Q: How do you rate 2016 as a whole?
NL: “The best way I can sum it up is as a big, big learning year. Going into it, the plan was that it was always going to be about learning and development. But that didn’t mean I approached it with anything less than full commitment. I definitely got a clear understanding of how difficult the championship can be for a rookie. Even the smallest details make a huge difference in GP2.”
Q: What was your highlight of the season?
NL: “Definitely the first race weekend in Spain where I finished second. That exceeded my expectations for the first race – and everyone else’s I think. It was nice to reward the team for the preparation and to show my potential. I qualified at the front and finished there. It wasn’t a result that fell into my lap. I had the pace and felt like I deserved it.”
Q: What did you find the biggest challenge in 2016?
NL: “The single biggest challenge was learning how to manage the Pirelli tyres in a race. At the beginning of the season I thought the issue would be more about qualifying than the races. It turned out to be the opposite. Even though I had a few good qualifying results, l know from looking at the data that the potential was always there for much better qualifying form.
“Next year’s qualifying target will be to put it all together and avoid mistakes, traffic and bad luck. Historically, qualifying has been a bit of a weakness in my formula car career. But for the most part, qualifying wasn’t an issue this season – and in terms of showing potential it exceeded my expectations. I thought the racing was going to be easier but that wasn’t the case. Together with the team we’re getting on top of that now and, especially over the winter, there will be lots of analysis following the end of season test where I ended the three days as the fastest driver.”
Q: What else did you learn during the season?
NL: “The way GP2 is, so many different little things can have a big outcome on your weekend. Things that don’t seem like a big deal can really have an influence. For example, one big lock up at the beginning of practice will destroy your tyres for the session. And that means you can’t get a good reference for qualifying and straightaway you are on the back foot.
“And when you’re starting on the soft tyres in a race, if you have an early lock up you might be stuck for six laps before the pit window opens. That can compromise your weekend. Anything outside of the plan can really come back and bite you later in the weekend.”
Q: What was your craziest moment of the year?
NL: “One that jumps out is the second race in Baku and all the safety car restarts. Those were a bit hectic. You never really knew what was going on or what was going to happen next. You had the driver in the lead braking and accelerating – and on a street track there’s nowhere to go. From my position in the middle of the pack there was a lot going on. It’s pretty crazy when you’re trying to avoid cars that are almost at a standstill in the middle of the straight!”
Q: What about your manoeuvre of the year?
NL: “That would have to be when I went side-by-side with another driver around Eau Rouge at Spa and I won the place at the top of the hill. Pierre Gasly did the same thing and it was a big deal. Unfortunately, I didn’t have an onboard camera on my car so my overtake went relatively unnoticed. That’s the way it is sometimes!”
Q: How has your position as a test and development driver for the Renault Sport Formula One Team helped you this year?
NL: “I have been involved with the team at a number of F1 race weekends and experiencing the races from behind the scenes, working and being part of it, makes me want it even more. It confirms my F1 goal; it’s what I want to do and that’s what I’m working towards. I really enjoyed those experiences and hopefully next year I’ll be able to go to more races and keep learning.”
Nicholas is proud to have been strongly supported by Royal Bank of Canada, Lavazza and Sofina during his 2016 GP2 campaign.