In 2009, Nicholas Latifi began his racing career at karting. Since 2012, he has participated in many racing series and different competitions: Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge, Toyota Racing Series, Formula 3, Formula Renault 3.5, Porsche Carrera Cup Great Britain, Formula 2, etc. Latifi became the test driver of Renault in Formula 1 in 2016; he was was with them for two years, eventually becoming a reserve driver for Force India (Racing Point), and signing a contract with Williams to be their test and reserve driver in 2019. This year marks a debut season in Formula 1 for Nicholas Latifi as a Formula 1 driver.
Nicholas, this is your debut season in Formula 1, of course you didn’t expect such a start, so how do you feel performing with no fans?
Yeah, it’s definitely different, not how I expected at all. I was a frequent guest at the Formula 1 paddock, because I was a Formula 2 driver in recent years. I have always wanted to be a Formula 1 driver: I have already experienced the atmosphere during a race weekend and winter testing, but when you’re ready for winter testing as a new driver, it’s so different. You can see fans with limited access. The racing now lacks the atmosphere, interactions, energy, but hopefully fans will be back soon enough.
Can you share your expectations for the rest of the season?
Yes, I think for the rest of the season I want to continue to feel the harmony with the car, to speed up for the races. I hope to be more comfortable, more aggressive, and hope to be learning elements so relevant in Formula 1 rather than in Formula 2, for example managing starts in the opening laps. I need to improve in qualifying – not so much in terms of pace, but above all in terms of confidence with the car. Of course, this will come with more experience, and I sincerely hope things will start getting better.
You mentioned Formula 2. What would you say are the biggest differences between cars in F1 and F2?
Yeah, quite a lot of differences, actually. Obviously, an F1 car is very high-speed, larger, more powerful – the engine is so much more powerful! One of the biggest differences is Hybrid Power, and this gives extra boost, especially when you have to push on gas. Power is a big thing, but really the biggest difference between the two cars is about downforce, aerodynamics, the grip of the tires, because downforce is more advanced in Formula 1. When I was testing the Formula 1 car while still being a Formula 2 driver, the main thing was mental preparation for me – you have to constantly remind yourself about the increased power, think about different corner speed, so these are fairly big things for a driver to adapt to.
You took part in virtual Formula 1 races during the lockdown. Did you like it? Is it a good way to train?
Yes, I enjoyed it, for sure. Probably I spent too much time on it, but it was so cool for to interact with fans on Twitch. You can test a lot of tracks this way, and it was a great way to stay sharp mentally, because this game is demanding, much like when you drive in real life. There were six Formula 1 drivers playing, so I really felt the competitive spirit, and that was the most important aspect I think. Definitely, it was an advantage going back into actual races.
The kind of feeling that you have inside: it’s not fear, but it means you’re taking risks; this adrenaline rush makes sense, and because of it I love this sport. Virtual races just don’t have it.
How do people who aren’t used to racing find it to take part in such virtual races?
Well, it’s definitely much harder for people who don’t have the opportunity to understand how driving in real races feels like, however it’s also such a cool way to get involved and to experience a lot of the things that really happen in actual motorsport, especially with something like Esports. Many Formula 1 teams are now involved in other racing series’ games as well. I saw some drivers making this transition, so I think for the future it could be a fairly good way for young drivers to begin racing.
Absolutely. How would you compare the adrenaline levels between real and virtual races?
Well, when you wane be first, you don’t want to make any mistakes, so you kind of feel the same level of adrenaline, which was actually quite a surprise for me. Real races obviously take so much from you physically, but I believe it’s all about the kind of feeling that you have inside: it’s not fear, but it means you’re taking risks; this adrenaline rush makes sense, and because of it I love this sport. Virtual races just don’t have it.
In your opinion, do you think there’s a possibility that Formula 1 might move to the cyber space completely in the future?
You mean electric?
No, just totally virtual.
Totally virtual? No, I don’t think so. I hope no [laughs]. I would be forced to change my career goals if I had to compete in virtual races. I want to spend my time getting titles in real races and enjoy real things much more. So let’s continue to drive in real life!
Agreed! What can you say about the new generation of Formula 1 drivers? What is their main feature?
Obviously, I think the fact that the young generation has arrived to Formula 1 is great for our sport, because you know, in previous years, Lance and Max reached Formula 1 extremely young and teams risked too much when they took such young drivers. But I believe these guys must show their quickest side, just like they did last year when some rookies came into Formula 1. I would say that the main feature of young Formula 1 drivers is their extra motivation. I can’t speak for all drivers, but I feel it for myself for sure.
Got it. Do you have an idol in Formula 1 then?
I’ve never had one specific idol, but I can think of three choices if needed: Michael Schumacher, Fernando Alonso – because he has the reputation of being very quick, and Lewis Hamilton for the same reason.