Why Latifi’s career in Formula One is better than becoming an online meme

Back in late spring, when the first grumblings of Albin’s plan to appoint an Oscar Piastre at Williams for next year began to surface, writing seemed like it was on the wall to Latifi.

His struggles on the right track mean there hasn’t been a great deal to bolster his case to maintain his leadership at Williams next year, making Friday’s confirmation that he will not extend his contract an unsurprising announcement.

But the news now gives Latifi the opportunity to take the next steps in his racing career and deliver some conclusion. His three seasons in F1 may not have produced the results he wanted, but they also involved some very challenging circumstances – a hard pill to swallow after so many years of preparing to make the move and fulfill your dream of being an F1 driver.

Latifi joined the Formula 1 grid for 2020 with a wealth of testing under his belt, whether conducted in private or in official sessions, and he proved in F2 that he had the speed to make the move. However, as Williams found himself still recovering from the disastrous 2019 season, and snapped apart from the rest of the Formula One group, it was always difficult for him to make an impact.

That’s before you consider that the season has been complicated by COVID, delaying his debut until July, and the fact that Latif had a talent like George Russell to handle it through the garage. It wasn’t an easy starting point for a novice.

Latifi's 2020 Formula 1 debut came after the pandemic pushed the start of the year into July

Latifi’s 2020 Formula 1 debut came after the pandemic pushed the start of the year into July

Photography: Stephen T. / motorsports pictures

The first hits arrived last year when Williams started to pull off more performances, returning to the back of the midfield. The upside down race in Hungary allowed Latifi to snatch his first points in Formula One with seventh place, marking the first result that Williams has achieved in more than two years. Russell’s tears may be the overriding memory of that day, but Latifi’s efforts were also key. He was followed by another point at Spa when rain rained down and halted proceedings, putting him in ninth place after a strong qualifying Saturday.

Then Abu Dhabi happened.

The impact of the end of last season on Formula One as a whole is well known. But Latifi is sometimes a forgotten man in the story. As the fallout begins, he finds himself exposed to ridiculous accusations, abuse, and even death threats, which leave him fearing for his safety. It was disgusting 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 on trying to move from Abu Dhabi, but that’s easier said than done. It would have a huge mental impact on anyone, no matter how strong they were in their training as an elite athlete. In a recent interview on The High Performance Podcast, Williams F1 boss Joost Capito said he believed the influences of Abu Dhabi made a nice dent in the start of the season.

“It was very difficult,” Capito said. “Anyone who hasn’t gone through this has no idea how this feels. Even if you turn off your social media, you’re in touch with other people who are still watching. You know it’s happening, and you can’t turn away.”

“I am sure it affected his driving after that. I am convinced of that. I can understand that, which is why we have given him confidence and supported him throughout the season.”

Latifi was threatened and abused after her crash led to the title of Abu Dhabi Safety Car

Latifi was threatened and abused after her crash led to the title of Abu Dhabi Safety Car

Photography: Glenn Dunbar / motorsports pictures

Latife’s level-headed struggle against his teammate continued even when Russell was replaced by Alex Albon. The car left him confused, as he vented his frustration after Canada because “there was nothing really fun” about racing on the track. The chassis change at Silverstone gave him relief he previously lacked, and he’s been hoping Williams will judge him ever since – but when Nick de Vries hit the points at Monza late, it looked like the final nail in the coffin for Latifi’s survival hopes for 2023.

Few can temper Latifi’s results in the past three years. But he deserved better than his F1 career becoming something of a meme, whether it was jokes going back to Abu Dhabi, the nickname “GOATifi”, or making fun of some of his qualifying performances all in the search for social media influence.

It’s unclear what the future holds for Spectrum. He has enjoyed links with a team in F1 since 2018, when he made his debut with Force India while still racing in F2. A big change will now follow if he looks to pursue options in other racing categories. Latifi said at Zandvoort he hasn’t given much thought to options outside of Formula One until he knows what the future with Williams holds. But I hope he can join the long list of drivers who, after seeing their Grand Prix pitstop, continue to enjoy success elsewhere, be it IndyCar, Formula E or sports car racing. There are a lot of options available to him.

The focus will now be on Latifi to enjoy the last few races with Williams, enjoy the experience of racing in Formula 1, and if he is still chasing some kind of mental reconditioning or relief due to the impact of the abuse he faced after- Abu Dhabi, find peace of mind.

After all, few things are more important than being an F1 driver.

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