For the last three seasons, Lance Stroll has been the only Canadian on the Formula 1 grid. This will change in 2020 as he will be joined by Nicholas Latifi who is due to race for Williams in the coming season.
There are some similarities between the two, one being their substantial family backing with Latifi’s backing coming from his father who is the founder of Sofina Foods Inc which include brands such as Lavazza, Latifi’s father has also invested in the McLaren Group.
Nicholas Latifi’s junior career is however longer than Lance Stroll’s, with Latifi having been in junior single seaters since 2012 with his final season coming in 2019 where he was competing in FIA Formula 2. Stroll’s junior single seater career is five seasons shorter, although he did win two junior championships in that time compared to Latifi’s zero.
Despite this Latifi enters the sport at the age of twenty four compared to Stroll who entered when he was eighteen. Therefore despite the lack of junior formula success Latifi has had more time in single seaters before making a jump into a premier category such as Formula 1.
A final comparison that can be made is the state of Williams at the time of debut, with Williams having come off the back of three relatively strong seasons by the time Stroll made his debut in 2017, however Latifi will enter a team in a very different situation where Williams have struggled in the last two seasons.
All of the above edges the perception of Nicholas Latifi as a driver who is mainly in Formula 1 to help Williams with a financial shortfall, rather than due to his talent. This perception is especially not helped with the lack of junior championship success, with his highest finish coming in 2019 in FIA Formula 2 where he finished runner-up.
Latifi isn’t the first Williams driver required to have financial backing with Stroll and Sergey Sirotkin both having had to bring budget in order to secure a Williams seat. It is also worth pointing out that Robert Kubica also needed to bring a budget in order to secure his 2019 seat, having missed out on a 2018 seat due in part to Sirotkin’s backers offering more money.
Despite these issues there is a great opportunity for Latifi to change this perception very quickly by having George Russell as his teammate. The Briton having been successful in junior formula winning the BRDC Formula 4 championship in 2014, finishing third in the FIA Formula 3 European Championship in 2016 before going on to win GP3 in 2017 and then FIA Formula 2 in 2018.
Although it was difficult for Russell to impress in his maiden Formula 1 season, he did impress those inside Williams as well as others outside the team who follow closely with comparisons being made of his 2019 season with that of Fernando Alonso’s 2001 debut season with backmarker team, Minardi.
By having a teammate with such a record in junior formula and already with a positive reputation in Formula 1, when Latifi does beat Russell whether in qualifying and/or the race, it will aide him in cementing his place in the sport and helping to show he is there on talent rather than solely due to his financial backing.
Having Russell as a benchmark is good for Latifi but he would have been helped if he wasn’t the only driver making his debut in Formula 1 in 2020. It could be argued that what in part helped Alexander Albon and Lando Norris during 2019 is that they had a fellow rookie on the grid which fans and other observers could compare them to, rather than struggling to find an equivalent driver to benchmark them against, resorting to solely comparing them to their teammate.
Most importantly for Latifi is the need to have a competitive car to drive. The Williams in 2020 doesn’t need to be a consistent points scorer for Latifi to impress, but it does need to be able to be a potential point scorer often enough to allow Latifi to show his talent and for observers to see how much influence he can have when it comes to scoring or not scoring points on a given race weekend.
It is always exciting when a Formula 1 season contains a rookie or two and with hopefully a competitive Williams car the internal battle between Russell and Latifi could make headlines during the season. This is likely to be the best area for Latifi to impress in the coming season with no fellow rookie on the 2020 grid.