Nicholas Latifi admits that making his Formula 1 race debut behind closed doors at this weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix comes with the benefit of fewer distractions.
The Canadian rookie will partner George Russell and Williams this season and should have made his debut in Australia, but the opening round was called off due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The global situation means F1’s return in Austria takes place with strict limitations on who can attend, and Latifi is focusing on the positive aspects of the unusual weekend.
“What should help me is the fact that Austria is a track I know well,” Latifi said. “It’s the only one I’ve competed at every year since I’ve been racing. Australia would have been a new track for me to discover – and it isn’t the easiest.
“Another potential positive is that with fewer media, spectators, partners or sponsors around, I will have more time to focus on the driving. So much of a Formula 1 race weekend is taken up by all the other things you have to do besides the driving and engineering stuff. Without so much of it in Austria, I reckon it might be an easier environment.
“From a results and expectations point of view, at this point in the season it’s too early to predict much, as I really have to see where the car is going to be. I expect my teammate, George, to have an advantage in the early races, as he isn’t a rookie anymore, but I want to push him where I can.
“In my first race I’m just going to try and take everything as it comes, step-by-step, and get up to speed quickly. I’m under no illusions though — I’m making my F1 race debut and there’s a lot to learn. The fact that I’ve had to wait a bit longer than planned doesn’t change anything.”
Although he has technically had an extra three months to prepare for his debut, Latifi – who turned 25 on Monday – said that lockdown situation and restrictions on driving have meant he needed to readjust from his simulator setup to a real car.
“The excitement is still really high, but to be honest I was feeling more hyped traveling to Australia in March,” he said. “I think it’s just because of everything that’s happened since then, with the long delay and the uncertainty about whether we were going racing this year at all.
“It’s been a three-and-a-half-month break since I was last in the car at pre-season testing, which is an unprecedented amount of time away. My last race was even longer of course, back in Abu Dhabi in December, so this weekend can’t come fast enough.
“To help get back up to speed I’ve been karting during the last few weeks, since the tracks in Canada and the UK opened, and I’ve had some simulator sessions at the Williams factory. After so much time on my home setup, it took a while to familiarize myself with the proper sim. I’d picked up a few bad habits I needed to unlearn!
“A new shift-working system at the factory has created a different atmosphere, which I guess will be the new norm for a while, and there will be loads of new stuff to get used to on track too. But everyone I’ve met is refreshed and extremely motivated to get racing again. The most important thing is that we get to actually do it this time.”