Why Latifi’s F1 career deserved better than becoming an internet meme

As early as late spring, when rumors of Alpine’s plan to place Oscar Piastri at Williams for next year first surfaced, the writing seemed to be on the wall for Latifi.

His struggles on the track meant there wasn’t much to bolster his case for keeping his ride at Williams next year, making Friday’s confirmation that his contract would not be renewed an unsurprising announcement.

But the news gives Latifi the chance to take the next steps in his racing career now and offer a degree. His three seasons in F1 may not have produced the results he wanted, but they have also brought with them some extremely difficult circumstances – a hard pill to take after so many years of preparing to step up and achieve your dream , to become an F1 driver has to swallow hard.

Latifi joined the F1 2020 grid with a significant body of testing, conducted both privately and in official sessions, proving in F2 he had the pace to make the step up. But with Williams still recovering from a disastrous 2019 season and left behind by the rest of the F1 pack, he would always find it difficult to make a difference.

That’s before you consider the season complicated by COVID, delaying his debut until July and the fact that Latifi had talent like George Russell to contend with in the garage. It wasn’t an easy starting position for a rookie.

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Latifi's 2020 F1 debut came after the pandemic pushed the start of the year back to July

Latifi’s 2020 F1 debut came after the pandemic pushed the start of the year back to July

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

The first breakthroughs came last year as Williams began to find more power and re-attach to the end of midfield. The upside-down race in Hungary allowed Latifi to pick up his first F1 points with seventh place, marking Williams’ first result in more than two years. Russell’s tears may be the overwhelming memory of that day, but Latifi’s efforts were also crucial. Another point followed at Spa when the rain came and proceedings were called off, giving him ninth place after a solid qualifying session on Saturday.

And then Abu Dhabi happened.

The impact of last season’s finale on Formula 1 as a whole is well known. But Latifi is sometimes a forgotten man in history. As the aftermath began, he faced ridiculous accusations, verbal abuse, and even death threats, the severity of which made him fear for his own safety. It was disgusting to imagine that a racer who simply made a mistake would have to face such vicious attacks from online trolls.

Latifi may have been working towards leaving Abu Dhabi, but that’s easier said than done. It would have a huge mental impact on anyone, no matter how strong they have become in their training as a top athlete. In a recent interview with The High Performance Podcast, Williams F1 boss Jost Capito said he thinks the impact of Abu Dhabi affected Latifi’s form earlier in the season.

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“It was extremely tough,” said Capito. “Anyone who hasn’t been through that has no idea what that feels like. Even if you turn off your social media, you are in touch with other people who still see it. You know it’s going on and you just can’t get away with it.

“I’m sure it affected his driving afterwards. I am convinced of that. I can understand that, that’s why we put our trust in him and supported him throughout the season.”

Latifi faced threats and abuse after his fall caused the title-winning safety car in Abu Dhabi

Latifi faced threats and abuse after his fall caused the title-winning safety car in Abu Dhabi

Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Pictures

Latifi’s struggle for form versus his teammate continued even as Russell was replaced by Alex Albon. He was stunned by the car and vented his frustration to Canada that his race at the track was “not really enjoyable”. A chassis change at Silverstone gave him the comfort he’d previously lacked and he hoped Williams would judge him from there – but when Nyck de Vries scored points at Monza as a late reserve driver it seemed the final nail in the face his coffin for Latifi’s hopes of staying until 2023.

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Few can gloss over Latifi’s results over the past three years. But he deserved better than his F1 career becoming something of a meme, be it jokes harking back to Abu Dhabi, the ‘GOATifi’ moniker, or poking fun at some of his qualifying performances, all on the hunt by social media influence.

It’s unclear what the future holds for Latifi. He had ties to a team in F1 back in 2018 when he made his practice debut for Force India while still racing in F2. A big shift will now follow as he looks for options in other racing categories. Latifi said at Zandvoort he didn’t give much thought to options outside of F1 until he knew what the future held with Williams. But hopefully he can join the long list of drivers who are finding success elsewhere after their Grand Prix careers have stalled, whether it’s IndyCar, Formula E or sportscar racing. There are many options for him.

The focus will now be on Latifi enjoying the last few races with Williams, soaking up the experience of racing in Formula 1 and, if he’s still after some kind of mental reset or relief due to the effects of the abuse he’s been subjected to seeks. Abu Dhabi, find that peace of mind.

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

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