The DAMS Racing driver, a podium finisher at Barcelona earlier this season, spent the summer break understanding how he could avoid a repeat of the frustrating results at the most recent GP2 races in Hungary and Germany. And his work paid off at Spa as he qualified in a solid P11 for Saturday afternoon’s opening Feature Race.
As the 25-lap race unfolded, Nicholas initially found himself on the back foot as he lost a handful of places to his rivals by getting squeezed wide at the top of the hill after Eau Rouge. But a stop for the prime tyre signalled the beginning of Nicholas’s fight back.
Although he felt he was a little conservative with his new tyres at the beginning of the stint, the Renault Sport F1 Test Driver impressively picked up his pace as the field raced to the chequered flag and he leapt from P18 to P13 at the finish line.
Making progress during Sunday’s 18-lap Sprint Race was always going to be more difficult with the cars running in close proximity and no requirement for a pit stop.
Nicholas started in P13 and was happy with the pace that he was able to find during the race. For the second successive day, he was one of the fastest drivers on track in the closing stages and eventually finished in P12.
Although his final results were tinged with disappointment at Spa, Nicholas felt he’d made progress with the quality of his own driving and, most importantly, in understanding how to get the best from Pirelli’s tyres during both races.
“There’s definitely a theme of disappointment with the results in Spa but I think I can be happy with the performance in the races,” he explained. “The main thing for me this weekend was to try and improve after Budapest and Hockenheim where I struggled quite a lot with my driving and the tyres.
“I generally feel I made a step forward in my own performance and in the knowledge and experience I’m getting with the tyres at Spa. There is a fine line between pushing too much to try and maintain track position at the start of a race and then dropping off towards the end. And the same applies with being too conservative at the start of a race and then one of the fastest at the end.”
Nicholas, who is proudly supported by Royal Bank of Canada, Lavazza and Sofina in 2016, is determined to continue his learning as he contests his first full season in the GP2 series where experience counts for so much.
“It’s clear we’re missing the outright pace in the races but I’m working hard to find that sweet spot where you are fast and attacking – but in a way that works the tyres as little as possible,” he said. “That’s coming with experience and my target is to put together all of the things that I’m learning so I’m continually improving as a GP2 driver.”
With no respite before the ninth round of the GP2 series at Monza in Italy next weekend, Nicholas heads straight back to the DAMS Racing headquarters in Le Mans, France after Spa to continue his preparations.
As a high-speed circuit with unique characteristics, tyre degradation at Monza is expected to be vastly different from that encountered at Spa. But Nicholas is looking forward to taking on that challenge.
He said: “Monza is a completely different track and conditions around tyre deg will be new again. But that’s part of the challenge and I’ll do lots of prep with the team to understand what’s likely to happen so that I can continue with the momentum I’ve found at Spa. It’s important to keep moving forward.”