With his Free Practice 1 (FP1) debut successfully completed at the Canadian Grand Prix, Nicholas has looked back at the experience of driving the Sahara Force India F1 Team’s VJM11 at Montreal’s Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve last weekend.
Q: You completed 28 laps during FP1 at the Canadian Grand Prix. How was it driving the VJM11 for the first time at an official Grand Prix weekend?
A: “It was a great experience and it was a special feeling pulling out of the pit lane with a big smile on my face. There were more people in the stands compared to what I’m usually used to during a Friday practice [in Formula 2] but that’s one of the great things about Montreal. It’s definitely one of the busiest Fridays of the year and it was especially nice to see all the Canadian fans on my last lap with their flags waving to me.”
Q: What was your brief during the session from the Force India F1 Team – were you working on anything specific?
A: “The team was generous and kept it relatively simple for me. There was basically just a lot of aero running and gathering data by doing the laps I needed to do. In that regard, it was fairly straight forward. FP1’s are sessions that you always want to do more laps in but you only have two tyres for a 90-minute session.”
Q: The session clearly wasn’t about outright performance but you still got to drive on two different tyre compounds. How did the session work out in that regard?
A: “The team opted to start on the hyper soft tyre and then the second set of tyres was the ultra softs. With the first set of tyres you must give them back after 40 minutes, and as I was still learning the track, I didn’t feel I was at my best when I was on those tyres. Obviously, the track was also still a bit dirty.
“I was definitely leaving quite a bit of margin on my first run when I was on the best tyres, trying not to do anything silly and build it up and gain the confidence. Then when we put the ultra softs on afterwards, there was definitely a much bigger step in performance in terms of less grip than I thought so it was definitely going to be difficult to improve the lap time.”
Q: How do you feel the session went and were you happy with your performance on home soil in Montreal?
A: “Overall, I was quite happy with the session. The main thing was to get through the programme which we did and I kept it out of the walls – something you can very easily find on a track like this. Obviously, I’m still learning the car and the track so as far as Friday free practice 1 sessions go, it was okay.”
Q: How did you find the performance differential between the F2 car you’re racing in 2018 compared to the 2018 VJM11 that you drove at the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve?
A: “There’s definitely quite a big difference! It’s quite a big step in all aspects of the driving. In the F1 car, you’re arriving quicker and you’re braking much, much later than you can wrap your head around really. Then the mid-corner speed is crazy in terms of how much you can carry and with the bigger tyres, the traction is so much improved. It’s really quite a joy to jump from an F2 into F1.”
Q: What does it mean to you to have driven a latest-specification F1 car at your home Grand Prix and in front of your family, friends and supporters?
A: “I used to come to the Montreal Grand Prix from a very early age. This was one event that was always a nice family event for us. We used to sit in the Turn 10 grandstands. I had a lot of good memories at this track. All my family, besides from my immediate family, live here in Montreal so there was a nice group out to watch me and a lot of friends as well. I definitely felt the support.”
Q: Do you know whether you’ll get more opportunities to drive the VJM11 between now and the end of the 2018 season?
A: “In terms of future sessions, I definitely think there will be opportunities further on in the year to hopefully take part in more FP1s and there’s still the test after Budapest as well. I can’t confirm any of the sessions that I will be taking part in just now but I will be back in the car further in the year.”
Q: Has getting on track at a Grand Prix race weekend made you even hungrier to graduate to Formula 1 on a full-time basis?
A: “It is my ultimate goal to arrive in a Formula One race seat – preferably sooner rather than later – but it is going to be dependent on how I perform in F2 and the first thing is you need a superlicence. I think I need to finish at least fifth in F2 this year to get the points so for sure I’m going to be pushing much more for that. But the real focus is on F2 this year and the F1 stuff that I’m doing supplements that and just adds to the overall experience.”