As early as late spring, when the first rumors of Alpine’s plan to place Oscar Piastri at Williams for next year began to surface, Latifi seemed to be hanging on the wall.
His battle on the track meant there wasn’t much to bolster his case to maintain his drive at Williams next year, making Friday’s confirmation that his contract would not be renewed was an unsurprising announcement.
But the news gives Latifi the chance to now take the next steps in his racing career and offer some closure. His three seasons in F1 may not have delivered the results he wanted, but there were also some extremely difficult circumstances – a hard pill to swallow after so many years of preparing to take the step up and your dream of becoming an F1 become a racing driver.
Latifi joined the F1 grid for 2020 with a significant amount of testing under his belt, both privately and in official sessions, proving in F2 that he had the pace to make the step up. But while Williams found himself still recovering from the disastrous 2019 season, drifting adrift from the rest of the F1 pack, it would always be hard for him to impress.
That’s before you consider the season was complicated by COVID, which delayed 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 start for a rookie.
Latifi’s 2020 F1 debut came after the pandemic pushed the start of the year to July
Photo By: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images
The first breakthroughs came last year when Williams began to find more performance and clung to the back of midfield. The turbulent race in Hungary allowed Latifi to score his first F1 points with seventh place, marking Williams’ first score in more than two years. Russell’s tears may be the most important memory of that day, but Latifi’s efforts were also key. Another run followed at Spa when it started to rain and cut procedures short, leaving him ninth after a solid qualifying on Saturday.
And then Abu Dhabi happened.
The impact of last season’s final on F1 as a whole is well known. But Latifi is sometimes a forgotten man in the story. When the fallout began, he was subjected to 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 driver who simply made a mistake should be subjected to such vicious attacks from online trolls.
Latifi may have tried to move on from Abu Dhabi, but that’s easier said than done. It would have a major mental impact on everyone, no matter how strong they have become in their training as a top athlete. In a recent interview on The High Performance Podcast, Williams F1 boss Jost Capito said he thought the effects of Abu Dhabi had affected Latifi’s form early in the season.
“It was extremely difficult,” Capito said. “Anyone who hasn’t experienced this has no idea what this feels like. Even if you turn off your social media, you still have contact with other people who still see it. You know it’s going on, and you just can’t get away.
“I’m sure it influenced his driving afterwards. I am convinced of this. I can understand that and that’s why we trusted him and supported him all season.”
Latifi was threatened and assaulted after his crash caused the title-defining safety car in Abu Dhabi
Photo By: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images
Latifi’s battle for form compared to his teammate continued even when Russell was replaced by Alex Albon. He was stunned by the car, expressing his frustration after Canada that there was “not really anything fun” about his race on the track. A chassis change at Silverstone gave him the comfort he lacked before, and he hoped Williams would judge him from then on – but when Nyck de Vries reached the points at Monza as a late stand-in, it seemed like the final nail in the coffin for Latifi’s hopes of staying in 2023.
Few can overshadow Latifi’s results over the past three years. But he deserved better than his F1 career becoming a meme of sorts, whether it be jokes that hark back to Abu Dhabi, nicknamed ‘GOATifi’, or joke about some of his qualifying achievements, all in the social media chase.
It is unclear what the future holds for Latifi. He had links with a team in F1 as early as 2018, when he made his practice debut for Force India while still racing in F2. There will now be a big change as he seeks to pursue options in other racing categories. Latifi said back at Zandvoort that he didn’t think much about options outside of F1 until he knew what the future holds for Williams. But hopefully he can join the long list of drivers who, after seeing their Grand Prix careers stall, find success elsewhere, be it in IndyCar or Formula E or sports car racing. There are plenty of options for him.
The focus is now on Latifi enjoying the last few races with Williams, soaking up the experience of racing in F1 and, if he is still looking for some sort of mental reset or relief from the impact of the abuse what he had to deal with after… Abu Dhabi, find that peace of mind.
After all, some things are more important than being an F1 driver.