2021 F1 driver rankings #18: Nicholas Latifi

2021 F1 driver rankings

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Nicholas Latifi attained unexpected notoriety – and with it, appalling and unwarranted vilification – for his role in triggering the controversial Safety Car period which decided the 2021 world championship.

Nicholas Latifi

Beat team mate in qualifying2/22
Beat team mate in race3/17
Races finished19/22
Laps spent ahead of team mate186/1094
Qualifying margin+0.34s

That came about when Latifi spun into a wall on his 51st lap while pursuing Mick Schumacher. The Haas driver had found his way past the quicker Williams, and not for the first time in 2021.

Schumacher got the better of him earlier in the year as well. Latifi fell behind him at the third round in Portugal, and was out-qualified by the Haas in Spain. For a second-year driver, being occasionally shown the way by a rookie in a less competitive machine was far from ideal.

Latifi’s stumbling start to the season also included an early retirement at Imola where he went off on the first lap and tangled with the other Haas of Nikita Mazepin as he rejoined. But after a tricky few opening races Latifi fared somewhat better over the following rounds.

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Russell usually showed Latifi the way at Williams
He was, however, consistently in the shadow of the other Williams driver. Latifi’s deficit to George Russell came as no surprise given the gulf between them last year. Though to his credit he chipped away at the gap to his highly-rated, Mercedes-bound team mate and even managed to qualify ahead on rare occasions towards the end of the year. Whether or not this was aided by Russell using more aggressive strategies, it was a feat which seemed highly unlikely 12 months ago.

While Russell drew ever closer to ending Williams’ wait for a point in France and the two Austrian races, Latifi lagged further back. He was unlucky to pick up a penalty in Azerbaijan, but at the Austrian Grand Prix he copped a 30 second sanction for failing to slow sufficiently for yellow flags.

Silverstone was better for him, then in Hungary he capitalised on a stroke of fortune to lead Russell home as the team took seventh and eighth places. Russell had qualified ahead as usual, but Latifi got by at the start, and a first-lap collision which wiped out several quicker rivals helped secure their points finishes, Russell on his tail when the flag dropped.

Latifi took 12th in qualifying at Spa – his best of the year, albeit 10 places behind his team mate – he was elevated into ninth place in the curtailed, one-lap ‘race’, taking another point. No more followed over the rest of the season, however.

These races included several more Q1 eliminations – he totalled 18 to Russell’s three over the 22 rounds. Zandvoort was one of the few occasions where Latifi reached Q2, only to crash (as did Russell).

After a decent run to 11th in Italy (where Russell scored again), Latifi hit another rough patch, crashing as the rain fell in Sochi. He also spun on the first lap at Istanbul and tangled with Lance Stroll at the first turn in Austin.

While there were signs of improvement from Latifi in his second season of F1, his incident rate was one the high side, and the days where he seemed to be getting the best out of his equipment were too rare.

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What’s your verdict on Nicholas Latifi’s 2021 season? Which drivers do you feel he performed better or worse than? Have your say in the comments. Add your views on the other drivers in the comments.

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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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45 comments on “2021 F1 driver rankings #18: Nicholas Latifi”

  1. MMh, I find this a bit too low while he isn’t a great talent he did improved a lot i placed him around 16-17th before the Haas, Kimi and Stroll. Or is this because of the last race….kidding :)
    Qualifying is not Latifi strong point but got closer to George so he was improving.

    Giving the car i had the feeling Kimi was just driving to let it go this year.

    1. Guess we’ll have to see whether in the parts about Stroll and Kimi (surely right around the corner) what is “counted” in their favour @macleaod. I agree that Latifi showed clear signs of making progress in the second half of the year.

      On the other hand, he did have a few too many crashes, and does not have the excuse of being either a rookie (like Tsunoda) or having a car that is horrible to drive (like Schumacher and Mazepin) as an excuse.

    2. Can agree with this, if you had asked me where to put latifi I’d have said 18th, but he certainly could be ranked ahead of the worst performing alfa driver, and ricciardo is arguable too, his season was very disappointing except a few rare cases.

      1. Ricciardo won a race and when you win a race you can’t be so far down. Even if you’re Maldonado. A Grand Prix win still merits something.

      2. Reported your comment by mistake, sorry!!

        I was just about to say I hope Ricciardo is no higher than 16th, his season has been diabolical. Barring the win in Italy (which seemed right place, right time rather than lucky) he was comprehensively beaten by Norris and seems a shadow of his former self.

        Then there were the comments about the FIA showing accidents where drivers might get hurt, but at the same time championing MMA or cage fighting or whatever. That may have been last year. Anyway, he’s lost the plot.

  2. Rating Latifi’s season is a bit hard, since Russell’s true level is somewhat of a mystery. Latifi might have had an abysmal season or a decent one.

    Some fans seem to think that Russell is on Hamilton’s level. If that is the case, then I think Latifi’s season was at least decent. After all, he seems to have fared better against Russell than Perez did against Verstappen.

    Next year we’ll have a better understanding of both Latifi’s and Russell’s level as they are both against a driver, who has competed in Formula One before. (Russell had Kubica as a team mate in 2019, but Kubica hadn’t raced in Formula One since 2010).

    1. Yes, russell will have a proper benchmark, he will have to be at least close to hamilton if he is a true top driver (and I like russell, and expect him to be); albon should also be a decent midfield driver benchmark.

      1. If he is the top driver people see in him he should do a lot better then bottas. So beating Lewis in quali often is a must.
        For now I see George on almost the same level as latifi in the last part of the season.
        So the place of latify is way to low.

  3. Biskit Boy (@sean-p-newmanlive-co-uk)
    5th January 2022, 8:56

    No disrespect to him, I would do the same given the chance, but he’s just a pay driver. F1 should not consider itself the pinnacle of motorsport because of this.

    When the sport is much cheaper and the cars more equal then maybe there will be no pay drivers. One can hope.

    1. I’ve been waiting for that for 25 years and things have only got worst, although I wanted to dream with a large and almost pay-driver free grid around 2010.
      Bring more players like Red Bull, who hire solely regarding on talent (who else would give Brendon Hartley an opportunity?) and we’ll see less pay drivers.
      Seriously, I wouldn’t mind to see the Williams name disappear from the grid if that meant a Mercedes B-Team with two drivers given a proper, professional, non-bought opportunity.

      1. I don’t think Formula One’s pay driver situation is that bad at the moment. Obviously I’d also hope that there were zero pay drivers, but I think historically there have been more and worse pay drivers in Formula One.

        Taking a look at the 2022 grid, I think only Zhou, Stroll, Mazepin and Latifi have their seats based on money more than talent. And of those four, I think Mazepin is the only one that absolutely has no business to be in Formula One. Some other drivers may have financial backing also, but that has probably more to do with their talent and earlier performances than nationality or other connections.

        The biggest problem is that the road to Formula One is very expensive. Some great talents probably drop out due to lack of funds way before they are considered for a Formula One seat.

        1. Based on pre-F1 performance Stroll was definitely has speed he won a lot of F4 and F3 races with two dominant titles. Even in his rather messy first F3 year he still beat Russell and Albon (but finished behind Rosenqvist, Giovanazzi, Dennis and Leclerc. In his dominant F3 title winnining year he beat Gunther and Russell again and others including Zhou and Mazepin (who was a genuine backmarker). The criticism was whether he was too young and inexperienced and whether extra testing / preparation gave him too much of an edge. However as he spent such a short time in junior categories (3 seasons) overall the money spent on him probably wasnt excessive.

          Drivers like Mazepin, Zhou, Latifi and Albon spent far longer in junior categories, competing for a combined 29 seasons, in multiple categories per year, with only 1 title between them (Zhou’s 2021 Asian F3 title in his 8th year of car racing).

          1. José Lopes da Silva
            5th January 2022, 16:35

            The criticism came also because he was blatantly helped by team mates and had access to, by far, the best technical and finantial means. Never before I heard of recurrent episodes of team orders in F3. It’s Russell who says it.

        2. José Lopes da Silva
          5th January 2022, 16:41

          4 out of 20 it’s 20%. It’s a very high percentage.
          Moreover, pay drivers of the past usually held for a couple of seasons before money ran out or the team could replace them for another pay driver eventually a little more talented. Stroll is nothing like this. Stroll OWNS the seat, just like gentleman drivers of the Fifties and Sixties. He can’t be fired. He’s never, never get hired by another team. Yet, people now are saying that he belongs to F1 – of course, after 5 season of seats bought and owned, a huge amount of experience and more than 100 million dollars invested in his talent alone, set aside the investment on Force India. This is not the pay driver of the past, this is the Car Owner of the pre-professional era.

          1. I really would include Albon as a pay driver to be honest. Just because Red Bull is your backer it doesn’t make you any less of a pay driver if you haven’t had the results to justify the backing. The fact that he isn’t wanted for either of Red Bulls two actual F1 teams anymore means he isn’t there for his performance as Red Bull no longer benefit from it.

            Regarding Stroll I wouldn’t say he’s deserving of his guaranteed place in F1 – no one is, I would just say he’s better than Latifi, Mazepin, Zhou who didn’t make the most of their financial advantages on track yet still got to F1 despite their performances.

          2. José Lopes da Silva
            6th January 2022, 22:14

            You can include Albon as a pay driver, but Albon got promoted to a top team and then got demoted due to lack of results… It’s a fact that he had that shares owning plus, but yet he was quickly fired, unlike Ericsson who spent 5 or 6 long seasons being average.
            He does not bend the rule that makes Red Bull the big force bringing talent and opportunities to F1, instead of pay drivers. Who else would give an opportunity to Brendon Hartley?

  4. Latifi had a decent year, getting closer to Russell throughout the year, especially after Russell penned his signature for Mercedes. Did Latifi improve or did Russell relax?

    Either way, being this low in the order is reasonable given his consistently low finishing in a car that was consistently the 9th best car in the field. Williams were gifted 8th entirely off the back of Russell’s showing in spa and should probably have finished 9th if it was a regular race.

    Latifi is quite a bland driver, no outstanding moments of brilliance and few moments of “what was he thinking?” but on the face of it, there are better drivers available and it puzzled me as to why Williams kept him on even after Capito was quite categorical in his assertion that they did not need a pay driver to make ends meet any more. Next year will be his year to lose his seat as we all know what Albon is capable of in a reasonably good car. If Albon replaces Russell as Mr Saturday for the Williams team, Latifi’s only way is out. I just hope that they dont replace him with Nissany

    1. “Capito was quite categorical in his assertion that they did not need a pay driver to make ends meet any more”.
      BS. What’s the business model of Dorilton, after all?

      1. Note that I fully agree with you. If Latifi had empty pockets like Giovinazzi, he would be going out right now. He is no better than Giovinazzi.

  5. Can anyone take a better picture of Latifi looking Latifi like this.
    That’s the “Eh” how Latifi’s season went. Some points but still far behind Russell.

  6. As others have pointed out already, it all hinges on whether George Russell turns out to be another Bottas.

    Those latter parts of the season could be a feather in Nicky’s cap or a major warning sign.

  7. Although he obviously lacked a bit in qualifying, he was usually pretty close to Russell on race day. Whether this says more about Latifi being underrated or Russell being the opposite is up for debate… we’ll see how they do against their new teammates next year.

    It should also be noted that Latifi was robbed in Italy, where he looked faster all weekend. As I recall he was ahead of Russell and in the points, but Russell got a free safety car pitstop.

    1. I’m with you on his assessment, I agree. It will depends on Russel form. Let’s see next year. What I can see is that generally he is also calm on radio messages or in his inputs to the team compared to some youngsters and rookie drivers, which is a plus. Let’s see if he keeps improving and avoid these crashes.

  8. He is definitely improving, but like Stroll, I can’t see him ever being anything other than a mediocre driver who is denying genuinely good racing drivers a seat simply because they are a spoilt little rich kid.

  9. A totally fair summation and ranking

  10. Regardless of whether he’s paying for his seat or not he’s never consistently been better or on Russell’s level, either in outright speed or racecraft while having arguably the same amount of time, support and job stability to do it. He’s not terrible, but he’s not good either – and this year was another “ish” year.

    If he fails to consistently best Albon next year Williams should probably look for another driver, but they won’t, as he pays for his seat. So I hope for everyone’s sake he simply improves. There’s talent there he just needs to unlock it.

  11. I’d say there are seven drivers definitely in the top ten (in no particular order: Hamilton, Verstappen, Perez, Norris, Alonso, Sainz, Gasly), four in the middle bunch (Ricciardo, Vettel, Ocon, Russell) and nine in the poor category (Bottas, Stroll, Leclerc, Tsunoda, Raikkonen, Giovinazzi, Schumacher, Mazepin, Latifi), a mixture of driving badly, driving way below their own potential or the car’s potential (Leclerc and Bottas, respectively) or just phoning it in (Bottas again for much of the season and the perennially talented but couldn’t care less Raikkonen). Kind of depends on what you think is ‘worse’ but personally I think driving like you’re not really bothered is somehow more annoying and worthy of demotion towards the bottom end. Latifi seemed to be trying at least.

    1. @david-br Leclerc worse than Ricciardo? Really?

      1. @wsrgo I did say driving below his potential. But in terms of my actual ranking of them, they’d both be around the middle, maybe adjacent. I also think Ricciardo responded a bit better (eventually) to the form of his team mate over the season.

        1. @david-br or maybe Norris’s form declined over the season. Who’s to say?

          1. @wsrgo Or maybe the McLaren’s just faded in general as they switched focus to next year and so the difference didn’t seem as sharp?

        2. I think your judgement of Dan may be clouded by his one victory. Across the season, he looked dreadful vs. Lando, while Charles merely looked oddly close vs. Carlos.

          Simply put, neither Dan nor Charles lived up to the expectations going into this season.

        3. I think the team faded more to the end of the year so it’s hard to judge Daniel or Lando performance clearly. Daniel got beter to the end of the season (as expected) and Lando was probaly having problems/bad luck in the end and that influenced his performance. But i agree with you.

    2. @david-br
      What is your reasoning for ranking Perez to the “best” category, while Bottas is in the “poor” category? I can see a reason for both of these assessments individually, but it seems odd when they come from the same person. They both had a similar season (in my opinion Bottas was slightly better, but that is up for debate), so it would seem logical to rank them close to each other (as I assume RaceFans will do).

      1. @hotbottoms (and @proesterchen) Because I think Perez’s job was very clearly to support Verstappen’s title bid, which he did reasonably well. Indeed in the final race his defensive driving was critical to the race and championship win. Top 7 may seem generous, maybe he should be middle-ranking, but given he did what was asked of him, a very clear second role, it seems reasonable to put him fairly high. Bottas just didn’t really do anything, neither driving for himself or in support of Hamilton. It was easily his worst season at Mercedes.

        1. Q 20:1
          R 17:0
          P 395.5:190

          Checo’s complete lack of competitiveness across the season lost RBR the WCC.

    3. Putting Checo in the top group is just strange after both the last season and the entirety of his career. (same is true to a lesser extend for Carlos)

      1. @proesterchen I don’t get why you’d judge their 2021 season by their entire career. I thought Sainz had a good season overall.

        1. I would value Checo’s struggle at Red Bull differently if he had shown to be a top calibre driver all his career.

          But he’s shown to be a solid hand and a bit of a one-trick-pony, who has previously struggled at a race-winning team. So his 2021 is right in line with past results.

  12. I think this is a solid list so far, exactly as I have it. It’s the next 3-4 that I struggled with. At least the order of them. I think I picked the next 4 easily enough for me, but that order was tricky to work out.

  13. I think the next few must consist of Schumacher, Ricciardo and the Alfa drivers. Which order they should be in though, I’m not sure. Personally I’d also have Bottas in that group for his extreme level of wishy-washiness, but I predict he’ll be somewhat higher.

    1. Don’t forget Checo, who was completely hopeless at Red Bull.

      1. @proesterchen I certainly rated Perez’s season as better than Bottas’, both due to having to adjust to a new team and that he at least showed some fighting spirit. But he doesn’t deserve to be any higher than 10th I think.

        1. I’d argue neither had a good season, but would put Valtteri ahead of Checo because at least he got some poles while Checo got thoroughly trounced in qualy (20:1) and didn’t finish a single race ahead of his teammate.

  14. Three already out and no Merc drivers yet (well maybe one of them was #21, we have not given up on Robert Kubica yet)

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