Nikola Tsolov was left grinning from ear-to-ear after the conclusion of a dramatic Qualifying session in Budapest. Despite charting new territory on his debut around the Hungaroring, the ART Grand Prix driver mastered the ever-changing conditions to secure his joint highest Qualifying result in seventh.
Whilst his rookie Formula 3 season has been littered with challenges and uphill battles, the Bulgarian says he’s optimistic that now he’s over the other side, crediting the work he and his team have put in to getting him back where he belongs, fighting up at the front of the field.
“I’m really excited now for the races on Saturday and Sunday! It’s been quite a positive weekend so far and we’ve done a lot of work on the sim, so it’s been paying off for sure. It should have happened earlier, probably around Silverstone, just had some bad luck there and got compromised in Qualifying. I’m getting back to where I used to be step-by-step and I should be doing well from now on, hopefully.”
Yet the path to success was far from smooth. Although the heavy rain had eased off by the time the cars hit the track, the wet to dry tarmac meant that the conditions were constantly evolving, with the best attempts set at towards the conclusion of running.
Sitting down in P21 going into the final 10 minutes, Tsolov’s penultimate attempt transformed his weekend and rocketed him up into the top 10. Pleased to have overcome the difficulties in spite of his relative inexperience, the Alpine Academy junior admitted he was surprised by how well he gelled with the Hungaroring’s tight and twisty layout.
“It was quite difficult because the conditions we had were changing all the time. Obviously, the track was drying up really quickly. You never knew exactly where to brake and if the track was dry enough to do this line or another line.
“Actually, before my best lap, my previous lap was four seconds slower than it. So, you can just imagine how much the track improved in those five minutes. We stopped to change the tyres, so it was a big jump, which I was happy to be able to adapt to and put a good lap in.”
He added: “I thought the track wouldn’t really suit my driving style because there are some places where you have to stop-and-go quite a lot. There are some really flowy sections, like Sector 2. I’ve been really quick there through from Turn 8 to the exit of Turn 11 because it’s a lot of flowy chicanes, which is how I like it. Also, the last sector seemed really strong today.”
With Jonny Edgar’s three-place carryover penalty, Tsolov now lines up fifth for Saturday’s Sprint Race and sits on the cusp of achieving his maiden points, starting in the thick of the action as the leading ART car for both races.
Frustrated to have come close to points on several occasions, with three P11 finishes in Melbourne, Monte Carlo and Silverstone, he believes it’s high time to translate that pace into firm result. Tsolov reckons that everyone’s unfamiliarity with new medium tyres could help level the playing field.
“I don’t want to jinx anything, but I’ll just try and do my best and see where we end up. I think the races are going to be quite exciting. No one really knows what to expect because we've seen today in Practice that the degradation of the tyres has been really, really high. We're going to be fighting to save them towards the end and we'll see who comes out as with the best strategy, best setup and obviously best way to save the tyres.”