Nicholas regards the legendary circuit as his favourite on the F2 calendar, and he lapped at the sharp end from the outset, placing P4 in free practice and grabbing P6 on the grid for Saturday’s longer Feature Race. But he still wasn’t entirely happy with that result.
“I was really confident for qualifying,” the Canadian explained. “I thought I could honestly challenge for pole, but we made a few changes that didn’t really work in our favour and the car felt really tricky to drive. I also messed up the Maggots and Becketts complex on my fastest lap. It was probably the first major mistake I’ve made in qualifying all year, but still, P6 wasn’t such a bad place to start.”
When the lights went out, Nicholas conceded a couple of spots and dropped to P8. The 22-year-old then pitted at the end of lap seven to trade in his soft Pirelli tyres for the more durable hard-compound rubber.
Rejoining the fray in 13th, Nicholas fought back strongly and moved back into the points with ten laps remaining. Once all the pit-stops were complete, the Renault Sport Formula One Team Test Driver engaged in an entertaining multi-car scrap for fifth, ultimately taking the chequered flag in P8.
“Something didn’t feel right with the clutch from the beginning, and that resulted in my worst start of the season,” he said. “After that, it was probably one of the most difficult races I’ve ever had to manage because the car gave me no confidence.
“After settling into a rhythm, I tried to salvage something and things were a little bit better in the clean air on the prime tyres. P8 clearly wasn’t what we had been aiming for, but a silver lining was pole position for the Sprint Race.”
And he was determined not to squander his front row opportunity. After heading off a challenge from a fast-starting Luca Ghiotto from the line, Nicholas pulled away with a string of fastest laps, holding an advantage of more than five seconds when the Safety Car emerged with a couple of tours remaining.
That set the scene for a last lap shootout, but Nicholas coolly held his nerve and edged clear once more to flash across the finish line 1.7sec to the good – in so doing confidently securing his first F2 success and strengthening his fourth position in the drivers’ championship standings.
“We made some changes to the car to try and give me more confidence,” revealed Nicholas, who is proudly supported by Royal Bank of Canada, Lavazza and Sofina in 2017. “I had to defend through the first few corners, but once I got my head down, I was able to add to my advantage while looking after the tyres.
“I’m really thrilled to get the win – it kind of makes up for the one that got away in Barcelona. I haven’t won in single seaters for too long, so this gives me a massive boost going forward.
“I’ve worked really hard to take a big step forward in my race pace since last year, and right from the first round of 2017, we showed we can challenge at the front. Since Baku, we’ve been consistently on the podium at least once every weekend.
“The goal is to keep fighting for more podiums and wins over the second half of the season – and there’s no reason why we can’t do that.”