Postcard from Abu Dhabi

Hi guys.

I wanted to give you an update after a hugely busy week in Abu Dhabi that included my reveal as a ROKiT Williams Racing driver in 2020, the final Formula 2 weekend of my career, and an F1 test day to round off the year.

Coming into the weekend there were a lot of things on my mind. Biggest of all was the plan around Thursday’s F1 announcement, which I was excited to finally get out in the open and make public.

On top of that was the last round of Formula 2, knowing I’d be closing the chapter on that part of my career and closing out with DAMS, who I’ve been with for four years. So, it was always going to be a monumental few days in my life.

I arrived in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday night, a day earlier than I normally would for a race weekend because I wanted to adjust to the time change and the heat. I used the opportunity on Wednesday to do some of my usual Thursday checks as I knew the announcement would keep me busy.

I went to the track and sat in the F2 car – which felt a bit weird after two months away. I went over a few little things with the DAMS guys, and then did a track walk and later a track run!

On Thursday, it was straight to the F1 paddock where Claire [Williams] introduced me to the team, as soon as the official announcement went out. Of course, it wasn’t a big surprise to the guys and girls at Williams, but it was very cool to hear Claire introducing me ‘officially’ as a driver for next year. My family was there too, so it was a special moment.

I said a few words as well, and then it was straight to a round of media interviews, and then another session for TV crews. That was a lot of fun.

When all that was done, I had to put F1 to the back of my mind and switch focus back to Formula 2. That was tough because my phone started blowing up with messages as soon as the news went out – even though I think it was the early hours of the morning in Canada. The initial reaction was super positive, and it was cool to see all the support.

The fact that there will be two Canadians on the grid in 2020 seemed to go down well back home. There was a lot of chatter and my phone just kept beeping. In the end, I had to put it on ‘do not disturb’ and it stayed like that for the whole weekend. It was a shame – but I had an important job to do and my focus needed to be solid.

My last Formula 2 weekend brought me a P7 on Saturday and a podium in the sprint race to make sure of Vice Champion status in the championship. It was a good feeling to finally wrap that up!

On Sunday night, we celebrated at dinner with DAMS, my team-mate Sergio and my family. We went on to the Amber Lounge party for one final, non-alcoholic, send-off with the team. After a lot of hard work, everyone was happy to let off some steam and enjoy the moment.

With Formula 2 done and dusted, I felt Monday was my first proper day as a Formula 1 race driver. I had to be at the track early – but I was super excited so getting out of bed wasn’t any kind of problem.

We kicked off with an engineering meeting to discuss the run plan for the test. I must admit, it was a fantastic feeling to walk into the Formula 1 paddock as a team driver, and not just a visitor from Formula 2. It was a nice little reminder that all the hard work had been worth it.

George [Russell] and Roy [Nissany] were in the car on Tuesday, so I went to the track to follow along. They were testing the 2020 tyres so I knew that any information they could pass on would give me a head start when I climbed into the car myself.

My first official day behind the wheel on Wednesday definitely felt different. Being able to take every little bit of information about the 2020 rubber into next year was the goal, and that will benefit us heading into winter testing.

I did some low-fuel running and qualifying simulations to see how the new tyres would react, then some full fuel race simulations later in the day. I did a lot of laps in a very short period and got to test my fitness levels. I’ll be hitting the gym during the winter to ensure my is ready for the new demands of the F1 car. That will be fun!

I’m pleased with the mileage we did, 107 laps I think, and the chance to do some high-fuel running was useful because I haven’t done much in the FP1s or test days up to now.

I flew out of Abu Dhabi on Wednesday night, arrived in London Thursday morning, and I’m sticking around in the UK to do some bits at Williams, including some more simulator days, before the holidays.

Back at the factory there’s lots to go over, and check-lists to go through to make sure everything is well prepared before the winter. Come January, there will be even more stuff to do. But any boxes we can tick off now will help make me and the team rest easier over the holidays. That’s extremely important so everyone’s energised for the new season.

That’s about all from me for the time being. Thanks for all the support during the season and the amazing messages while I was in Abu Dhabi. I’m still getting through them!

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year everyone!

F1-bound Nicholas secures second in FIA F2 Championship

Nicholas Latifi said an emotional farewell to the FIA Formula 2 Championship today by securing second place in the driver’s standings with a podium during the final race of the campaign in Abu Dhabi.

The 24-year old Canadian revealed last Thursday that he will be stepping up to a Formula 1 race seat with ROKiT Williams Racing in 2020, bringing his time in the F2 feeder series to a close after the final 2019 event at the Yas Marina Circuit.

Nicholas showed strong pace during practice and qualifying but was caught out by a late yellow flag in the session, leaving him P7 on Saturday’s Feature Race grid.

He made gains early in the race but running the Option/Prime strategy left him out of sequence, and he crossed the line in P7.

“Coming into this weekend there were a lot of things in my head, a lot of emotions. I knew the F1 announcement was coming up, so it was nice to get that out in the open,” Nicholas said.

“From the F2 side of things the goal was clear – to secure the Teams’ Championship and to secure P2 in the Drivers’ Championship. I had the advantage coming in, so it was mine to lose.

“I just tried to focus on doing my best performance. I knew the results would be there if that was the case.

“I was a bit disappointed with the first race, but I think it was the best result we could have got in the circumstances. My team-mate was ahead of me and he had priority with the pit stop. Running the Option tyre, we needed to pit as soon as the window opened. We decided to stack the cars, on the same lap, and that cost me maybe 6-9 seconds, but that’s how it goes.”

Nicholas’s P7 put him P2 on the grid for Sunday’s Sprint Race, and he brought his DAMS car to the chequered flag in the same position to secure the honour of 2019 F2 Vice Champion.

“I didn’t want to still have the fight open for the last race but I was confident in my own performance,” he said.

“I didn’t make the best start, but I secured the fastest lap, for the extra two points, and then just brought it home, nothing silly.”

The weekend’s results also secured the Teams’ Championship for DAMS, with Nicholas paying tribute to the squad, and founder Jean-Paul Driot, who passed away in August.

“It marks the end of my journey in Formula 2, and more importantly my journey with DAMS. I learned a lot about myself as a driver and as a human being these last four years, experiencing the highs and lows, I feel better off for all of it,” he reflected.

“I must thank everyone at DAMS. Their support has been incredible. They helped me to keep pushing all the time and shaped me into the driver I am today.

“And to Jean-Paul especially. Without him I would not be in the position I am today. He took a big risk on me in 2016 when I first joined the team as a rookie. He had the faith, he kept believing.

“This weekend we won the Teams’ Championship, which is what it’s all about for the guys. To reward them all, and Jean-Paul, means the most to me.”

 

Profile

Nicholas Latifi is set to take the biggest step of his career in 2020 when he progresses to a full-time FIA Formula One World Championship drive with ROKiT Williams Racing.

A place on the F1 grid has been the Canadian’s target for almost half his life. Despite starting his motorsport career at the comparatively late age of 13, he has rapidly risen through the ranks.

Success on home ground in karts led to saloon and single-seater competition, and then to campaigns in Formula Three, Formula Renault 3.5 and, most recently, the FIA Formula Two Championship.

Alongside his racing programmes, Nicholas worked towards his ultimate goal in test and development roles with the Renault and Force India F1 teams.

A position at Force India in 2018 gave Nicholas the chance to drive an F1 car during six FP1 sessions; gaining confidence and crucial track time along the way.

Nicholas joined the British ROKiT Williams Racing team in 2019 as reserve driver, adding more experience through a programme of testing, simulator work and participation in six more FP1 sessions.

Formula One duties were fitted in around his F2 campaign with the French DAMS squad and his progression to F1 comes after his most successful campaign to date.

In 2019 he claimed four wins and eight podiums to seal the F2 Vice Champion crown and power DAMS to the Teams’ title.