TeamTalk: Does Latifi deserve to be in Formula 1?

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Our tongue in cheek April Fools story ‘reporting’ that Nicholas Latifi was replaced by Nico Rosberg went viral, becoming the most viewed post in this site’s history in terms of traffic and interest on social media.

It must have touched a nerve, because the Facebook stats alone were jaw-dropping, reaching nearly 1.5 million people at time of writing, with 10k likes and 1.6k comments:

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Of course, Latifi will not be demoted or replaced any time soon. He is at Williams largely due to the money he brings to the team, rather than outright merit, through his billionaire father’s Sofina foods empire.

It is not uncommon in Formula 1 for wealthy drivers to have paid their way into a drive at the pinnacle of the sport. Some have been good, even very good, but some were also bad.

Latifi spent three years in Formula 2, before finishing runner-up in 2019 whereupon the money was lashed out to buy him a seat at Williams, as many have done before.

Let’s not forget that Niki Lauda was a pay driver to get into F1. Before he cracked it he had to get a bank loan to race in Formula 2 with March back in 1971. Two decades later Willi Weber convinced Mercedes to pay Jordan for none other than Michael Schumacher to make his Grand Prix debut.

Paying to get to F1 works, but when pay drivers get there, the moment has to be seized and maximized as those two legends did before.

For Latifi’s rookie season in 2020, he teamed up with George Russell, the records showing that after two years together, Latifi was never close to his highly rated younger rival, but then the Englishman is considered a prodigy.

Now with Alex Albon as his teammate, 26-year-old Latifi has nowhere to hide. He at least should match him if not beat him. The Thai driver is making a comeback after being humbled by Max Verstappen when they were teammates at Red Bull.

Albon was King of Karting, but that success did not translate to F1, or at least not at the level of Max Verstappen, the true benchmark driver of this era. So the contest between Latifi and Albon will be an intriguing and telling one.

Nevertheless, Latifi has had two very, very high profile race impacting crashes on his record – Abu Dhabi last year and Saudi Arabia last week – begging the question which we posed to our TeamTalk panel: Does Nicholas Latifi deserve to be in F1?

David Terrien: Just think about F1 without Latifi?

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His crash at Yas Marina a few laps to the end of the 2021 season and his crash in Jeddah last weekend changed the game for the Championship in 2021 and the completion of the race last Sunday in Jeddah.

The answer seems clear and obvious, F1 without Latifi would just be less fun! Is he being paid by the FOM to spice up the game and create content for new episodes of Drive to Survive? Those are the jokes being made on social media.

However, jokes apart, Latifi is not and has never been the rare talent blowing the competition at all levels on his way to F1. He never won a Championship and his race wins have been very few when he spent years in lower classes in good teams and with good cars.

Latifi was never at a level to compete with his very talented teammates such as Alex Albon or Nyck De Vries.

However, he seems to be a nice guy and a very hard worker. He is not arrogant or a troublemaker and seems to get along quite well within the F1 world but is it enough to stay in F1?

Looks like he has an ongoing contract providing him with at least 21 more Grands Prix to improve and prove he deserves his place in F1.

He might also have a deeper impact on F1 since he comes with financial backing, and this is also what Williams needs to get back to the front.

Mazepin’s financial backing is what allowed Hass to survive 2021 while preparing a good car for 2022 and making the 2022 Championship more interesting with one more team performing and fighting in the midfield.

Drivers coming with financial backing have always been necessary to support the sport and help some teams round up their budget. One might argue that there are better drivers out there and I would personally enjoy seeing De Vries in Latifi’s seat.

This would require a big change in the F1 financial system with a better distribution of the money between the teams and maybe more teams involved with more seats available for the pure talents. Right now, I don’t see any reason for him to leave and he still has some time to prove himself until at least the end of the season. – David Terrien.

Mark Kay: Yes, Nicholas Latifi is worthy of an F1 seat

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There are two obligations that any driver needs to fulfill to be qualified to compete in F1: achieve the requirements to obtain an FIA super license, and to have adequate commercial backing for a team to be interested.

Even though Nicholas Latifi spent several years in GP2 and F2, in 2019 he finished second in the Championship having won four races, with the only driver higher in points being the very highly rated Mercedes junior Nyck de Vries, who won four races as well.

Latifi qualified for a super license with flying colours, regardless of whether his commercial backing is derived from family money.

Of course, it may very well be a straightforward observation that Latifi will never be an F1 World Champion, but that observation stands true for the majority of all drivers that ever make it to the F1 grid.

Nevertheless, Latifi has come under increasing public scrutiny because of his high profile safety car-causing accident at the 2021 season finale at Abu Dhabi that we will all never forget, and most recently at Jeddah in the last race.

Yet, in the broader scheme of things, it hardly seems fair to me to make a judgement on Latifi’s worthiness to compete in F1 based on these incidents in isolation.

It would be a fairer measure to consider that in the two seasons of 2020 and 2021 that Latifi was partnered with the very highly-rated George Russell, both drivers failing to finish a Grand Prix due to collision damage five times each.

Having access to money has been a necessity in F1 since the days of its inception, regardless of the driver. Ayrton Senna came from a wealthy family, Michael Schumacher had a manager with commercial connections to money, and Lewis Hamilton was fortunate enough to have been scouted by a team owner (Ron Dennis) who made sure that he need not worry about money again in his career progression.

Yes, Nicholas Latifi is worthy of an F1 seat: he has a super license, sufficient commercial backing, and is keeping it out of the wall often enough to belong. – Mark Kay

Jad Mallak: Latifi simply isn’t showing enough flare to be in F1

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For me, the ugly truth is that Nicholas Latifi has not added any value to Williams other than the money his father brings in through Sofina, but in terms of showing his worth as a driver, he has done little of that.

To his credit, he entered F1 in a back-marker car, and remained their ever since. His first teammate George Russell was as tough as teammates can get, but this year, Latifi has to contend with a rusty Alex Albon who was on the F1 sidelines for a year, while never impressing during his Red Bull days as well. Albon has been the better of the Williams pair this year so far. That doesn’t bode well for the Canadian.

Over the course of his short F1 career, Latifi was anonymous on track, and only getting into the spotlight for the wrong reasons, as was the case with his safety car-inducing crash at the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, after which he was unrightfully bullied on social media, a horrible situation to be in for the Williams driver.

With so many talented and deserving drivers unable to secure an F1 seat, it seems unfair to me, that drivers like Nicholas Latifi are occupying a seat just to make up the numbers. But then, pay drivers are a reality in F1, and have always been – despite some being immensely talented, the great Niki Lauda is an example.

Nothing personal against Latifi, as he comes about as a nice and friendly young gentleman, but from a sporting perspective, he simply isn’t showing enough flare to be in F1. – Jad Mallak

Paul Velasco: Latifi must shape up or ship out

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I have always had an idyllic view of what Formula 1 should be. The best teams, with the best engineers, best tyres, best fuels, best sponsors and of course the best drivers.

Thus, in this age of ten teams in the top flight, there are places for 20 drivers, and in that Ideal F1 World they should be the top twenty.

But that will never happen and has never been the case. Money has always talked in F1, and buying a seat is the business model the sport has embraced since the days Frank Williams used to peddle race seats in his cars in the mid-seventies before he cracked the big time.

Throwing away the utopian dream of F1 for the best 20 drivers on the planet, I accept that drivers with money and, more so, no money that make it into F1 are heroes. Just getting there earns them huge respect, as the journey to the top is tough and challenging even if Daddy has an endless bank balance.

But once the money has opened the door that might not have been, the Rich Kid should deliver and if within a couple of seasons he is not good, the Latifi family should sit their son down and say to him: we love you son, but you just are not good enough for F1. And we don’t want you to hurt yourself.

While it might not be quite there just yet for Nicky, it would be cruel and perhaps premature to send him packing after the Jeddah shunt. But he is running out of jokers and cannot afford to keep on crashing so much, for his own good too.

If he does not start matching (and actually beating) Albon from the next race on in Melbourne, and keep it up for the rest of the season, Latifi should do some soul searching and do the right thing. And the more he crashes the closer he gets to the exit door.

In the pecking order of drivers deserving a crack at F1, I can think of at least 30 or 40 ahead of Latifi in the queue of drivers who deserve a shot. Formula E is packed with them: Oliver Turvey, Robin Frijns, Nyck de Vries, Sam Bird, Edoardo Mortara, António Félix da Costa,  Oliver Rowland, and André Lotterer.

Too many F2 young guns have nowhere to go after excelling in the feeder series. Oscar Piastri and Robert Shwartzman should be F1 drivers but have been denied places in F1 because there are simply no more seats.

In a nutshell: Latifi must shape up or ship out. I rest my case.

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