Ninth in Saturday’s 31-lap Feature Race was Nicholas’s seventh top-ten result from the 11-round series, and added to a points tally that started with second place in the opening race in Barcelona.
But while another top-ten was a positive way to end his 2016 campaign with DAMS, Nicholas was left rueing a difficult qualifying that promised to deliver more than his start position of 13th.
“After the first set of tyres I was P7, even with room for improvement. The car felt good and as I went for the second set I felt confident I could get P5 or P6,” Nicholas said.
“But my brake warm-up didn’t go to plan and they got way too hot. All the heavy braking corners were difficult and at turn 11 my foot went right to the floor and I had nothing. It wasn’t a problem I had experienced before, and it meant the session was a big missed opportunity.”
But once the floodlit race began, a shrewd tyre strategy enabled the Renault Sport F1 Team test driver to quickly make up ground – putting him on track for another points finish.
“I started on the option tyre. This was always going to be the exciting strategy because we knew from last year that it would be almost impossible to get them to last the opening six laps,” Nicholas explained.
“I made a good start and picked up three positions, and by the time I was at turn two I was already thinking about saving my tyres. I tried to keep ahead of the other drivers on the super softs because we were all going to dive into the pits as soon as it opened.
“Once I had the prime tyre, my pace was good enough to get into the points. It was a good result and one that showed progress has been made.”
Sunday’s sprint race, run in the searing heat of the day, was more of a challenge for 21-year-old Nicholas.
“Managing tyre degradation was always going to be difficult in these conditions – especially running in the pack the whole race because everyone was on the same strategy,” he explained.
“We made some set-up changes in anticipation, but still I really struggled with the rear tyres – they were spinning up way too much and I couldn’t battle with anybody. It was a frustrating race because I wanted to push to go quicker but I knew doing that would just make it worse.
“P13 wasn’t where I wanted to end the last race of the season. But when it comes to my development, every learning experience is of benefit.”
With a second season in GP2 confirmed for next year, Nicholas, who is supported by Royal Bank of Canada, Lavazza and Sofina, is now fully focused on the forthcoming three-day GP2 test in Abu Dhabi (30 November – 2 December).
“It’s very important to try and learn as much as possible to prepare for next year,” Nicholas said. “Track time is so limited in GP2 that it’s crucial to further my knowledge and understanding as much as possible.
“In testing you’re allowed to run many more sensors, so it’s easier to see what’s happening on the car based on the inputs I’m making. So I’ll be storing up as much information as I can, and making sure I use this to my advantage next year.”