On the 29th of June 1995, in Montreal, Canada, a young Nicholas Latifi was born. His father is a rich Iranian-Canadian businessman who founded and owns Sofina Foods inc. It is also the man who has shaped Nicholas Latifi’s career.
Latifi’s father has invested £203 million (around $272 million/€222 million) in the McLaren group. Since Nicholas currently drives for Williams, we keep asking ourselves, can Latifi look forward to racing for McLaren? And is having a pay-driver beneficial for the sport?
The beginning of his career
In 2009, when Latifi was 13, he decided to start racing karts. This is relatively late for a race driver since most start around the age of 7 or 8. In 2010 he ended up on second place in the Rotax Junior class of the Canadian National Karting championship. The following year, he ended up on the highest step of the podium in the Rotax DD2 class.
Nicholas Latifi racing resume
Nicholas Latifi’s racing curriculum vitae, from the moment he left karting, is almost endless.
In 2012 he made his single-seater debut in the Italian Formula Three championship. That season he took three podium finishes and ended up 7th in the championship. In this year he also appeared in the 2012 Continental Sports Car Challenge.
He then proceeded to race the 2013 Toyota Racing Series, the FIA Formula 3 European Championship and the British Formula 3 championship. He also participated in the 2013 Masters of Formula 3 race at Zandvoort. His best place in the aforementioned championships was 5th place.
In 2014 he ended 10th in the European Formula 3 championship because he missed the last round to a race in the Formula Renault 3.5 series. He also participated in three races in the Renault of Tech 1 racing that year. Besides Formula 3, he showed up in the Porsche Carrera Cup Great Britain and he replaced Daniel Abt in the 2014 Yas Marina round of the GP2.
In 2015 he completed a full season in Formula Renault 3.5, finishing 11th. This year he also drove four out of eight races of the Porsche Carrera Cup Great Britain and as a dessert he drove 4 selected rounds in the GP2. This was his graduation into the big leagues.
GP2 and Formula 2
In 2016 he moved over to the GP2 Series as a full-time driver next to Alex Lynn. Despite a good start with a second-place, he ended up 16th in the championship, 101 points behind his teammate who ended up in the 6th place overall.
In 2017 the GP2 championship was rebranded the Formula 2 championship. Before 2017, his only win was the 2012 Vallelunga race of the Formula 3. This rebranding seemed to be working out very well for Nicholas. Not only did he retain his seat at DAMS, he also ended the season on the 5th place in the driver’s championship, which was only 2 places and 13 points behind his teammate. On the Red Bull Ring, he had his second experience of his career finishing first in a Formula car. A feat he would not repeat until next season.
2018 was not his best year. He ended that year 9th place. His teammate, Alexander Albon, finished 3th and ended up with 121 points more than Latifi. But Latifi could once again add a first place to his conto this year.
In 2019 he had a strong start of the season. Unfortunately, he could not hold on to the strong start and in the middle of the season we saw a drop in his performance. He did end it strong though, as runner up to the seasons winner Nyck de Vries, and taking 4 first places on the podium that season.
In 2016 he got signed as Renaults new test driver. That year he completed 140 laps in a 2012 car for Lotus. One year later he got in action in an in-use Formula One car.
Nicholas Latifi was announced as the test driver and reserve driver for the 2018 season for Force India. That season he added five Free Practice 1 sessions to his resume.
In 2019 he switched over to Williams, to become their test and reserve driver. That year he got 6 FP1 sessions under his belt before being announced to fill the vacant seat of Robert Kubica.
He was able to secure his seat in Formula One thanks to his father. It isn’t a public secret that racing is a very expensive sport. To be able to race a full year in the Williams, Mr. Latifi invested 36 million dollars in the financially plagued Williams team. And since drivers have to earn a paycheck also, Nicholas will get a $1 million paycheck at the end of the year, making him one of the three least earning drivers of the grid. Remember, this is the base package. Antonio Giovinazzi, who also gets a meager 1 million paycheck, has, at the time of this writing, two points in the championship. It is public knowledge that every point usually will earn a bonus. And in F1 terms, a small bonus is usually very profitable.
The interesting thing is that Mr. Latifi has also invested £200 million in McLaren. From the get go, both Mr. Latifi and Zak brown, COE and team principal of McLaren, stated that “There is no connection between Michael Latifi’s investment in McLaren and Nicholas Latifi’s racing career. This was a primary stipulation of the deal from both Michael Latifi and McLaren in equal measure.”
So a transfer to McLaren is out of the question. What will happen next? Williams has a huge financial problem. In May of 2020, during the height of the COVID-19 crisis, Williams got a loan of 56 million from Mr Latifi, with the historical cars, factories and grounds as security. So if Williams goes bankrupt, Mr Latifi will become the owner of the entire team. Mr Latifi also connected his own Sofina Foods brand as title sponsor to the equipment and, as the importer of the Lavazza coffee brand in Canada, also made sure that Lavazza and Williams signed a sponsor deal.
In conclusion: Is having a pay driver beneficial? It depends on who you ask. In my opinion as a spectator and fan, I think the most talented driver should be on the grid. But all kinds of sports have a business model. And since Williams is just a business, it is logical for them to get a pay driver just to keep afloat. I think it is just painful to see a once dominating team being dependent on a pay-driver to stay in business.
On a personal level, I think Nicholas Latifi is a guy that achieved good results in his fourth season in F2. Do I think he will end up world champion once in his career? No, but I would love to see the future proof me wrong. And if he can help the Williams team get back on track, then he will be a hero in my book.