The result capped an impressive season for the 22-year-old, who secured a total of nine podiums and a maiden F2 race win during his best season to date with DAMS Racing. Nicholas made the podium on all but three of this year’s 11 race weekends.
He showed front-running pace again at this week’s final round, collecting P5 in Saturday’s Feature Race and P3 in today’s Sprint Race.
“It’s great to end the season on the podium and to finish on a high,” Nicholas said. “Twenty two points is one of my best scores this year, so it’s been a strong weekend – even if I wasn’t able to improve on my championship position. I’m very pleased about how the season turned out. It’s been very positive.”
Nicholas arrived in Abu Dhabi targeting success in the Feature Race, but a disappointing P11 in Friday’s qualifying session left him with a fight on his hands.
“Qualifying was not the greatest. We were on the back foot after a weak practice when we tried a new car set-up which didn’t work out,” he explained. “My first qualifying lap was pretty decent, but I didn’t drive cleanly on the second. The potential was there for a top five, which could have made my life easier.”
Starting the 31-lap night race from P11, Nicholas elected to run Pirelli’s supersoft tyre first, before pitting for softs at the earliest opportunity. Rejoining in P16, he managed the rubber well on the long stint and sliced his way through the field to finish P5.
“I think the option tyre strategy was the right one, but on the softs I struggled with the balance of the car,” he explained. “I was expecting lots of rear tyre degradation but actually I found the fronts were the bigger problem. My lap times improved towards the end because the rears started to degrade and made the handling more neutral. In hindsight, my set-up gave me too much understeer. It was disappointing not to be fighting for podium positions, but that was all down to qualifying.”
A terrific start to Sunday morning’s Sprint Race vaulted Nicholas from P4 to P2 on the opening lap. He held the position for most of the race, battling long-time leader Alex Albon, before both were overhauled in a late charge by 2017 champion Charles Leclerc.
“I got a good start and I was quite confident in my ability to go for the win,” Nicholas said. “I concentrated on managing my tyres and tried to be patient. I had good pace, but every time I tried to mount an attack on Alex he was able to respond. We were evenly matched and there wasn’t much I could do in the dirty air. The pace was high and that took a toll on the tyres, which didn’t help me when Leclerc came into the mix.
“Overall though I was satisfied with how the race went, and happy to get another podium and another 12 points in the bag,” he concluded.
Nicholas’s F2 Championship campaign is proudly supported by Royal Bank of Canada, Lavazza and Sofina in 2017.