The notoriously changeable weather at the Spielberg circuit created difficult conditions at the fourth round of the GP2 series, though Nicholas, competing in his first full GP2 season, showed flashes of pace to cut it in all weathers.
Friday practice yielded early promise as the 21-year-old found himself among the fastest drivers on track, but a mistake and spin in that same session meant the 21-year-old lost valuable running ahead of qualifying.
“It set the tone for the way I feel this weekend went for me,” Nicholas explained. “My first few laps were really good and we were matching the top five for pace, then I spun on the soft tyre which flat-spotted them and damaged them.
“In practice, you only get one set of tyres. If you use another, it’s one you have to race on come Saturday and Sunday so I ended up doing just one lap. It would have been good to get some better references for qualifying.”
Nicholas, proudly sponsored by Royal Bank of Canada, Lavazza and Sofina throughout 2016, felt he was hindered by traffic on each of his three timed laps when it came to that all-important qualifying session. He was set to line up in P17 until race officials adjudged he had blocked Gasly on a flying lap and he was demoted three places on the grid for Saturday’s main race.
“If I hadn’t been blocked, I’d have probably been fighting for the top-ten,” said the proud Canadian. “Then unintentionally, as I was trying to find my space, I impeded Gasly and got a penalty for that – I just couldn’t see him.”
Nicholas matched the pace he’d displayed through practice right from the off in race one. A cool head ensured he avoided contact through the opening laps at a circuit that can become infamously congested and he picked his way through the field to P12 as the rain began to fall on lap 16.
A number of drivers struggled to keep their car on the road as the rain fell and it wasn’t long before the safety car was deployed. The red flag was flown shortly afterwards so that Anton Markelov’s badly damaged car could be rescued from the pit lane exit.
When racing resumed, Nicholas found himself promoted two places during the safety car period, and with seven laps to go, Nicholas wasted no time in looking to make his move up the concertinaed pack, with P6 to P10 separated by a hair’s breadth.
Battling hard, the DAMS driver was looking to take P9 from Charles Pic but by the chequered flag, after the position changed hands on several hard-fought occasions, Nicholas had to settle for P10 and one championship point – no mean feat considering he had started the race 10 places further back.
Today’s sprint race was a similar tale. An initial charge, this time on wet Spielberg asphalt, enabled Nicholas to fight his way to an impressive P5 having started five places back on the grid.
At the half-way stage, however, the Canadian’s tyres began to fall away as the circuit dried. Despite him looking after the set of full-wets and running in standing water where possible to keep them cool, the rubber deteriorated rapidly and there was nothing Nicholas could do as the car swapped ends and spun out of the race at two-thirds race distance.
Although he only emerged with a single championship point, Nicholas felt there were some positives to take from his performance in Austria. He said: “I felt great in the first race when the conditions were dry and it was much like the feeling I had in Barcelona when I scored a podium. Everything felt good in the first half of the race when it was wet. But we will have to analyse the second half to see what we can do better and where we can improve.
“I’m hoping the positives that we’ve seen this weekend can be carried across into next weekend at Silverstone so we can build some good form and have a chance of shooting for some more points.”