The 20-year-old was unveiled as the team’s official Test Driver in March but needs to earn his FIA Super Licence before he can drive in any of this season’s FP1 sessions that get a Grand Prix weekend underway.
Nicholas therefore headed to the iconic Silverstone circuit in England to get some track time in Renault’s V8-powered E20 Formula One car from 2012. His goal was to complete 300km of running – the minimum required distance to secure a Super Licence.
Thanks to a near-perfect performance behind the wheel, Nicholas exceeded his mileage target by 116km as he completed a total of 140 laps in dry and warm conditions.
“I’m really pleased with the way things have gone,” he said. “The main thing was that I accomplished the 300km minimum distance but we were able to go even further because everything ran so smoothly. That’s a nice feeling when you’re jumping in a car for the first time – especially when it’s a Formula One car.
“The goal was to build each run and to get some confidence in the car. We weren’t really trying things with the set up because it wasn’t an official test day. But I felt really good in the car and my physical preparation during the closed season helped with that. My neck feels a little sore but, as I haven’t been able to drive a race car since the last GP2 test a month and a half ago, that’s to be expected.”
Nicholas drove Renault’s 2012 car because FIA rules don’t allow a driver that’s qualifying for their Super Licence to drive anything less than two years older than a team’s current car. But Nicholas was thrilled to drive a car that proved to be a race-winning package during the 2012 season.
“It was a good car for the team and the V8 engine sounded really nice around Silverstone,” Nicholas said. “There isn’t as much technology as the current Renault F1 car because there’s no hybrid system, but everything still runs smoothly and seamlessly in terms of the gear change and power delivery. It’s a lot of fun.”
And the Renault Sport team was pleased with Nicholas’s display on his first test with them. Alan Permane, Trackside Operations Director, Renault Sport Formula One Team, said: “Nicholas delivered exactly what was required from today and fulfilled a vital part of his programme as Renault Sport Formula One Team Test Driver. He was a pleasure to work with and had a mature approach to the tasks at hand.”
Nicholas will now apply for his FIA Super Licence, but in the meantime, he’s focused on the opening GP2 race of the season at Barcelona next weekend (13-15 May). He’s determined to get off to a solid start with his new DAMS team and believes his experiences at Silverstone today will have helped.
He added: “Although it’s faster, driving the Renault F1 car is pretty similar to driving the GP2 car so today will get me back in the driving mind set. Seat time is always good for a driver that’s continuing his learning and developing all the time like I am.”