From late spring, when the first rumors of Alpine’s plan to place Oscar Piastri with Williams for next year began to emerge, the writing seemed to be on the wall for Latifi.
His on-track struggles meant there was little to bolster his case for staying at Williams next year, making Friday’s confirmation that his contract would not be extended an unsurprising announcement.
But the news gives Latifi the chance to now take the next steps in his racing career and come up with a closure. His three seasons in F1 may not have brought the results he wanted, but they also included extremely difficult circumstances – a tough pill to swallow after so many years of preparing to take the plunge and achieving his dream of being an F1 driver. .
Latifi joined the F1 grid for 2020 with a significant amount of testing under his belt, both privately and in official sessions, and proved in F2 that he has the pace to step up a gear. Yet as Williams was still recovering from the disastrous 2019 season, cut off from the rest of the F1 field, it would still be difficult for him to make an impact.
That’s before you consider the season was complicated by COVID, delaying his debut until July, and the fact that Latifi had a talent like George Russell to contend with in the garage. It was not an easy starting point for a rookie.
Latifi’s F1 2020 debut came after the pandemic pushed the start of the year back to July
Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images
The first breakthroughs came last year as Williams began to find more performance, locking in the back of midfield. The upside-down race in Hungary gave Latifi his first F1 points with a seventh-place finish, marking Williams’ first score for more than two years. Russell’s tears may be the dominant memory of the day, but Latifi’s efforts were also pivotal. Another point followed at Spa when the rain came and cut the proceedings short, giving him ninth place after a solid qualifying on Saturday.
And then Abu Dhabi arrived.
The impact of last season’s finale on F1 as a whole is well known. But Latifi is sometimes a man forgotten in history. As the fallout began, he found himself the victim of ridiculous accusations, abuse and even death threats, the severity of which made him fear for his own safety. It was sickening to think that a racing driver who simply made a mistake should be subjected to such vicious attacks from online trolls.
Latifi may have worked hard to try to leave Abu Dhabi, but that’s easier said than done. This would have a great mental impact on anyone, no matter how strong they have become in their training as an elite athlete. In a recent interview on The High Performance Podcast, Williams F1 boss Jost Capito said he believed the effects of Abu Dhabi had had an impact on Latifi’s early season form.
“It was extremely difficult,” Capito said. “Anyone who hasn’t been through this has no idea what it feels like. Even if you turn off your social media, you’re in touch with other people who still see it. You know it’s happening, and you can’t get out of it.
“I’m sure it affected his conduct afterwards. I’m convinced. I can understand that, and that’s why we gave him confidence and supported him all season.
Latifi faced threats and abuse after his crash caused the decisive safety car in Abu Dhabi
Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images
Latifi’s struggle for form compared to his teammate continued even when Russell was replaced by Alex Albon. He was taken aback by the car, expressing frustration after Canada that there “wasn’t really anything nice” about his racing on the track. A change of chassis at Silverstone gave him the comfort he previously lacked, and he hoped Williams would judge him now – but when Nyck de Vries hit the points at Monza as a late substitute, it seemed like the final nail in the coffin for Latifi’s hopes of staying on for 2023.
Few can sugarcoat Latifi’s results over the past three years. But he deserved better than his F1 career becoming a meme, whether it was jokes reminiscent of Abu Dhabi, the nickname ‘GOATifi’, or poking fun at some of his qualifying performances, all in the hunt for weight of social media.
It’s unclear what the future holds for Latifi. He had links with an F1 team as early as 2018, when he made his training debut for Force India while still racing in F2. A big change will now follow if he looks to pursue options in other racing categories. Latifi told Zandvoort he doesn’t think much about options outside of F1 until he knows what the future holds for Williams. But hopefully he can join the long list of drivers who, after watching their Grand Prix careers stagnate, will find success elsewhere, whether in IndyCar, Formula E or sports car racing. There are many options for him.
The focus now will be for Latifi to enjoy the final races with Williams, to soak up the experience of racing in F1 and, if he is still pursuing some sort of mental reset or relief from the impact of abuse he faced after Abu Dhabi, find that peace of mind.
After all, some things are more important than being an F1 driver.