Meet Nikola Tsolov, the Alonso protégé hoping to become Bulgaria’s biggest single-seater star

For most of racing history, Bulgaria has been scarcely represented on track. Though the country has a history of rallying and has even hosted a World Rally Championship event, single-seater racing hasn’t seen what the nation has to offer outside of a few appearances from Plamen Kralev and Simeon Ivanov in Formula Two and Formula Renault 2.0 Eurocup respectively. Spanish F4 championship leader Nikola Tsolov spoke to F1 Feeder Series about his ambition to change that.

By Oorjit Mishra

Born in Bulgaria’s capital city, Sofia, in 2006, Tsolov credits his passion for motorsport to his father. “My father used to love to do karting when he was small. So in 2015, he decided to take me one time to karting.”

“I really liked it.”

“And after school every day he started taking me to karting.”

It’s no surprise, then, that Tsolov found himself making the step up to the national championship the next year. He won Bulgarian national title in the Mini BG class in 2016 and followed that up with the title in the Mini class in 2017.

Following this auspicious start to his career, Tsolov moved to international karting, racing in the Mini Rok Singha Trophy in 2018 and winning the Mini category of the WSK Open Cup in 2019.

The step up wasn’t without its challenges, however. “In Bulgaria, it’s much less drivers, and the level is much lower. So I was always really fast. I was starting in front and never got the chance to really overtake, fight, defend and all this stuff. And no one [had] really that much experience. While outside of Bulgaria in Europe, [it] was much more difficult in racing, everyone was aggressive and [had more] experience. So it took me a little bit of time to get used to that.”

A successful partnership

For 2020, Tsolov joined the DPK Racing squad, racing in Alonso Kart colours, and finished seventh in the World championship in OK Junior. He then enjoyed an excellent 2021, finishing in the top eight of every championship he entered, including the European and world championships in OK Senior.

Tsolov looks back fondly on his time with DPK, crediting much of his success to the advice he got there.

“I did really good in [the] Junior and OK Senior classes with DPK Racing. Really it was difficult for me in the beginning to understand the difference between racing in Bulgaria and outside, but the team DPK really helped me improve myself, improve my driving, and just everything about me.”

It was difficult for me in the beginning to understand the difference between racing in Bulgaria and outside, but the team DPK really helped me improve myself.

Nikola Tsolov

Taking the next step up

Despite an incredible run in karting that saw Tsolov win races and compete for championships at the highest level, it was only in early 2022 that he confirmed his step up to car racing with Campos Racing in Spanish F4. When asked about his winter break, Tsolov revealed that the late decision to step up to Spanish F4 left him with a steep learning curve.

“Yeah, it was really a lot of news the last half a year, because at first, we thought I was going to do karting, but then the decision was to do Formula 4,” Tsolov said. “I had to learn very fast. And since I had much less tests than everyone, I also had to work a lot harder to catch up.” That hard work has paid off, as Tsolov has scored five poles, three wins and six fastest laps from six races across the first two rounds of his 2022 campaign.

Tsolov celebrates victory in Race 3 at Round 2 of the Spanish F4 Championship in Jerez | Credit: Spanish F4

When asked how he coped with the transition to cars, Tsolov emphasised hard work.

 “The first race hasn’t been excellent. The second race was much better. So I’m just moving forward every time and learning new things, and it’s getting better. So also, since I’m a rookie, I need to work hard also outside of the track with the engineer, training every day.” As he revealed that he was speaking to F1 Feeder Series from the Campos workshop, in front of the team’s massive trophy cabinet, his commitment to the sport became even more apparent.

Advice from an F1 legend

One of the perks of his affiliation with Fernando Alonso’s Kart team was the opportunity to share a kart with the two-time F1 champion in the Dubai Kartdrome 24 Hours, in which they finished third.

“I had the opportunity to learn a lot of stuff from him, and I was really happy about that. The way he just does the stuff not only on track but outside of the track really shows why he’s such a legend.”

Tsolov’s relationship with the Spaniard didn’t end there, as it was soon announced that he would be joining Alonso’s talent management firm, A14 Management, for 2022.

When asked about his preparation for 2022, Tsolov elaborated on how Alonso has guided him through the step up to cars. “He’s been really helping me during the pre-season testing. He even came to watch one test, and I always have a chat with him after every test, every race, and he really helps me to improve myself, especially the new stuff about driving. For example, managing [the] tires, [standing] start with lights. So it’s been a real help, and I give a lot of credit to him.”

Tsolov in his first weekend of Spanish F4 at Portimão | Credit: Spanish F4

Flying the Bulgarian flag

Tsolov was also announced as part of the Alpine Affiliate programme earlier this year, becoming the first Bulgarian to be part of an F1 junior programme. When asked about the experience of flying the flag for his nation, Tsolov was appreciative of the support from home.

“Coming from Bulgaria, with not a lot of drivers who have had the opportunity to drive formula, I’m really happy and I work really hard for it and it seems to be going really well,” Tsolov explained. “The support back there, it’s really great. I have a lot of friends, family, and fans who are always supporting me, so I’m really happy about that.”

The support back [in Bulgaria], it’s really great. I have a lot of friends, family, and fans who are always supporting me.

Nikola Tsolov (Campos Racing)

When asked about the state of the sport in Bulgaria and its future, Tsolov was both honest and hopeful. “Well, I hope it really improves. It’s had an improvement in the last couple of years, more drivers coming to racing, but it’s a really expensive sport. Not a lot of people have the opportunity to do that in Bulgaria, but it’s growing slowly. Most people there probably do it for fun – that’s really the difference.”

Tsolov returns to action this weekend at Valencia, where he will be looking to carry on his impressive form and extend his lead in the championship.

Header photo credit: Spanish F4

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