The 21-year-old Canadian, a race leader at the second round in Barcelona, is a big fan of street circuits and is eager to build on his eighth place in the F2 drivers’ championship.
Added to the Formula One and F2 calendars last year, Baku represents unfinished business for Nicholas, who was left disappointed in 2016 when he was bumped off the track and retired from the Feature Race attempting to avoid an accident at the first corner.
Starting the Sprint Race from P22, Nicholas climbed as high as P7, before his lack of experience showed and the performance of his car’s tyres suffered. Twelve months on, with the benefit of a full F2 season under his belt, the DAMS Racing driver feels optimistic about his Baku return.
“This round was probably the worst I had last year, and maybe that should make me worried, but my feelings going into it this time are quite the opposite,” Nicholas said.
“I’ve spent a good amount of time with the team in Le Mans and I feel very well prepared. Last year my race pace was weak, but now I’m much more confident in that area. At DAMS we analysed all the data from last year and we understand why we were slow and what we can do to improve this time. We also know more about tyre degradation at the track and again I’m feeling confident because managing this is an area where I have made a big step forward.”
Nicholas – who is proudly supported by Royal Bank of Canada, Lavazza and Sofina in 2017 – believes keeping out of trouble on the 6km track will be crucial to success.
“It’s a street track, and that’s a plus in my book, but we saw last year that there were a lot of chaotic accidents and crashes. I’m aiming for a clean weekend and good points in both races. Coming off the disappointing weekend we had in Monaco with battery failure, the goal is to bounce back strongly,” Nicholas said.
The racing schedule begins with a practice session on Friday morning, followed that afternoon by the all important qualifying, which will determine the grid for Saturday’s Feature Race.
“I know from my side the main thing to improve is qualifying. In the first few races, I’ve not been where I want to be be. Like I found in Barcelona, when you start any race near the front it’s much easier to manage the whole situation. And that’s especially true on a track like Baku, which has a 2.2km long straight. You don’t want to be caught up in any risky battles there, with three or four cars drafting side-by-side!”
In the month since the last race in Monaco, Nicholas has kept himself race ready by using the simulator at DAMS Racing. He has also been learning more about race strategy and the inner workings of a top-level F1 team as part of his test role with Renault Sport Formula One Team.
“I joined the team at my Canadian home round in Montréal and it gave me a unique perspective on how the various functions work together,” Nicholas explained. “I got to observe the pre-race and strategy meetings, post-race debriefs and follow all the sessions on the team radio.
“It was fascinating to follow the communications between the drivers and their engineers, and see how the information was handled and acted on. It was a great opportunity to see how everything came together in a live race environment.”