Nicholas Latifi is shifting gears

Revisit our 2020 interview with the only rookie of Formula One's last season...

You’ve got to feel for Nicholas Latifi. You really do. Because, all things considered, 2020 was really shaping up to be his year. Back in the heady heights of January — when the rest of us were nursing New Year’s hangovers and writing down resolutions we’d never keep — the young Canadian was steeling himself for the debut of a lifetime.

He’d just inked a new contract; to race for Williams in this year’s Formula One World Championship. He’d snagged the rare and covetable title of ‘sole newcomer’ on this year’s grid. And he had, we can only imagine, picked up his race suit from the dry cleaners and hung it proudly on the back of his bedroom door. He could probably already hear the crowds in his head: Latifi! Latifi! Latifi!

But the crowds never came — not through any fault of Latifi’s, of course. March arrived and the world locked down. The Canadian, along with his fellow Formula One racers, were left adrift in Australia. He had no race to run, no fans to win, and no chance of taking a shower in a spray of expensive champagne. The brakes, as it were, had been slammed on.

“For sure, it was disappointing!” says Latifi. “But, you know, it’s the same situation for everyone. I’ve just been trying to stay sharp. I’ve been doing a lot of physical training, I’ve been getting into eSports, and home simulator driving. And it feels like quite a long time now since I got home from Melbourne.”

“For sure, it was disappointing!”

Latifi, whose breakneck talent was first recognised at a Toronto go-karting track in 2009, seemed fairly unfazed by the whole hold-up when we spoke to him in May. He even laughed off a suggestion that the delay was making him more anxious for the season ahead. But then Nicholas Latifi, the racer makes clear, is not a man who suffers from nerves.

“They’re not really something that are a factor for me,” he continues confidently. “I’ve always said I’ll be going into Formula One as a rookie. Of course, there are always going to be lots of unknowns, just because there’s so much to learn. But I’m very much looking forward to it. The fact that I’ve been part of other Formula 1 teams in previous years has definitely helped me feel more prepared.”

For the last several seasons, Latifi has indeed cut his teeth as a test driver for teams including Renault and Force India. Last year, he raced reserve for Williams. But now, with his foot in the door and his car on the grid, he’s ready to make a name for himself amidst the big boys. Although, as Latifi points out, he’s practically one of the big boys already; staggeringly, eight of his fellow drivers are younger than his 24 years.

“There’s a clear trend of the newer generation being younger than what they were in the past,” Latifi acknowledges, “but most of these guys were first put in a kart at around four-years-old. I first sat in a kart at 12, and began racing at 13.”

And he’s had quite the career already. The Canadian raced in Formula 2, Formula 3, the GP2 Series and the Porsche Carrera Cup before joining the motorsport monolith that is Formula 1. And, with his inaugural season just getting back underway, 2020 could be Latifi’s year yet.

“If nothing else,” the racer reasons, “I think I can confidently say that my rookie year in Formula 1 isn’t going to be your generic entrance.”

Want more Formula One? Read our latest cover interview with World Champion Lewis Hamilton here…

This article was taken from the Summer Issue of Gentleman’s Journal. Subscribe here…

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