2020 F1 driver rankings #20: Nicholas Latifi

2020 F1 season review

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The 2020 F1 season was a particularly tough year to be a rookie.

With the calendar shortened by five races and compressed into less than half a year Nicholas Latifi, the only newcomer on the grid, had a lot less time than expected to develop. But, as ever, our driver rankings don’t take mitigating factors such as this into account.

Asked by RaceFans at the end of the season what areas of his game he most needs to improve, Latifi was quick to identify his one-lap pace. And it’s clear to see why.

He never out-qualified his regular team mate – George Russell, who had just a single season of F1 behind him – all year. While Russell was a regular in Q2, Latifi only got there once, in Hungary.

Latifi’s average deficit to his team mates across the dry qualifying sessions was the largest of any driver, at well over half a second. Note this figure only compares their lap times in like-for-like sessions (i.e. almost always Q1) as including Russell’s Q2 lap times would unrepresentatively flatter his performance compared to Latifi.

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It’s hard to make the case that the rookie significantly narrowed the gap to his team mate as he gained more experience over the course of his first season. Latifi was almost nine-tenths of a second slower than Russell in Bahrain. At the next race Latifi had a different team mate, yet only managed to out-qualify debutant Jack Aitken by a whisker under a tenth of a second.

Nicholas Latifi

Beat team mate in qualifying1/17
Beat team mate in race2/10
Races finished14/17
Laps spent ahead of team mate230/798
Qualifying margin+0.563s
Points0

Latifi’s race performances were better. He seldom retired and generally steered clear of trouble. His trio of retirements were for a variety of reasons: A car failure put him out of the penultimate round; he caused a race-ending collision with Romain Grosjean at Istanbul; he was eliminated in the restart carnage at Mugello.

In much the same way Latifi’s three best results of the year – when he brought his car home one place outside the points – do not form a clear pattern which tend toward a single interpretation. On one of those occasions, at Imola, he can reasonably claim to have shown his team mate up, Russell having crashed during a Safety Car period. However in the season-opening race his team mate had been sidelined by a rare technical failure, and at Monza Latifi got lucky with the timing of the red flag.

Placing a driver last in the rankings tends to provoke the assumption they don’t belong in F1. That would be a harsh conclusion to draw based on Latifi’s capable race performances. But that gulf in performance on Saturdays must be reduced next year if he is to be thought of as a driver who is at Williams chiefly for any reason other than the sponsorship he brings.

NB. Three drivers who competed in fewer than five races last year do not appear in these rankings: Nico Hulkenberg (three races), Pietro Fittipaldi (two races) and Jack Aitken (one race).

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Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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42 comments on “2020 F1 driver rankings #20: Nicholas Latifi”

  1. I was afraid the ratings would not turn up but here they are, great!
    It was always gonna be close between albon and latifi for last place.

    1. And vettel and Kvyat. I doubt we’ll see Albon and Vettel as low as 19th and 18th. What I know is, Carlos Sainz Jr is 3rd.

      1. @peartree
        Gasly had one hell of a year but take out his shock win in Monza, which to me was mostly circumstantial, then their points gap really isn’t all that big.

        I’m fairly sure that Kvyat will end up in the bottom half but not at the tail end, which is really where the likes of Vettel, Albon, and Latifi (and perhaps even Bottas), truly belongs.

        1. @marinatedmonolith The gap shouldn’t be that big as Tauri hardly scored early on the season.
          Finally I’m not a Gasly fan, one of the reasons why I believe Kvyat belongs to the bottom.

    2. Or between Bottas and Bottas

  2. Latifi last, so I wonder how low will Albon’s and Seb’s rankings be. I agree with the ranking, but one of the other two in the last place wouldn’t have been entirely unjustified either.

    1. Seb did at least outqualify Leclerc in a few (2?) cases though @jerejj. And Albon did have a few races where it looked like he was on it. That is probably more than can be said with certainty about Latifi, partly due to the compressed season, partly due to driving a Williams, I’d guess.

      1. @bascb 4 times I believe, that Seb outqualified Charles. Twice in the wet (Styria, Turkey) and twice in the dry (Hungary, Bahrain).

        1. Right you are @wsrgo! 4 Times isn’t even that few when we take a 17 race calendar in account.

    2. @jerejj

      I kind of agree. It’s hard to disagree with Latifi in last place… the only credit given to Vettel and Albon is that they are paired up against Verstappen and Leclerc. Not that Russell is a slouch, but still, I’d expect Vettel and Albon to fare considerably better against Russell than Latifi did.
      Having said that, I don’t think Latifi was terrible this season. He was half decent on Sundays, and did finish in P11 twice by just staying out of trouble. I honestly don’t think Latifi’s rookie season was anywhere as bad as Stroll’s/Hartley’s/Palmer’s rookie season or some other pay drivers we’ve seen in the past.

      1. Because stroll’s rookie season was bad? Wasn’t he pretty close to massa on points, which I know he was very favoured by massa’s mechanical problem in baku, but at least it wasn’t a disaster of a season, he proved to be a decent point scorer on debut already.

        1. @esploratore

          I don’t think points are always a true reflector of performance. Sure, Lance fluked a podium in Baku and did have a strong qualifying in Monza, but other than those two flash in the pan performances, he was regularly knocked out in Q1 although he had a car capable of making it in to Q3. He was outqualified 17-2 by Massa.

          Lance was pretty dismal on racedays as well, with only 5 points finishes in 20 races as compared to 15 race finishes that Felipe had. I remember at the start of his rookie season he looked completely out of place in F1. For the first three races he had no idea of how to go wheel to wheel with other F1 drivers.

  3. I think this is a fair assessment. Latifi did not really show anything going for him really as far as I can remember.

    Being in a Williams makes it harder. And being a rookie this year too. So, we will have to see whether he can step up next season and show us he belongs in F1.

  4. He was clearly the slowest driver in the qualifying but in the races he did fairly well.
    That 1/17 in qualifying doesn’t do justice to him. He is better than that. His problem is that he has a very tough teammate to beat. 20/20 in this list does.

    1. @qeki That 1/17 in qualifying flatters him. He never outqualified George Russell, only barely outqualifying a rookie in his very first race in F1. Very poor if you ask me.

      1. @mashiat that said, considering that Latifi was a rookie with only 15 races under his belt himself before the Sakhir race, would he actually have had that much of an advantage in terms of experience? You’re basically comparing a rookie driver with another driver who is still very inexperienced – so, is it really all that surprising that there wasn’t that much of a difference in the end?

        1. He seems to be a lot like Stroll was when he was in his rookie season. Not very fast but he seems to avoid contacts and crashes quite well.

  5. Somebody has to be last. Hard to argue if it should be Latifi, Grosjean, Magnussen, or Vettel.

    Even being last it was a very decent rookie season by Latifi. He did not match Russell on Saturdays, but he was almost as close as Bottas on the many of the days that count.

    1. I’m willing to excuse a lot for latifi, grosjean, magnussen (who even outperformed the team mate) compared to vettel or albon, who had a decent at times or even a good car.

  6. It’s great that the driver rankings are back. They always remind me of one of my favourite comments of all time, by @estesark as this COTD: https://www.racefans.net/2011/12/12/1212/

    I rated Vettel last on my ranking, but as these rankings do not take experience before the season into account, as it says in the report, so ranking Latifi last makes sense. He never really had any standout moments, and was only just ahead of Jack Aitken in Sakhir.

    1. @f1frog The COTD of your reference is hilarious. I just went to see it through the link you gave and could only laugh at it silently. Threatening to never use the Internet again over something such trivial, LOL.

      1. LOL! That 2011 COTD… It could easily be a Bottas or Magnussen fan if they were driving at that time.

        To whom it may concern…

        1. It’s a sarcastic comment, but it is a pretty good satire of some of the other comments you see in driver ranking articles, particularly back in 2011. It is not surprising that Keith gave up trying to reply to everyone who gets upset over these rankings.

    2. Funny comment, satire was alive back then. Some get a bit worked up over the ranks but it is kind of understandable. Nobody remembers their pre-season predictions and those who do, work the numbers in order to be right.

    3. Great CotD (Comment of the Decade that is) indeed, @f1frog.
      Also good to see that @estesark is still active on this site and hasn’t given up on the internet, even though X has been ranked ahead of Y at least 10 years in a row now.

      1. @coldfly Yeah don’t get me started on that completely biased alphabetical ranking system.

      2. @f1frog @coldfly Oh wow, I don’t log in here very often (though I still browse regularly) and so only just saw your comments. Thanks for the kind words!

  7. Can we consider Latifi as less experienced than Russell when he’s 4 years older and has spent a lot of times in GP2 cars (they may not be as fast as F1 but they’re still good to learn tyre management)?

    1. @francorchamps17 Latifi is 2.5 years older, not 4, but yeah, your point still stands. I think Russell has more testing and simulator experience with Mercedes though, so that can’t be counted out.

  8. I’m gonna wait and see how 2021 goes for him. Maybe some motivation can improve him or maybe it will be like 2017.

  9. I have an opinion
    11th January 2021, 13:08

    After seeing Latifi’s onboard footage at Mugello prior to and during the restart, I fear he has no business racing in Formula One.

    1. “Nicholas Latifi Totaled Their Car“?

  10. For being a rookie and having to race in the worst car, his year has not been bad. Only one retirement because of him identifies him as a safe driver. Speed will surely come with more experience and in a fairly competitive car.

  11. He did better in races relative to grid position than Russell and would’ve been ahead of him in the rankings, albeit with no points also, if not for Russell’s switch to a Merc. Relative to the car he did ok, hard to argue with 20th but there are a few that could also be placed in this group. I thought Kimi & Grosjean were the pick of the flops with the luckless Albon not far behind.

    Relative to team mate, I’d go with Max #1 and look forward to all the positive and balanced comments about him. See also Lewis.

    1. I’m actually pretty sure hamilton will be number 1, and even for me who am one of those who count his mercedes achievements the least due to having such a dominant car for so long, when you’re looking at the points thrown away of their own doing across the year, I agree hamilton should be first, although obviously one who drives the top car needs to take less risks and has less room for mistakes, but I can’t quantify this, and I think verstappen 2nd is also quite an obvious choice, 3rd will be more interesting.

      1. Its one thing to get a good car, quite another to keep it and help development to ensure it stays the best. This seems less easy to quantify than MS ‘taking’ Ferrari to the top. Those in the team know this, those in f1 know this but like I say its less easy for the f1 fans to ‘know’ this

        We saw what happened to Mercedes in 1 race when Lewis wasn’t there. They’ve not been infallible with him in the car but hes helped them out of messy pit calls several times.

      2. 3rd should be interesting. I think Ricciardo will take it, although Sainz and Perez can’t be too far behind.

        Ranks #3 to #8 will be incredibly close between Ricciardo, Sainz, Perez, Leclerc, Gasly and Norris. There really isn’t a lot to choose between them. They all had their highlights this season.

    2. When you qualify as far down as Latifi, it’s pretty hard not to do relatively better to that grid position than your teammate who’s several places up the road. Russell was always going to have a problem holding his position, whereas Latifi just had to keep his nose clean and wait for retirements to advance.

      1. Latifi would’ve finished ahead as he had an 11th, Russell despite several times having a chance to get points could only finish 12th. Thats why he would’ve been ahead, not because Russell went backwards, which he mainly did as he is a poor starter

  12. Yep, I definitely agree. Having George Russell as a teammate is extremely tough (one of the toughest you can have), but when Aitken was in the car on his debut, I think it showed how poor his driving has been this year.

  13. AJ (@asleepatthewheel)
    11th January 2021, 16:59

    Not sure how he is as a driver, but I quite like him and his personality. Never seen him throw his weight around just because his dad is a billionaire, unlike Lance who comes across as an obnoxious guy, and Mazepin, who has made a name for himself with his recent antics.

  14. It is quite telling on today’s quality of field that the runner up in f2 who has not been utterly dreadful this year is last. That’s pretty good.

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