Three seasons in Formula 1, but Nicholas Latifi will be remembered for one moment. His crash last year in the final race in Abu Dhabi launched Max Verstappen and not Lewis Hamilton to the world title. The Canadian would never get over the hate messages and death threats. He will disappear from F1 next year.
5 more laps to go and the 8th world title was in. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) seemed to have finally settled with title rival Max Verstappen (Red Bull) in Abu Dhabi. Only an intervention by the safety car could throw a spanner in the works…
And just then Nicholas Latifi crashed into the tire wall, after a duel with Mick Schumacher. The start of the dramatic denouement of the title fight in 2021. Verstappen got a great chance at his first world title and struck mercilessly.
Race director Michael Masi was butter on his head for a dubious decision, but Latifi was also the target of seething Lewis Hamilton fans, who saw the Briton “robbed” of his 8th crown.
Latifi immediately deleted Twitter and Instagram from his phone, but a torrent of hate messages and death threats managed to reach the Canadian.
It got so bad that Latifi hired bodyguards. “Some may laugh because this seems excessive, but I take the death threats very seriously,” he said.
The fact that I already felt it would be better to delete Instagram and Twitter says a lot about how cruel the online world can be.
How bad the last months of 2021 were for Latifi, was apparent from an open letter that the Canadian published on its website. “The extreme tone of the hate messages and death threats shocked me,” he wrote.
“The fact that I already felt it would be better to delete Instagram and Twitter says a lot about how cruel the online world can be. The threats didn’t come as a surprise, it’s just the harsh reality of the world.”
Yet Latifi also received support from unexpected quarters. Lewis Hamilton supported him with a message and other members of Mercedes did not blame him either.
With the new season in sight, Latifi stated that he had “put the drama behind him”. “I think when the season starts, people will be talking about something else.”
But doubts still gnawed at the Canadian, who hadn’t had much credit after his first season as a rookie.
Latifi had ended up in the premier class as vice champion of Formula 2 in 2020, but Williams had mainly opted for his father’s thick portfolio. Billionaire Michael Latifi pumped a lot of money into the ailing team as a sponsor.
With top talent George Russell as a teammate, Latifi was already in the shadows before his F1 debut. The fact that he also ended up in a bad car, set slow times and regularly went off the track, did not help his image.
Latifi was jokingly nicknamed GOATifi, a sarcastic reference to “The Greatest of All Time”. In his second season, Latifi was able to score points in Hungary and (the short race) in Belgium, but his crash in the closing race in Abu Dhabi left a devastating dent in his image. Latifi became more famous as an internet meme than as an F1 driver.
Credit used up
With Alex Albon as a new teammate at Williams, Latifi had to come out more this season, but the Canadian, unlike the Thai, was unable to collect points.
The fact that Nyck de Vries, who replaced the sick Albon in Monza, could immediately pick up points, was significant. It was already clear then: in 2023 Latifi would no longer drive for Williams.
Team boss Jost Capito could long invoke the aftermath of the crash in Abu Dhabi as a mitigating circumstance, but those excuses also hit a limit. “We never blame a rider for a crash,” Capito said in a podcast.
“I think that crash is one of the reasons why he wasn’t immediately competitive this season. I’m sure it affected his performance. That’s why we supported him all season.”
But the credit was used up. Williams will not continue with Latifi next season. Nyck de Vries is high on the wish list and F2 driver Logan Sargeant also seems to be a contender.
Three seasons in Formula 1, but Nicholas Latifi will be remembered forever for one moment. His crash at the Abu Dhabi GP last year launched Max Verstappen and not Lewis Hamilton to the world title. The Canadian would never get over the negative reactions and death threats. He will disappear from F1 next year.