Why 2021 is a big year for Nicholas Latifi
As the Williams driver enters his second year in F1, he will need to be closer to his teammate to silence the critics.
2021 will be a crucial year for Nicholas Latifi if he is to have a long-term future in F1.
The Canadian driver was the only rookie on last year's grid, in what was another challenging year for Williams. In the standings, he finished bottom out of all the full-time drivers.
He was well beaten by teammate George Russell, who made it out of Q1 on 10 occasions, although one of these was in the Mercedes at the Sahkir Grand Prix - Latifi was eliminated in Q1 at every grand prix. The Mercedes junior driver also whitewashed the rookie 17-0 on Saturdays.
While Russell is incredibly talented and tipped to become a future World Champion, Latifi never looked like challenging the Brit during his debut season, which is something he puts down to Russell's ability to adapt to the car.
“I think our car is maybe a bit more sensitive to not naturally how I’d like to drive, which is pushing the entries and really attacking the corners on the brakes," Latifi told The Race.
“That’s maybe been a bit of a struggle at some times, reminding myself ‘don’t do that, you have to drive more in this way’. It’s clearly been something George has been able to adapt to a bit better than me."
Latifi did outqualifying a teammate once this year, beating Jack Aitken at the Sahkir Grand Prix. Credit: Formula Spy
Sundays were better for the rookie. He almost scored points at his first ever F1 race, finishing 11th after a bonkers season opener in Austria; a position he'd also finish in at Monza and Imola.
Latifi was often able to keep himself out of trouble, with only his DNF at the Turkish Grand Prix being the only time he didn't see the chequered flag due to his own error - after a clash with Romain Grosjean. Yet he was very prone to a spin in free practice and made a large rookie error during qualifying at Abu Dhabi, spinning before he began his flying lap.
Some of the Canadian's mistakes can be put down to his inexperience and that he entered the sport during one of the most difficult years in F1 history, due to the pandemic. But these issues weren't all just spins or on-track collisions, he just seemed to lack raw pace.
A lot of controversy surrounded Latifi's appointment for 2020, with some fans claiming he was another pay driver. The 25-year-old's father Michael Latifi is the owner of Sofina, a key sponsor of the Williams team.
Also, Latifi's junior career wasn't the strongest, with no major achievements to note, although he did finish as the F2 runner up in 2019 - winning four races.
Latifi finished behind the eventual 2019 champion, Nyck de Vries. Credit: Formula Scout
Williams have retained the same driver line up for this season. Latifi needs to take the fight to Russell, especially on Saturdays, if he is to silence his doubters.
With new regulations planned for 2022, a strong season for the former Dams driver should see him on the grid next year, when the field promises to be more competitive.