Nicholas, who is competing in his first full GP2 season and was a podium finisher at the opening GP2 round in Barcelona earlier this season, had to overcome a sequence of setbacks on Baku’s street circuit as he tried to add to his haul of 20 championship points.
He lined up in P14 for Saturday’s main race after being denied the chance to set what would have been a top-six time during qualifying. “My DRS wasn’t activated on my flying lap because there were yellow flags shown in Turn Three,” he explained. “That was unfortunate because our cars were running a lot of downforce and the DRS would have had a massive effect.”
Nicholas, who is proudly sponsored by Royal Bank of Canada, Lavazza and Sofina during 2016, then suffered a second setback when the main race got underway. As the leading pack jostled for position at Turn One, a number of cars made contact and spun. Nicholas, who was attempting to avoid the carnage, was hit twice and forced off the track.
He said: “The first corner entry is blind because of where the pit wall is and that meant I couldn’t see the accident unfolding. I was hit by two cars – one on the front wheel and one on the back – and that forced me off. I had a bit of damage, but it was nothing terminal. When I tried to get going again I got stuck between gears and the engine stalled.”
Failing to finish the first race meant Nicholas had to start from P22 in today’s sprint encounter. But with both of the DAMS cars retiring on the first lap on Saturday, the French team was unable to gather a lot of data that its drivers could use to smooth their passage in today’s race.
“We were at a bit of a disadvantage because Baku is a new track and neither of the team’s cars made it past the first corner yesterday,” Nicholas said. “That meant we didn’t know what the trend would be in terms of tyre degradation, balance and handling during the sprint race. We had some data from qualifying, but quali and a race are very different.”
Nicholas did manage to climb as high as P7 during the sprint race that was punctuated by numerous accidents and safety car periods but he eventually dropped back to finish in P13 as the performance of his car’s tyres suffered.
It was a disappointing end to a frustrating weekend for Nicholas and he’s already turned his attention to the next round of the GP2 Series in Austria in a fortnight.
He said: “We’re going to analyse where things went wrong this weekend and then focus on getting them right for the Red Bull Ring. The month of July is a critical stage in the season because we have four races. A good performance in Austria will hopefully set the tone for a good month and that’s where my attention is now.”