Nikola Tsolov was the man of the year in Spanish F4, dominating a grid of highly rated drivers in nonchalant fashion. F1 Feeder Series sat down with him as he reflected on his first season in car racing.
By Oorjit Mishra
Scoring an astonishing 13 wins out of a possible 18, Tsolov finished over 100 points clear of his teammate and closest championship rival Hugh Barter. He described the feeling of being champion “It was amazing after all, so much hard work for me, the team helping and A14, of course, and we managed to do more than what we expected in the beginning of the season. So that’s really positive.”
It seems an age ago now, but Tsolov’s campaign had an inauspicious start, as he stalled on the grid from pole at the first race of the season at Portimao. That didn’t matter, however, as he bounced back with a win in Race 2, and then began an eight race-winning streak at the second round of the season at Jerez. Tsolov described his mindset as he prepared from that first race, and how he changed his approach throughout the season.
“Well, obviously the first race was really difficult. Starting the first race, I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to make the best out of it, to make the best start, so obviously didn’t pay off too good. But after I arrived and made one win already, [and a] podium, I felt more confident with myself and I knew I could do it better. So from then on, as soon as I started, I kind of kept on going with the streak. So we managed to just stay up there for a longtime. Then obviously after the summer break it was a bit difficult when my teammate [was] catching up, but in the last round I managed to step back up and do a perfect weekend.”
Working with a legend
Tsolov put his success down to support he’s received off-track, from Fernando Alonso’s A14 management, which he joined at the end of 2021. “I really want to thank everyone who’s been supporting me, my sponsors, the team, we’ve been working really well, my engineer, Alpine, everyone there and A14, and of course, Fernando supported me so much in the preseason with giving me a lot of motivation as well to keep fighting because it was not easy. My teammates were really strong.” Tsolov also described what it was like to work with a legend like Alonso in his first season of car racing “It’s unbelievable. Obviously, at first it doesn’t feel real, I couldn’t process it, I couldn’t imagine it happening, but yeah, the opportunity is incredible. I couldn’t be more lucky, so I just [try to] take the maximum out of it.”
Tsolov also stressed how helpful it was to be working with Alpine, who’s junior programme he is affiliated with. “It’s a really big jump from karting and then especially when you get into all that environment where you’re really close to F1 and you work with so much people from there with so many people in racing experience. So like I said, at first it didn’t feel real. It was hard to process, to get used to it. But now I feel more than ready to do [the] steps and arrive where I want to be.”
Even though already won the championship, I had to show that I deserve it.Nikola Tsolov on his perfect weekend in Barcelona
It was unsurprising that Tsolov had trouble picking just one highlight for 2022, considering how successful he’s been this year, but he shared the moments that stuck with him. “One of the best moments for sure was the first win, of course it was an amazing feeling. The perfect weekend in Spa that we did with three wins. Well, it was not perfect, I missed one point for fastest lap, but I would highlight mostly the end of the year, the last race in Barcelona, where we actually managed to do a perfect weekend, grab all the points. Even though I already won the championship, I had to show that I deserve it. So just the last race was a really good feeling. I mean, it was the last race I did in F4, so it felt really nice.”
When asked what the main takeaway from 2022 was, Tsolov highlighted the importance of perseverance, alongside the technical skills he picked up from his first year in cars. “I think it’s obviously to never give up and give your best, but to stay calm in the most important moments, to always have the good [mental] approach before the race starts.You really have to prepare yourself, focus really well, which I found your warm up before the race is really important. I found a new way to do it for the last race, which worked really great. My focus during the race was really nice. So, yeah, I’ve just learned a lot of things, especially with my engineer about the car driving and everything in terms of using the grip and Formula [cars] coming from karting.”
Tsolov has his sights set on FIA F3, though he stopped short of confirming who he’d be racing with for next year. “[Barcelona was my] last race in F4 and we’re obviously heading to step up to the next category. We’re still deciding what we want to do, but obviously after the test that we did in Jerez, we’re aiming for F3 and seeing all the opportunities we have.”
And what are his targets for next year? “I would say learning as much as possible. Stepping up to a higher category is never easy, but we’ve shown that we can do good progress through the year. I guess I don’t really have any objective like what to focus on, like a position specifically, but I just want to do the best. If you can finish fifth, you need to finish fourth.”
Finally, Tsolov described his plans for the winter, illustrating how busy a modern junior driver is. “I’ll be going to Alpine soon for some team building with everyone just before New Year with A14, then spend Christmas, New Year with my family. So nothing but just relaxing and disconnecting for a bit and then we’ll be back.”
Header photo credit: Nikola Tsolov Racing
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