Montreal-born racing driver Nicholas Latifi has spent nearly half his life climbing the motorsport ladder to Formula One. After first joining Team RBC as an ambassador in 2014, the 2020 season was to be his debut as an F1 driver.
Unfortunately COVID-19 cancellations meant the longest season break in Formula One history. Even so, with a combination of sim racing and training, Latifi managed to stay sharp ahead of his first race in Austria this July.“Unlocking the potential of youth is a priority at RBC and we are proud to support young athletes like racer Nicholas Latifi, at every stage of their career,” says Matt McGlynn, Vice President, Brand Marketing at RBC. “It was exciting to see the talented Canadian make his debut with Formula One at the Austrian Grand Prix. We look forward to cheering him on throughout the 2020 season.”
Listen to this podcast about Nicholas’s unconventional journey into Formula One and determination to stay sharp even with the late start of the 2020 season.
Hello. I’m Jess Shanahan and I caught up with Canadian racing driver Nicolas Latifi, the TV ahead of the first race of the postponed 2020 Formula One season, where he went on to take 11th in his F1 debut.
Formula One is the pinnacle of motor sport. With races taking place around the world, it’s incredibly hard to reach this level of the sport, but those who do make it usually follow a path through the lower championships that showcases their talent and cars similar to those raised in Formula One. But much less powerful and not quite as technologically advanced.
Nicholas progressed quickly from crossing into other single seater to series before making his way to Formula Two, which is the main feeder series for Formula One. It was here he picked up test drives with teams before progressing to F1 this year.
You started out karting later than most — at age 13. What was your route into Formula One from there?
I started out karting in 2009, and basically, yeah. I spent four years in karting. My last year of karting was also my first year in cars, which was 2012. So I had a relatively short stint karting. But like you said, the fact that I started so late after those four years, you’re already kind of at the age, if you want to move the cars and make a career out of it, that’s the age you have to. In reality, I actually probably could have done it a year earlier.
My first car racing championship I competed in was Italian Formula Three, and that was kind of like jumping a step, actually. Still, actually, probably one of my biggest regrets to this day was not spending more time in entry level categories such as a Formula Renault 2.0 or Formula Abarth, which were around at the time. So I spent a few years in Formula Three and the European Formula Three championship. The next year will inform the Renault 3.5, and then for the most of my career, I was in Jeep Two and that turned into the Formula Two, culminating in last year where I finished to win the championship. And along the way, along those years, a formula through obviously having some relations with various Formula One teams.
I had a stint with Renault Force India at the time and then ultimately with Williams — getting some good experience along the way, immersing myself in different team environments, and getting to drive different team Formula One cars.
Yeah, a long, long journey.
Better part of half my life. Yeah, obviously, is to say that we’ve made it to the pinnacle now. And now I’ve just got to prove that I deserve to stay there.
What was the step up from the F2 car like to get to the Formula One car?
To be honest, I always say it’s really too big a step considering that, you know, the Formula Two cars are the fastest cars you can race below Formula One.
I mean more so since Formula One transitioned to their new generation of cars in 2017. They increased the size of the tires — you’re getting more grip. They increased the size of the wings — you’re getting more downforce, more dynamic grip. So from Formula Two last year to the Formula One cars last year, it’s on average about 12 to 13 seconds a lap. Which is, I mean when you’re on track — you’re fighting for tenths and hundredths. So obviously, Formula One is a different category, butthe Formula Two cars aren’t really that slow to begin with. It’s really quite a big jump.
What kept you motivated during this journey? You say that it’s almost half your life. What what kind of kept you going? Kept you pushing forward?
Firstly, my love for what I was doing and my passion for what I was doing. I mean, I kind of really stumbled upon the sport by chance. You know, I didn’t get into it the conventional way, which I would say is, you know, my my dad would have been involved in racing, which is how, you know, a lot of drivers get started. Their father puts them in a kart, or the father has passion — it runs in the family, and that’s how it goes.
Whereas me, really just flew by. I went to a go kart track one time just for fun. And I really liked it and just kind of went from there. I wanted to pursue it. And initially it was kind of more as a hobby, not something I thought to pursue professionally as a career.
But then as I got more more into it, obviously, the passion grew, the love for it, the speed, the adrenaline … you know, being so close off the ground. We see like an inch or two above above the ground, going so fast, the racing wheel-to-wheel — that side of things was really what I loved about it.
So throughout all the years, yeah, as I said — it was a very long journey and there was a lot of very, very difficult moments for sure. We were at a point where I didn’t think it would be possible. Just kind of holding onto that passion … it’s continuing to just work hard and staying focused on the goal.
I knew I wasn’t going to have the normal career path — just kind of staying focused on my job and my desire to achieve the best that I can be, and ultimately achieve my goal, which was — first and foremost — Formula One.
After all the excitement of testing earlier in the year, the first race of the season in Melbourne was unfortunately cancelled. As was the Montreal Grand Prix. And as you can imagine, this hit Nick quite hard as these races would have not only been his debut in Formula One after being a test driver for many years, but the Montreal Grand Prix would have been his first ever home race.
How did you feel when you found out that not only the first race of the season had been canceled, but also your home race in Montreal?
Yeah, I mean, speaking about the first race, obviously that was the first event that happened. And yeah, I mean, it was very strange, to be honest.
It goes without saying — I was extremely excited to make my debut back in March in Melbourne. I mean, there was so much anticipation for myself going into it, so much excitement … to be honest, not so much nerves at that point.
I’m sure once you started driving and got closer to the race date, I’m sure there would be some nerves.
But everything was calm and cool. And obviously, we arrived there and there was a lot of stuff around COVID-19 situation, and basically the night before we were due to drive in the first practice was when I found out we weren’t going to be driving.
It was already kind of a bit — let’s say, eerie — feeling in the paddock, you know, something might happen where the races might be cancelled. It wasn’t ideal because, you know, I working at it so long and spent so many years — not only me, but the team around me. And even the Formula One team, Williams, so much hard work goes over the winter, which always feels like such a long time.
I mean, in reality it’s a very short amount of time. It’s like two and a half months. Maybe you have, between the end of year and the start of the next. And yet and obviously we had to wait quite a bit longer. So in the process, as you mentioned, losing — finding out that a lot of other races are going to be postponed, some cancelled.
I mean, especially when I found out that Montreal was going to be cancelled. That was — I mean — that was always the one race I was most excited to go to.
I mean, I heard the other day that there’s still a chance that they might have an October date for it. So it’s maybe not ruled out 100 per cent, but at the moment it is cancelled.
I’m looking forward to my whole Grand Prix, and thinking of how it would be to race. It has been something I’ve thought quite a lot about on many occasions.
I’ve had the experience to drive there in the free practice sessions the past two years, which was, you know, still one of the highlights of my career —you know, getting to pull out the pit lane in front of your home crowd … kind of feeling the energy of your home crowd. It’s just nothing quite like it.
And especially, I think it’s probably a bit more of an intense feeling for someone in my position — the fact that, all my junior Formula racing has been over in Europe. So, you know, I’m racing a lot of Europeans, that goes without saying.
There’ll be British people, Spanish people, Italian people — and they all have races in their home countries in the junior categories, whether or not they get the Formula One or not. Whereas, I’ve never had a car race in general in my home country — let alone drive a Formula One car in my country. So it’s yeah, it was very special.
This has been one of the longest season breaks ever. Do you think that’s made it more difficult to prepare for your first race?
Well, I kind of just saw this extended time as really an extended pre-season training, let’s say … now I have a two or three month holiday, however long that was from when we when we left Australia. And I couldn’t afford to do that because we weren’t sure if it was only going to be two weeks, three weeks, four weeks.
It turned out to be a few months. But because there were so much so many unknowns, I kind of had to stay ready and stay sharp.
From the sense that we just weren’t able to drive, I would say that for sure has been a negative. Because you go from the pre-season testing in Barcelona at the end of February, and then really you have a two week break before going to Melbourne. So the driving is a bit more fresh in your system, which which is a big part of the preparation — because really don’t get to drive the car so much.
And now it’s been an even longer break without driving. I mean, I know some some drivers and their teams have been able to organize tests in the Formula One cars prior to going into Austria. We haven’t had the luxury to do that at William’s. So from that side of things to driving, it’s it’s definitely made it more difficult.
But from all the other aspects, you know, which are very important, that I’ve doing an insane amount of physical training. I feel from the strength and cardio element, I’ve made some good gains as well.
I guess from the racing side of things, I’ve got it to the esports kind of sector a bit, along with a lot of the other drivers. A lot of us have home simulators. One team is able to invest multiple, multiple millions of dollars to try and get the technology as good as possible — whereas maybe most of us drivers have something that costs a couple thousand dollars — so it’s nowhere near the same.
It’s really is more or a video game, but at least to get the racing and competitive aspect and keep the the mental side of things — which is just as important as the actual technical side of things — keeping that sharp and racing against fellow peers. That’s been good. That’s allowed me to stay sharp.
But if I mean for sure, if I had my way I would have like to have gone straight into the racing, without a doubt.
Now, the season is about to start up again with Austria from the third of July. How are you feeling after the false start to the season?
Yeah, so I guess first and foremost, I’m really hoping that we do actually get to go racing this time. I mean, it looks like everything is on track.
You know, it’s been a lot of stuff going on behind the scenes from Formula One, from the FIA,trying to put in place all the proper infrastructure to get on track. So I am confident that we will get to go. Fingers crossed.
The excitement is still the same as it was before Melbourne — I had to park that excitement for the past few months.
I mean, still, to make to make my debut in something I’ve dreamed of … but as I mentioned earlier, I’ve been working towards that for the better part of half my life.
It’s definitely not been a it’s a conventional build up to the start of the season — I would be lying if I said it feels the exact same as when I was, you know, going into Melbourne and arriving in Melbourne a few days before, and all the preparation.
It kind of doesn’t feel quite the same to anyone of us. It’s not as much excitement — just kind of the whole hype and buildup around that … It kind of seems like it’s going to be a bit more subdued.
Especially the fact that we’re not going to have fans at the race, which is so much of what makes Formula One what it is. It’s part of the little bubble that is, you know, entertaining the fans and things like that. But, yeah, the excitement is still there.
I also think in a way, the way we’re making my debut now and the first race can make it a bit easier for me because I’m driving at a track that I know. Austria’s track — I’ve driven it every year since it’s my first year in racing cars as opposed to Melbourne, where I wouldn’t have known it at all.
You know as well there’s going to be not really any media commitments or partner commitments with sponsors at the track — which really takes up a big amount of your time. So it’s in a way it’s kind of nice right now — it’s a nicer situation to make my debut. I can really just focus on the driving and focus on my work with the team. I don’t have to worry about all this other external stuff that is such a big part of being a Formula One driver.
So what can we expect from you during this shortened, condensed season?
In terms of my my targets and goals, I’m asked about that a lot, especially in the build up to Australia I was asked about that a lot.
And I would say I mean, first and foremost, you know, irrespective of how many races you do win and things like that, the changes that are no doubt going to keep coming to the calendar. In terms of my personal performance, I want to feel that each session, each race, I’m learning something … I’m feeling more comfortable with the car, extracting the potential out of it, being able to get on top of the car when it’s not happening the way I want to … From the actual results point of view, that is obviously more easy to quantify those objectives.
Let’s say it’s a bit difficult to say the same now because we’re still not exactly sure as a team where we are going to be performance wise. I mean, we know we made a big step forward from last year for sure. Everyone’s made a step forward from last year. That’s what happens after after the winter break.
I really do think we have closed the gap, though, compared to where we were.
But whether that’s means we’re still going to be at the back, whether that means where we’re gonna be just on the cusp of the midfield fight … maybe some races be able to sneak into a Q2 … things go our way, maybe grab a point.
I think we’re going to have to just wait and see how the first few rounds pan out and where actually we are. But I think the one thing, irrespective of where we are as a team, is in Formula One you’re always compared to your teammates. So whether you’re consistently finishing first or second because you have the best car, or whether you’re consistently at the back of the best because you have the slowest car, your teammate is always in the same car as you.
I have a very quick teammate in George Russell, so that’s really good reference. And yeah, I want to beat my teammate — that’s an obvious thing.
You always want to beat your teammates. But I’m going to really have to learn from them in the first races. He’s for sure going to have the advantage at the beginning, not being a rookie anymore. And I want to push him as much as possible, fight with them as much as possible and help push the team forward.
With the calendar that’s been announced so far, is there a race that you’re looking forward to in particular?
Right now we have about eight races on the calendar. My favourite track on the calendar from a driving point of view has always been Silverstone. So I’m happy it’s looking like we’re gonna get to go there, which is nice. There are still a few things that have to fall into place I guess, which should be happening over the coming days and weeks.
But looks like we’re going to go there. Silverstone for me — it’s just the nature of the track. There are so many high speed corners — very fast and flowing. In these current generation of Formula One cars, that’s really where you can maximize the potential as well. Circuit de Spa as well, for similar reasons as at Silverstone. So out of the eight so far, those are probably the two.
If you’d like to keep up to date with what Royal Bank of Canada sponsored driver Nicholas is up to visit NicholasLatifi.com. And don’t forget to follow him through the rest of this unique and historical Formula One season.
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