The 2019 FIA Formula 2 Vice-Champion Nicholas Latifi took some time out to chat with Sports Pundit and answer some questions on his new role as an official Formula One driver with ROKiT Williams Racing for 2020.
The Canadian driver reflected on his road to Formula One, shared a word of advice for young drivers struggling in the pursuit of their dream, and gave us an insight into how he prepares physically and mentally for the upcoming season.
A CHAPTER CLOSES AND A NEW ONE OPENS
Last month, Latifi concluded a four-year chapter in Formula 2 as a works driver with DAMS achieving his best results in the series. He won four races and finished 52 points behind the 2019 series champion Nyck de Vries.
A two-month gap separated the F2 venue in Sochi from the season grand finale in Abu Dhabi by the end of November.
SP: Two months away from a F2 car, then back at work in Abu Dhabi and a few days later, your first day (Pirelli tyre test) as an official Formula One race driver with ROKiT Williams Racing.
How does a racing driver prepare mentally to change focus in such a special moment?
NL: “To be honest, I did not spend a lot of time preparing myself to mentally switch focus, because all those two months, the focus was solely on F2 and finishing off the championship strong, trying to maintain the P2.
“I did have some F1 outings in that time, but still, the goal was at F2 and the whole weekend, even with the announcement, the focus, the priority was up at F2. Once that weekend was done, on Sunday after the race at night, I was kind of able to take it all in and say, okay this is done now, kind of close that chapter in my career and the next day Monday on track starting the job as an official driver for Williams.
That is when the preparations would slowly start for the tyre test that I took part in two days later, on Wednesday, there wasn’t much preparation beforehand just because I could not afford to take the focus off.”
The twenty-four years old began his racing career in karting at the age of thirteen. He then moved on to compete in different European racing series, and in 2016 he launched his first role in F1 as a test driver for Renault.
In 2018 Latifi would be confirmed as reserve driver with Force India, renamed in 2019 as Racing Point F1 Team, home for his fellow Canadian Lance Stroll.
This year, along with his commitments to F2, he added a new role as Williams test and reserve driver, being announced by the end of the season as an official driver with the Grove-based team.
SP: You said, and I quote: “I felt Monday was my first proper day as a Formula 1 race driver.” “All the hard work had been worth it.”
In your journey to F1, was there ever a moment you thought you might not make it?
NL: “Yes, I think there were moments when I had those thoughts. Probably if you ask any driver who has ever made it to F1 or currently in F1, they would probably say the same thing.
Most recently for me, it was last year, the 2018 season, it was a very difficult one.”
The Quebecer addressed the fact of having been open about the struggles he had to face and pointed out questioning himself at that difficult times, on whether he would be able to get back on top of the grid, where he knew he deserved to be.
“That was probably the most recent one but just speaking in general throughout when I first started, for sure, in karting, you are such a young age, the goal, the dream I say would be F1 but that is so far in the future, and I started when I was thirteen. Its been twelve years since then, there is no way you can think that further way in the future, what exactly will happen, all the bumps along the way, the highs, the lows.
There were definitely many moments where I was not sure if it would be possible, but most notably, I would say it was last season.”
SP: In that regard, what would you say to young drivers struggling to keep up with their dream to become a professional racing driver?
NL: “If you find yourself in a situation where you are struggling with any aspects of it, I would just say to really hold on to the passion of the racing. It is probably why you started in the first place; remember why you love it, and just keep working hard.
“For me, if there is one thing that I have learned with Dams in my past four years with them, it is something that my team principal always kept hammering into me from the start, “hard work will never go unrewarded.”
“There can always be difficult times, but if you work hard, the results should come.”
Latifi will partner British driver George Russell next season while two-time Macau Grand Prix winner, twenty-year-old Dan Ticktum, joins Williams Racing Driver Academy in the role of Development Driver.
WHEN CAR AND DRIVER BECOME ONE
To drive at the pinnacle of motorsport is a mental and physical challenge. Drivers are athletes with specific routines in the gym, and endurance-based training, designed to push them to the limit.
They have to be ready to face what they will go through in the car, like the high levels of gravitational forces, among other key aspects.
SP: Comparing to F2, how does the physical preparation change to drive a Formula One car?
NL: “A lot of my training will remain similar. There will be some little adjustments now that I am in Formula One, the major thing is the races are longer. They can be anywhere from an hour and a half to two hours, almost double the distance of a F2 race; there will be longer cardio sessions to help cope with that.”
The Canadian also explained that he will work on being a little bit lighter according to the overall weight requirement in Formula One.Furthermore, he highlighted the importance of upping the neck training.
“I would say the biggest thing is the increasing amount of G (gravitational force) that you have now in F1, most notably on the neck.”
“Already this year, I was doing quite a lot more neck training than normal, just to try and give myself a head start if the opportunity came up. I was constantly trying to improve that area, that is going to be the big focus, adding the whole trunk core lower back.
Especially, being a tall driver, it is very important to be able to resist the Gs, maintain a stable position, and a comfortable feeling while driving in the race.”
ONTO NEXT SEASON
SP: All teams now have announced their driver’s line-up to next season, how do you picture 2020?
NL: “Specifically, from my side, it is a bit difficult to say at the moment, for sure, there are going to be a lot of unknowns.
Im going to take some time to reflect on this season, first and foremost.
Probably at the beginning of the new year, sit down with Williams, the team, the engineers, the management, my personal team, and set out some goals, performance targets, because I think those are important to have.
“In terms of the goal aspect we are not sure where we are going to be as a team, were optimistic it would be a step forward, how much forward, we have to wait until Qualifying in Melbourne.
“From a general overview, the same top teams will be the competitive ones, the big three teams, the midfield battle will probably have closed up even more as it tends to do, so hopefully, we as a team (Williams), can get closer to that fight.”
Early this month, Latifi drove the Williams FW42 in post-season testing at the Yas Marina circuit in Abu Dhabi.
“The testing in Abu Dhabi was a specific test, it is a tyre test. We were evaluating different tyres to see how they react to different warm-up procedures. In the end, it’s been announced we are going to keep the 2019 tyres, and not use the 2020 tyres.
All drivers, including me, were running for the most part on tyres that were not going to use next year (laughs), but we were able to run amazing miles and plenty of laps.”
“For me, everything is looking and feeling very positive heading into next season.”
The outing marked his first day in the car as an official F1 race driver, a special moment, a memory for a lifetime.