While it’s obvious that George Russell is the start driver at the Williams team, second driver Nicholas Latifi is making a strong case for the first driver promotion once Russell leaves the team. I know what people are going to say, “Oh Latifi is a pay driver, just like Mazepin” and before leaving those comments, read the peace and hear me out.
Canadian heritage aside, when I read that Latifi was taking over the second Williams seat last year I thought: “who?” Before this announcement I didn’t really know much about the guy, aside from the fact he was Canadian and his dad owned my favorite childhood brand of chicken fingers. However, looking over his F2 days made a strong case as to why Latifi is an F1 worthy talent.
Making the most of his four years at DAMS, scoring 6 wins and a runner-up points finish in 2019 Latifi put up F1 caliber numbers. Four wins, four additional podiums and a second place to Nyck De Vries isn’t a bad outing. While it was expected that De Vries would move up, the Williams Racing financial issues paved the way for Latifi to make the jump with his dad Michael putting up the money.
I know everyone hates pay drivers, but between the Lavazza/ Chicken money and the buyout from Dorilton Capital it really helped stabilize Williams and is helping them rise up through the grid. But back to Latifi, in his debut in F1 at Austria he would place 11th. While most of that was due to attrition up the grid, he still had to finish the race and not crash out by himself. Narrowly missing the points, he would score two more 11th places in Imola and Monza as well as a fantastic Q2 effort at Hungary. In fact, Latifi was leading teammate Russell in the standings before his one-off appearance with Mercedes broke the streak.
Latifi has never finished a race in 20th, and rarely DNFs from his own driver mistake. While he might spin, he doesn’t make a spectacle of it like the Mazepins and Maldonados of the world. Latifi is quietly improving, and he showed that with another Q2 effort this year in Imola where he qualified his career best p14. While his race last all of 30 seconds, the young Canadian is showing every week that he is getting better on track. I can’t harp on him to much as even Lewis Hamilton couldn’t do well in a 2021 Williams, but for what he is given he usually never finishes last, 19th maybe but never dead last (excluding retirements).
There have been rumours going around that Latifi is linked to a future drive with McLaren, most likely after Ricciardo calls it quits. Latifi’s dad Michael purchased a 10% stake in the McLaren Automotive Group and could possibly use his “pull” to get his son in that second McLaren seat. While I give this a 10% chance of happening, I would love to see Latifi get a shot in a higher funded and faster ride. You can only do much from the back of the grid, as we found out in Sakhir with George Russell at Mercedes.
I like to call Latifi “quietly average”, wile he isn’t the fastest car by far on track he is usually the least talked about next to Antonio Giovanazzi. Latifi is an underrated guy similar to his countryman Lance Stroll, as both of these guys had good success in juniors but struggled in their first season in F1. Stroll has shown was he can do in a fast car, so why couldn’t Latifi? I’d kill to see him get a chance in a McLaren in 2023 or 2024, and while unlikely still sounds awesome.
As Latifi continues to improve, I think his first F1 points will come at come point this season. Who knows what will happen, but both Canada and the world will be watching.