustments that can be made from my side, the team’s side and with the car set up,” Nicholas explains. “We think we’ve found something that will help to look after the rear tyres a bit easier.
“I reckon we’re moving in a better direction and each lap and race is giving me more experience to understand and learn in my first full season of GP2. This year is all about acquiring the knowledge to be a force in 2017.”
Nicholas, who is supported by Royal Bank of Canada, Lavazza and Sofina in 2016, will arrive in Malaysia having enjoyed some valuable seat time in the Renault Sport F1 Team’s 2012 car.
As part of his role as the team’s Official Test Driver, Nicholas completed around 400kms of running at Valencia in Spain last week and then travelled to Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium at the weekend to complete demonstration laps in the same V8-powered car.
“It gave me more experience in an F1 car and has also helped to put me back in driving mode for GP2. It’s around a month between Monza and Sepang and that’s quite a while out of a car,” Nicholas says.