Nicholas Latifi delivered a brace of intelligent drives to claim his eighth podium of the season in the penultimate FIA Formula 2 Championship event of 2017 at Jerez in Spain this weekend.
P2 in today’s Sprint Race built upon P4 in yesterday’s thrilling Feature Race, in which the 22-year-old came within 1.2 seconds of taking victory.
After qualifying ninth on the 4.43km circuit, where overtaking is difficult, Nicholas and his Dams Racing engineers made the bold decision to start Saturday’s Feature Race on the ‘prime’ medium compound of Pirelli tyres, whereas his rivals started on the ‘option’ softer rubber.
Nicholas’s aim was to stay on track for longer than his competitors to gain track position before making his compulsory pit stop, and then benefit from being on the softs towards the end of the 39-lap race.
“We figured there was going to be quite a lot of tyre wear and we had nothing to lose,” he explained. “With all the drivers ahead on the opposite strategy, we hoped the race would come to us.
“The tyres were hard to manage at the start. I was forced to pit earlier than I wanted to, but when I rejoined I had fun coming through the field. The use of the DRS overtaking aid was suspended during the race, and not having it definitely didn’t help my strategy!
“I rose to P4 and, despite being much faster than the cars ahead, thought that was the maximum I was going to get. Then the Safety Car was deployed, so the field bunched up and I thought: ‘This is an opportunity to win the race’.”
When racing resumed, Nicholas found his attack stymied by back markers who did not yield track position to the leaders when the field was released by the Safety Car. He crossed the line in P4, just 1.235sec behind the winner.
“There were no blue flags to tell the back markers to yield to those of us who were fighting for the win and, in my opinion, that’s not acceptable from the race direction or the other drivers. I was frustrated because I know I would have won that race hands down without this situation.”
In Sunday’s Sprint Race, Nicholas started from P5 and quickly moved up to P2, but his main focus was trying to conserve his medium compound tyres.
“I’d already done quite a lot of sliding around on those tyres during qualifying and I knew wear would be an issue. I knew I could manage the tyres better than [race leader] Alex Palou due to his lack of experience of F2, but I also knew that Artem [Markelov] behind me was saving his tyres,” Nicholas said.
“I wanted to wait until the last five laps to attack Palou. Unfortunately, with Markelov pressing me, I had to go quicker. It meant that when I caught Palou, my tyres weren’t in good shape and I couldn’t follow him closely enough to overtake.”
Nicholas eventually got past, but not before Markelov had overtaken him, leaving the Canadian to claim his third runner-up finish of the 2017 season.
“Overall, we got good points from the weekend but it was a missed opportunity through bad luck. That Feature Race should have been mine,” he said.
The results consolidate his fifth position in the FIA F2 standings, with 156 points.
Nicholas, who is proudly supported by Royal Bank of Canada, Lavazza and Sofina in 2017, will now prepare for the final event of the season in Abu Dhabi on 24-26 November.