This weekend’s GP2 races were Nicholas’s first with his new DAMS Racing team and it was his first opportunity to put all of his preparation and hard work during pre-season to the test in a fiercely competitive GP2 field that contains 21 other drivers in 2016.
“Overall, I’m really happy with the way the weekend went,” Nicholas said. “Going into Barcelona, the goal was finish all the races without any trouble and to do as many laps as possible to gain some more experience. Finishing on the podium definitely wasn’t something I expected and then to get P7 in the second race was fantastic.
“I’ve always known the potential has been there to run at the front but I thought it would take a bit longer to put everything together. I’m thrilled to come away from Spain with fourth place in the championship.”
Nicholas got off to a perfect start in Friday afternoon’s qualifying session. With his car proudly displaying Royal Bank of Canada, Lavazza and Sofina branding for the first time at a GP2 race weekend, the 20-year-old sped his way to P4, just a tenth of a second behind his more experienced team-mate Alex Lynn.
That put Nicholas in a prime grid position for Saturday’s 60-minute main race and he made the most of his opportunity when the race started. A great get away from the line allowed Nicholas to pass Lynn for third place, and although Nicholas lost time when Sergei Sirotkin forced him well wide in turn three as the duo battled side-by-side through the 150mph sweeper, Nicholas fought back.
He fended off the advances of those behind and settled into his own race, running consistently within seven seconds of Pierre Gasly’s lead and reeling in the top-three by lap 20.
Four laps later, Nicholas’s pressure paid off as he took full advantage of Sirotkin’s spin to move into P3. And he went one better shortly afterwards. Scenting blood after Norman Nato passed Gasly for the lead on lap 27, Nicholas piled the pressure on the Frenchman in a bid to snatch P2.
With just three laps remaining, he forced Gasly into defensive measures. Following ever more closely on lap 32, Nicholas pounced decisively at turn one and took the position in fine style.
Had the race not been time-limited, Nicholas could have gone one better as Nato was beginning to fall into his grasp – just 1.3 seconds ahead of Nicholas on the final lap.
But as the chequered flag dropped, Nicholas took P2 and became the first Canadian to score points and make the podium in GP2 history.
In Sunday morning’s sprint race, Nicholas held his own off the start, retaining seventh – his reverse grid position – as the pack jostled into turn one.
At half-race distance, positions stabilised and Nicholas comfortably made his way past Sergio Canamasas into P6. An untimely safety car on lap 22 effectively put an end to the racing and Nicholas, battling against fading tyres, was unable to prevent Ollie Rowland passing him for P6.
With the first round of the season successfully negotiated, Nicholas’s attentions now turn to the second round of the series at Monaco in two weeks.
“Monte Carlo is a completely different track but all of the work we have done in pre-season has paid off in Barcelona and that’s given us some really good momentum that we’ll be trying to take into the next few races,” Nicholas said.
“I hope I can reward myself and the team – who gave me an absolutely amazing car this weekend – by putting in another strong race weekend in Monaco.”