Nicholas Latifi is an Iranian-Canadian Formula 1 driver competing for Williams Racing who made his debut in F1 this year and finished second in the Formula 2 championship in 2019. Nicholas is a real gentleman with good manners and a very uplifting mindset. He takes us inside this very exclusive and competitive world, from his first race start to his schedule before and after a race. We discuss how to deal with pressure, staying motivated, managing low moments, and the importance of work-life balance.
Nicholas Latifi: There were a lot of emotions, a lot of excitement, and anticipation. I probably didn’t have any nerves until Sunday morning. Up until then, I was surprisingly quite calm, not really fazed by the fact that it was going to be my first Formula 1 race.
On the grid itself, when you’re about to pull away for the formation lap, there are a lot of procedures you have to remember to do and the engineers are not allowed to speak to you during the formation lap to remind you what to do. At this moment, you are kind of on your own and I was just so focused on that.
Waiting on the grid for the lights to go out for the start, is the most unpredictable and for sure the highest intensity feeling you get the whole weekend irrespective of whether it is Formula 1 or any other kind of category I have raced in. You focus on the lights and try to get the quickest reaction possible. Again, you’re thinking about your start procedure, what you’re doing with your clutch, with your hand, your throttle. Obviously, there is a lot to take in at that point.
However, it just felt like any other race start at the moment but once you get going, it just feels completely different. The speed, the dirty air, and how much quicker everything’s happening just because it’s Formula 1. It was quite a lot of intense emotions.
“Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.” That is a quote that I’ve liked throughout my career, especially because I started very late in the sport and racing is something that came as second nature. What would have happened if I had started out at four or five years old as a lot of my competitors?
It’s part of Formula One and it’s part of what I knew I was signing up for when I signed with Williams. First and foremost, my motivation was always to be a Formula 1 driver and as a driver, you want to be with the top team and you want the quickest car. I think if you ask any driver who the dream team is to be with, the answer is whichever team has the quickest car that that year! [laughs]
You have to adjust your motivation and expectations. It is a change of mindset and also part of the unique aspects and challenges of Formula One. As a driver, you play a much bigger role in building the team up and at the point where Williams is out right now, trying to help push back up the grid.
It is different from going to a team where you just expect to perform right away and everything is going all right. It is a unique situation but it hasn’t changed my motivation. I always try to get the best out of myself in the car, regardless of if that’s for fighting towards the back of the grid or fighting for points, podiums, or wins.
I would definitely say I am very analytical and kind of a calculated person which is important in a sport like Formula One. There’s a lot of data and information going back and forth between the driver and the team, I am not only analyzing car data but also analyzing my own self and my own performances. Yeah, I probably spend too much time analyzing a lot but I like to think that I am detail-oriented. [laughs]
With experience, you learn to cope with it. Stress and pressure are part of any high-level sport and this is something any athlete has to deal with. I think those two things, in particular social pressure, is a lot about perception. The key is how you perceive the situation. You could put two different people in the exact same hypothetical situation. One person could feel overwhelmed and afraid to make a mistake while the other one could feel confident and remain calm. What is important is really how you perceive the situation.
In motor racing, there’s a lot of stuff out of your control and a lot can go wrong, which is one of the reasons why I personally think that is one of the most challenging sports in the world. Because this is not solely down to the driver or the individual athlete. In this case, there are so many other factors. You can do everything right and someone crashes into your car or you could have some mechanical failure.
When negative things happen, just try to rationalize the situation and see what’s the best next course of actions to move forward and get past it.
There are two aspects to it. The first is just general and not specific to racing. Growing up, I was (and I am still now) a very competitive person. I have always hated to lose and wanted to win everything I did whether it’s video games against brothers or just little school things. That is one of the reasons I am involved in competitive sports.
Regarding the racing specifically, from the first moment I tried a go-kart, feeling the speed that low to the ground, the kind of sensation you get in your body when you are cornering fast, and especially now as I get to the higher downforce cars. That feeling that G-force you get inside your stomach, pushing your car to the limit and trying to get everything out of it. Combining that with actually racing and going wheel to wheel, that’s specifically what I love about it.
There are maybe only been two occasions where I’ve had a bit of fear while driving in my career. And they’ve both been for the same situation, not in Formula 1 though. In both situations, there was a lot of rain, to the point where I was the first car and you couldn’t see anything. Both these tracks had very long straights. You’re just driving flat out and almost not able to see your front tire. In that situation, if someone’s aquaplaning or spun in front of you, you can’t do anything about it and it obviously could be very, very dangerous.
I love driving in the rain and for me is one of the most fun things but I would say that’s probably the only time that I can think of that I’ve been scared. In general, there is always an inherent risk while driving but it’s not something I ever think about while I’m actually behind the wheel, because I think if you did, it would limit your ability to do your job effectively.
On a race week, there’s a good chance that I will go in either on a Monday or Tuesday to do some simulator at the factory, for general setup and preparation tasks for me, and get my references. If it’s a European race, I’d fly on Wednesday afternoon to arrive at the hotel in the evening because Thursday is normally a full day at the track. So Thursday would be the preparation and the media day, track walk, media activities, engineering meetings that obviously to the race weekend, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, which I guess is kind of self-explanatory.
Normally, The day I arrive at the hotel, I try to do some mobility sessions, some activation, and stretching just to get limber for the weekend. I rarely do proper physical training on race weekends, if anything, maybe a light jog again just to do something, but no exercise that I’m going to need recovery from. I want to be 100% for the race weekend.
It really depends on where exactly I am but there will be some simulator preparation at the factory. If I have a full week off, it’s very rare that I’m not at the factory at least one day to work with the team. If it’s a week off after a race week, I will take some days off just to recover because weekend races are physically and mentally tiring, and then just do some light training.
During the season, the kind of training we do is more about maintaining as opposed to the winter in the offseason is to build your fitness base. Once the season starts, you just try to maintain it as much as possible. it could be a combination of strength exercises or more driver specific things like the shoulders, the arms, the core, and especially the neck, probably the most important thing. Besides those, there’s not much else I could get up to anyway because of COVID and can’t be so social, unfortunately, and have to have a very small bubble right now.
I have always liked to play a lot of other sports before going into racing, which I don’t get the opportunity to do so much of now just because the racing takes up so much of the time. But I’m a big basketball fan. I always like to watch basketball. I like video games as well, especially with everything that happened with the pandemic, it was an opportunity to get back into it and into the streaming on Twitch. So I think even if tomorrow, everything went back to normal, I would probably still continue because it is actually quite fun, and nice to interact with fans.
In general, I am quite a normal guy who likes watching Netflix on my relaxing days and to meet up with friends to go out, and just spend time with family. Nothing really too exciting or too different to just the average Joe. Really. [laughs]
I have to set realistic goals, and this year I can’t measure success based on if I win or score a podium, which would have been very easy to measure based on previous years in Formula 2. To me, it is about being self-analytical and self-critical and knowing that at the end of each weekend I felt I did the best I could. And if I didn’t, knowing why and making sure it doesn’t happen again and learning from it.
It is very difficult to find specific targets. I think by the end of the year and based on the metrics of my teammate, like the average gap in qualifying, or finishing records in the race, I would want a respectable outcome relative to like my teammate who is obviously more experienced than me. For this year, this is how I’m going to measure my success based on the goals I’ve set for myself coming into the season.
In Formula One, it always goes to the first person you compete with is your teammate, because he is the only person with the same equipment as you. George and I have a very good working relationship and I think it’s good for the team. We’re having the same problems and feedbacks about the car, and it’s good to give a direction for the team to develop.
On a personal level, I think we get along, which is important to create nice morale and atmosphere in the team beyond the working relationship. It’s also a different situation that we’re in a team right now where we’re not in a position to consistently fight for points or for podiums. We have seen situations like Mercedes or Red Bull where they have two drivers who are able to battle for podiums, wins, or championship. It can also create a bit of tension. That’s not the situation that George and I are in, unfortunately.
I think we are we’re working well together right now to try to get us back to a more competitive position to be able to fight. But you never know what can happen in the future once we get into a position where we can start fighting for the better. [laughs]
I received a lot of good advice, a lot of it coming from my dad who was a big role model for me and looked up to quite a lot. One of them is just to always remember to have fun first. Sometimes in Formula One, a lot of negatives can happen and it can be easy to get so immersed in everything that’s going on that sometimes you’ve got to take a step back and say, I’m doing what I love to do. Even if I am not in a car that’s capable to fight for wins or podiums, I am still driving a Formula 1 car, which many other people would love to.
Having the ability to take a step back every now and then and remember what you’re doing, the situation, and remember to have fun are probably the most important things.
You have your doubts based on how everything is going in your life or your career. There were a few moments in my racing career where I had some doubts if arriving in Formula 1 was still going to be achievable. That was my goal and I was working towards it. There was some point where I didn’t think it was going to be possible and considered to stop racing and focus on something else or focus on a different racing discipline.
There are low moments and I believe in pushing through those moments and just continuing to work hard, even in very difficult moments, to still try and achieve my goals. Those are important decisions in my career. Defining decisions, because obviously, I am here now. [smiles]
Mentally, I think it’s always important to be able to switch off from racing at the right times. You don’t want anything in life to be your one sole focus and something that consumes you. Let’s say if that doesn’t go well and if that’s all you’re kind of focused on, it could be quite consuming and quite demoralizing.
This is also important to take the time to unwind, relax, recharge, and to have other things to take your mind off of it. For example, it could be doing some streaming on Twitch and playing some video games. And I’m sure that’s why Lando (Norris) does a lot of that, it’s a way for him to kind of switch off. Lewis (Hamilton) loves to travel and is passionate about fashion and music. I like to spend time with my friends and family. Mentally it’s important to have that ability to disconnect.
Physically I would say knowing when to give your body rest on rest days, especially once the season starts. Doing just some stretching and mobility just to make sure your body is always feeling nice and not stressing when you don’t need to.
Sugar! [laughs] I do have a massive sweet tooth for sure. I love Nutella, but I actually don’t eat a lot of it anymore, unfortunately.
It would be interesting to hear the answers to these questions from my teammate, George. I would love to hear Lewis (Hamilton), who is one of the best drivers based on all the records he is most likely going to break.
If you liked our conversation with Nicholas Latifi: Speaking Determination, Faith and Positivity with World Cup Winner Olivier Giroud
Photos Credit Williams Racing [/mepr-show]