He has enjoyed a meteoric rise through the ranks in no time at all and in 2023, Nikola Tsolov continues on his upward trajectory in single seaters. The Bulgarian has been confirmed at ART Grand Prix and is eager to get underway, hoping to make this year another success story.
“It feels amazing to make the step straight away from F4 to F3. The team is really good. They have had a lot of successful drivers in the past few years, and it's always been a top team. I'm really excited to start our journey and hopefully we can do the best possible job.”
Tsolov arrives in Formula 3 having enjoyed immediate success in his limited single-seater racing career thus far. Last year, he dominated Spanish F4, winning 13 races of a possible 21 and finishing on the podium in 18 of those.
It was a stellar campaign that Tsolov says was close to not even happening in the first place. It wasn’t until January last year where the deal came together for a season in F4, after plans had been on the table to continue down another avenue. This year’s programme has been much more relaxed by comparison and preparations for his maiden F3 season are well underway.
“Things went really fast for me for everything, especially last year. I wasn't even sure I was going to do F4 in December. It was only decided that I would in January, so everything went super quickly, but I managed to adapt to it. I'm really looking forward to this year, I have absolutely no expectations, I just can't wait for the season start.
“Mostly I've tried to really focus on preparing this year, it hasn't been really too relaxed, and I’ve not been taking a lot of time off. I've been training almost every day, also spending some time with my family in Bulgaria.
“Now, being at the factory so far has been amazing. The simulator sessions we've done already have been really positive and productive. I'm in the workshop at the moment doing some work with the engineers before the year starts.”
Tsolov has had time in the car already, having taken part in the post-season Jerez tests last year, but is now focused on maximising his time next month in Sakhir, Bahrain. The three days last year gave the Bulgarian his first opportunity to sample the F3 car. He logged an impressive 251 laps in total, getting a feel for the aerodynamic and braking performance. For the upcoming tests in Bahrain, Tsolov says it will be about maximising the details as he gears up for Round 1 of the ‘23 season.
“Testing went well. It was difficult since I hadn't done any testing before and I didn't even manage to do sim before the test, so it was in a way all a bit sudden. But it was nice to get used to the car and it just felt super quick. That aerodynamics were so much more than what I was used to, the downforce through the corners that you go with - everything was completely new for me.
“The braking as well was much different because in F4, you don't really have to press the brake that hard, but the F3, you have to jump on it. It's like breaking down a wall. So that was a bit difficult for me to arrive and get used to the pressure that my teammates were doing. But by the end of the third day, I was getting much closer and then it was really it was actually really good in the third day. On the long runs. I had good pace, which shows that we can be up there if with just get a little bit more experience. But they were three days that were fun, I think it has prepared me a lot for this year and we have three more in Bahrain, so that's good for me too. That's why I'm looking forward for the first race.
“Getting used to everything will be on the list. Everything is pretty new for me. Things like the Virtual Safety Car, the DRS, the race start procedure, they’re completely different, everything is much faster. Then it's a big step in terms of driver level too. It's going to be really difficult because now all the drivers go together against each other and they’re the best. It's not going to be easy.”
Alongside Grégoire Saucy and Kaylen Frederick, in their second and third years of F3 respectively, Tsolov has experience next to him in the garage immediately. He is aiming to learn all he can in the early stages in order to improve as quickly as possible.
As with any step up in Championships, the level of drivers also rises and Tsolov says he expects great competition. He also says driving on the same weekend as Formula 1 will be a huge feel-good factor for him this year.
“I think it is a really good thing, especially for this year, not only just because they're a good team, but the line-up is really strong. So my teammates, they’re in their second and third years, so I can learn a lot from them and improve myself.
“I think experiencing driving together with Formula 1 on the same weekend is going to be amazing. Also racing all those good drivers and trying to have progress during the year.”