Stepping into carbon-fibre rocketships to do battle at over 320kph over 22 weekends makes Formula 1 drivers some of the bravest athletes on the planet.Nicholas Latifi as the worst-performing driver of the 2022 F1 season.
Latifi’s adventure at motorsport’s highest level appears to have reached its conclusion at the end of his third F1 campaign. It’s not hard to see why.
He was regularly the slowest of his peers, albeit in what was usually the slowest car. He committed the most bewildering blunders. Driving into Zhou Guanyu when the Alfa Romeo driver pulled alongside him in Singapore. In a wet Monaco, he crashed on the formation lap, pitted for a new front wing, then ran off the track at Sainte Devote and fell even further behind the rest of the pack. At Suzuka he mistook a shortcut which forms its short track variant before the final chicane, earning millions of video views and ruthless mockery.
His exploits saw his status as an ironic joke character among online F1 fandom grow through the season, no matter if his competency behind the wheel was superior to many other drivers that could be recalled from the long history of F1.
In truth, Latifi was spinning his tyres from the very beginning of the season. New team mate Alex Albon rocked up after a year out and stuck his car 14th on the grid in Bahrain, while Latifi qualified 20th and last. Jeddah, just a week later, was woeful. Crashing out in Q1 was bad, but not a disaster. His unforced race-ending error the day after, however, was one of the more embarrassing moments of the season.
It became clear that Latifi just couldn’t match what Albon was doing with the car. As Albon sniped points in Melbourne, Miami and then at Spa-Francorchamps, Latifi only finished inside the top 15 once over the same span of races.
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Monza was always going to be his best chance of points given the slippery nature of the Williams with its high top speed. This was his big opportunity – a chance to fight for the outside chance of a point. Instead, Albon fell ill and was replaced on the Saturday by Nyck de Vries.
Instead the last-minute F1 debutant immediately out-qualified the team’s regular driver. Not only that, De Vries held position on the opening lap while his team mate dropped four places, and finished ninth while Latifi came home 15th. If it wasn’t already over for Latifi, it certainly was now.
It wouldn’t be true to suggest Latifi’s season was without any highlights. He headed to Silverstone without the shiny new upgrades offered to his team mate, but in a rain-affected qualifying session he didn’t just squeeze through into Q2 at the expense of Albon, he took it one step further by reaching Q3 for the first time in his career. Yes, he may have spun off into the gravel during Q3 which ensured he would start tenth, but it was still an achievement to be proud of.
At Suzuka, again in wet conditions, Latifi took a gamble on an early switch to intermediate tyres and then kept his car on the track over the final 20 laps to cling onto ninth place and secure his first and only points finish of the season. But after getting lost in Friday practice, he could not even enjoy his best result of 2022 without being the butt of jokes.
At this point his impending departure was already public knowledge, but the mishap just seemed to sum up the perception of Latifi as a driver that had built up over his three years in F1. Facing the reality of being out of a drive for next year and likely the rest of his career, Latifi admitted that this third season had probably been his worst when he needed to produce his best.
But despite having likely raced his last grand prix, Latifi leaves the sport knowing that, at the very least, he does so with the respect of his former team and his peers on the grid.
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