The Canadian discusses his graduation into F1 and details how the move happened
In many ways, Nicholas Latifi’s path to Formula 1 has been different to most, and the journey down that path has been a bumpy one at times. The Canadian didn’t start karting until his teenage years, more than half a decade later than some of his peers, and it’s not exactly been a smooth ride since. He is happy to admit that too, which makes his step up to F1 feel that much sweeter.
The Canadian was confirmed as Robert Kubica’s replacement at Williams back in November ahead of the F2 season finale and it is the culmination of 12 years of hard work. A well-liked character around the support race paddock, few would begrudge Latifi his chance on motorsport’s biggest stage.
Perched on the seat of a wooden table in the early morning sun of Abu Dhabi, Latifi leans forward, assessing the journey his career has taken, and the steps that have led to this moment. You get the sense that the news is still sinking in.
“A lot of hard work, a lot of sacrifices, and a lot of stuff behind the scenes has gone into it,” he evaluated. “I have had to overcome a lot of adversity, shall I say, which may not have been evident watching on from the side.
“It is a dream come true for me though, something that I have been working towards for a huge part of my life, 12 years in fact, pretty much half.”
The 24-year-old is far from finished there. Getting onto the grid is just the next stage of his development and the Canadian is keen to stress that early on. He joins the likes of former teammate Alex Albon in making the move, while 2018 F2 Champion George Russell will be his new teammate.
Like Albon last season, his aim will be to impress enough to earn a second year in F1 - all while competing with the very best. Those are longer-term aims though, in the short term, the focus is on making that step up as smooth as possible.
“The fact that all of the hard work has paid off so far and I have obviously achieved the first step of my very long list of goals. Getting my foot in the door of F1, this is the first part.
“I want to have a long career in there and I obviously have high goals for that - I don't just want to be there and be a grid filler. The fact that it has happened now, is amazing news for me and I am extremely excited to get to work.”
For many of those looking in from the outside, Latifi’s move to Williams had long been a forgone conclusion. That’s far from the truth though. Firstly, the seat had to become available, and then, Latifi had to earn it. Yes, the cards were stacked favourably for the Canadian, with his position as test driver at the team offering him a direct opportunity to impress, but knowing that, and putting it into practice on the track, are two entirely different things.
The only certainty was that 2019 would be Latifi’s final year in F2. After three seasons in the Championship, and one in GP2, the Canadian had already made the decision that he wouldn’t return for 2020. The hope was that he would graduate to F1, but he knew that he needed to remain open minded.
“I can't say when I was I told exactly,” he laughed, when asked when he was given the news of his promotion. “For me, when I found out that I was going to get the seat, I was a bit surprised, because I wasn’t expecting it at the moment that I was told.
“As you can imagine, it is a bit of a drawn out process because after I was told, there was the signing of the contract, which is its own process, and then when that is done, you start planning for the announcement. It has kind of sunk in, in little steps.
“What I can say, is that I was not guaranteed a Super Licence this year - that was the first thing that I needed to do. I think a lot of people thought it was a done deal from the beginning of the year, which was so far from the truth.
“For me this year, it was always now or never, do or die. This was always going to be my last season in Formula 2. I am happy that I have had a really strong season, because if I hadn't, then I wouldn’t have been making the move into Formula 1 and I would have had to look at where the next step for my career would be. Obviously, I am extremely excited that the hard work paid off.”
The hard-working Canadian has impressed Williams throughout the year, not just with his pace, but his understanding and knowledge of data and his integration into the team. His standing within the garage has grown throughout the season and he will be hoping that he can further increase his impact behind the scenes now that he is in possession of a race seat.
“In terms of the actual driver aspects, analysing the driving, analysing the car, I think it will be even more impactful in F1 because it is of course that bit more advanced and I think that this is going to be important. With Williams specifically, I feel very comfortable there and I have done since my very first day there, I felt a good vibe in the garage.
“One of my strengths in Formula 2, I think, was tyre management in the races and in Formula 1 tyres are really important. F2 tyres are a bit more sensitive and in the race we can get a bit more degradation than F1 does, but you can apply a lot of that to F1.”
Latifi’s season will get underway in Australia on March 15, with F2 beginning a round later in Bahrain on March 22.