Why did Latifi’s Formula 1 career deserve better than becoming an internet meme?

Back in late summer, when the first rumblings of Alpine’s plan to put Oscar Piastri at Williams next year began to emerge, the writing appeared to be on the wall for Latifi.

His struggles on the track prompted a surprise announcement on Friday that he confirmed his contract would not be renewed, with no huge sum to bolster his case to keep his driver at Williams next year.

But the news gives Latifi a chance to take the next steps in his racing career and offer some closure. His three seasons in Formula 1 may not have brought him the results he wanted, but they also involved extremely difficult situations – a tough pill to swallow once you’re ready to step up and make your dream of becoming an F1 driver come true. .

Latifi joined the F1 grid for 2020 with a significant amount of testing in both private and official sessions, proving he has the pace to step up to F2. However, it was always going to be difficult to impress Williams as they were still recovering from a disastrous 2019 season, pulling away from the rest of the Formula 1 pack.

Before you consider that the season has been complicated by COVID, delayed his debut until July and Latifi has a talent like George Russell in the garage. It was not an easy starting point for beginners.

Latifi’s 2020 F1 debut comes after the pandemic pushed the start of the year to July.

Photo: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

The first improvements came last year when Williams began to find more performances by moving to the back of the midfield. A tense race in Hungary allowed Latifi to take his first Formula One point in seventh, marking Williams’ first point in more than two years. Russell’s tears may be the main memory of the day, but Latifi’s efforts were also key. Another highlight came at Spa when it rained and he finished ninth after a solid qualifying race on Saturday.

And then Abu Dhabi happened.

The impact of last season’s final on F1 as a whole is well known. But Latifi is sometimes a forgotten person in the story. As soon as the danger began, he was subjected to ridiculous accusations, insults, and even death threats, the severity of which made him fear for his own safety. It was disgusting to think that a racing driver who just made a mistake should be subjected to such vicious attacks from online trolls.

Latifi may have tried to leave Abu Dhabi, but that’s easier said than done. It will take a huge mental toll on anyone, no matter how strong they are in training as an elite athlete. In a recent interview with The High Performance Podcast, Williams F1 boss Jost Capito said he thought the effects of Abu Dhabi had affected Latif’s early season form.

“It was very difficult,” Capito said. “Anyone who hasn’t been through it doesn’t know what it feels like. Even if you turn off social media, you still connect with other people who see it. You know it’s going on and you just can’t get away.

“I’m sure it affected his driving after that. I’m sure of that. I understand that and that’s why we’ve given him confidence and supported him all season.”

Latifi was threatened and insulted after he caused a safety car crash in Abu Dhabi.

Latifi was threatened and insulted after he caused a safety car crash in Abu Dhabi.

Photo: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images

Latifi’s form struggles compared to his teammate continued even when Russell was replaced by Alex Albon. He was confused in front of the car and expressed his frustration that there was “nothing really nice” about his road race after Canada. The chassis change at Silverstone gave him a comfort he hadn’t had before, and he hoped Williams would challenge him from here on out – but when Nyck de Vries took the final spot at Monza, it looked like the last nail. Coffin for Latifi’s hope to stay in 2023.

Few people can hide Latifi’s results in the last three years. But he deserved better than his Formula 1 career being turned into a meme, be it Abu Dhabi, jokes about his nickname ‘GOATifi’ or poking fun at some of his qualifying performances to hunt for prestige on social media.

It is unclear what the future holds for Latifi. He enjoyed a relationship with the team in F1 as recently as 2018, when he made his practice debut for Force India while still competing in F2. It will now be a big change if he wants to continue selections in other racing categories. Back at Zandvoort, Latifi said he wasn’t giving much thought to options outside F1 until he knew what his future with Williams would be. But hopefully he can join the long list of drivers who have gone on to find success in IndyCar, Formula E or sports car racing after seeing their grand prix careers come to a halt. There are many options for him.

The focus will now be on Latifi enjoying his last few races with Williams, absorbing the experience of racing in Formula 1 and if he is still looking for some kind of mental reset or relief from the effects of the post-race abuse he suffered. Abu Dhabi, find this comfort.

After all, few things are more important than being an F1 driver.

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