Nicholas Latifi’s Formula 1 career appeared dead and buried earlier this year, but with Williams yet to confirm Alex Albon’s team-mate for 2023, there’s still an outside chance he could salvage his conduct.
The 27-year-old is the only full-time driver not to score a point so far this season, with his best finish 12th at Silverstone. But while Williams had decided to do without his services for 2023 at a time when a line-up of Albon and on-loan Alpine rider Oscar Piastri was in the works, Latifi’s recent upturn in form could put him back in contention, especially given of the other driver market developments this week.
Williams has limited options for next year. Among these is academy prospect Logan Sargeant, who won two races in his first Formula 2 campaign this year and will make his FP1 debut at Austin in October.
Nyck de Vries, who drove for Williams in FP1 in Spain is another possibility, while Haas driver Mick Schumacher could also be available.
While Latifi wouldn’t be seen as anything more than a pair of safe hands with the team’s experience, his form since Silverstone, where he first reached Q3, at least means he’s starting to build. a semblance of a case after what he calls a “pretty terrible” first part of the season. It was because of the confidence struggle from the second race in Saudi Arabia.
Its improved shape coincided with a monocoque change at the British Grand Prix. This was followed in France by the implementation of Williams’ major upgrade package two races after Albon.
“I really feel like I have something to prove, especially after a pretty terrible start to the season,” Latifi said when asked by The Race about his outlook for next year.
“I left Montreal, the race before Silverstone, feeling no real progress or any hope of progress with the struggles I had from Australia, or even Saudi Arabia.
“There were no improvements. Even though I felt like ‘this lap isn’t bad’, I still didn’t feel 100% comfortable with the car. was always half a second, three quarters of a second, every session, every condition, low fuel, high fuel, even when you weren’t pushing hard, every lap there was just a huge delta. I saw no hope that it was going to get better.
“We changed the chassis at Silverstone and since then it’s been clear – that three-quarters of a second step in every session that counts.”
Winning 10th on the grid in the wet at Silverstone, the only time Latifi has beaten Albon in qualifying this year and despite racing the old Williams specification, is his clear highlight. This was supported by decent racing pace, which was followed in Austria by a speed that Latifi said “matched” Albon once the specification difference was taken into account. At least, before he takes damage while running.
Since securing the car upgrade in France, Latifi has qualified twice a fraction less than four tenths slower than Albon. However, he was close to beating Albon – and likely reaching Q2 – when he had a windy moment on the final corner of Q1 at Paul Ricard. He also struggled with an off-center steering wheel that the team didn’t get a chance to fix. But he had a good run in France ahead of his clash with Kevin Magnussen, although in Hungary he was comfortably beaten by Albon.
While this recent run is far from a no-win case for 2023, it does at least make Latifi a more credible option than he was earlier in the year when it was inconceivable that it is maintained.
“There has been a clear change which is factual,” Latifi said of his improving form. “It’s not me and my feelings, it’s on the right track with the numbers. I know [from] from one race to another, I didn’t suddenly improve my pace by three quarters of a second.
“So I feel like I have some momentum now from Silverstone and especially since I got the upgrade package.
“I know I’m in the same car as Alex and [just] have a different chassis.
“Whether there was something wrong with that, or if it was just the combination of parts, the way the parts are mounted on the chassis of the car with the construction of the car – there’s so much that could be – I think there was something that wasn’t quite right.
“Since then, there has almost been a small reset. But it hasn’t been a mental reset because either I feel comfortable pushing the car or I don’t feel comfortable pushing the car. It has nothing to do with my approach.
“It’s positive that things are on the right track now. So it’s just about getting the performance that I think I can and obviously I hope to get some real results on the board along the way and show the team that I deserve to stay here.
Latifi’s old chassis has been used in racing as a spare since the switch, meaning Williams hasn’t had the chance to do a full analysis of it.
However, the checks he carried out revealed no problems with either the chassis or the components used.
“We couldn’t find anything specifically faulty with the chassis or the components,” said Williams vehicle performance manager Dave Robson when asked by The Race about Latifi’s recovery.
“It’s difficult to test them in a way that fully represents what they see on the circuit. What we were able to test, we don’t see anything particularly bad.
“But it’s hard to argue with the fact that he’s had a noticeable improvement in performance over the last two races.
“It’s hard to say [why] to be honest. But it’s good to see him doing well and his pace has been pretty strong.
This obvious performance milestone means at least Latifi can try to justify his stay at Williams, which could be increased by the allure of the financial backing he could provide, the fact that he has a main driver locked up in Albon and Latifi. generally constructive attitude and off-road character.
However, he remains an outside contender for the ride at best and should significantly build on recent signs of improvement – and, as he puts it, deliver tangible results on paper by adding to the pair of points that he won in Hungary and Belgium last year – to have a chance of being on the grid again next year.
Williams would still have to look elsewhere for a driver with a bigger potential upside. But Latifi can at the very least give the team something to think about if he can turn this mini-revival into something more cohesive and productive.