Toronto native became the fourth Canadian to score points in F1 following late Gilles Villeneuve, 1997 champion Jacques Villeneuve and Lance Stroll
By Yuri Coghe
It’s been a long time coming for Nicholas Latifi and Williams. But they’ve done it.
The Montreal-born, Toronto native driver finished the Hungarian Grand Prix seventh on Sunday to become the fourth Canadian to score points in F1 following late Gilles Villeneuve, 1997 champion Jacques Villeneuve and Lance Stroll.
He was followed by teammate George Russell, who also claimed his first points as a Williams driver to give the British team a first double-points finish since the 2018 Italian Grand Prix, back when Stroll and Sergey Sirotkin of Russia were their driving duo.
24-year-old Alpine driver Esteban Ocon won the race and enjoyed his first career victory.
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Williams now shows ups eight in the constructors’ standings with 10 points, ahead of Alfa Romeo and Haas. Latifi and Russell show up in 15th and 16h in the drivers’ championship, with six and four points, respectively.
Latifi served as a Williams test and reserve driver in 2019, the same year he finished the F2 championship in second place. He replaced veteran Robert Kubica in the following season, collecting three eleventh places – just one position behind the points zone – in the 17-race season.
Williams is one of F1’s most successful teams with seven drivers’ championships and nine constructors’ trophies. They’ve been enduring an all-time low in recent years, having finished last in the team’s standings in the last three seasons and collecting just eight points in the process – therefore, less than what they achieved on Sunday’s race.
How it happened
“I’m super happy,” Latifi said after the race. “I think coming into this race I guess it’s what we could have hoped for but was probably not what was realistic. But the start is what sealed it all, avoiding all the carnage, and then just making the right call.”
Avoiding getting caught in the first turn incident that took five drivers out of the race was key in what would eventually become the Canadian’s career-high F1 result. Latifi made up 12 places to P6 while Russell was up nine to P8 at the start.
Pitting for mediums during the post-red flag standing restart was another decisive moment.
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“As soon as we pulled away on the restart, within two corners I was like ‘Yeah, it’s slicks, we have to pit’,” he said. “It’s kind of like well if nobody else does it and you’re the only one then you give away a good starting place, but it was clear and a lot of people also pitted.
“(From there,) I just focused on my own race. In the end, I knew I didn’t have the pace to stick with the guys in front when I was in P3 so was just making sure I was getting my tyres to the end. In the end, I really struggled with them, I got hit quite hard. So a double points finish for the team, amazing being P8 in the championship going into the summer break, I guess that’s the best we could have hoped for this weekend!”
Latifi pitted once again for hard tires on lap 23, two laps after Russell also had the same compound installed in his car. From then, they went all the way through the end.
Latifi revealed he had issues with his visor during the race – also commenting on how much the results mean for Williams.
“My face was cooking as well because I kept my rain helmet on which normally we cover the vents and I probably should have changed it afterwards, so I had to drive with my visor cracked open the whole race which wasn’t so nice,” he said.
“I haven’t been in the point scoring positions this year but George (Russell) has. As a team, we’ve been making improvements on the car from the start of the year to now and we’ve been knocking on the door of those points, so it’s just so nice to actually get them and reward the team for that. Obviously on my side on a personal point of view extremely satisfied, and for the team even more so because they’re all working so hard.”
Russell gets emotional
Seen as one of the most promising young drivers in the grid, 23-year-old Russell got emotive in a post-race interview after clinching his first points as a Williams driver.
He finished ninth and collected two points at the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix when replacing Lewis Hamilton on Mercedes after the veteran tested positive for COVID-19.
“I literally shed a tear, which I was not expecting,” Russell said in another interview after the race. “I probably wouldn’t have shed a tear if I won my first race, to be honest. That’s how much it means. “It means more than I can put into words, thinking of the ride we’ve been through this past three years. If you’re fighting for something for three years and you finally get it.
“It was an incredible stint on our side of the garage. That second stint, it was probably the best stint of my whole career. Keeping Danny [Ricciardo] behind, keeping Max (Verstappen) behind, closing the gap by 20 seconds to the cars ahead, it was exceptional. I pulled everything I have, as I do every single race, and I finally came home with something.”
The Briton showed great sportsmanship and teamwork when saying “If you need to compromise my race now, I will box early, prioritize Nicky,” to Williams on team radio. He was, of course, referring to Latifi, who was running four positions ahead of himself at the moment of the message.
Dave Robson, William’s head of vehicle performance, praised both drivers for their pace and understanding of the race.
“Today, a small amount of rain caused a big swing in fortunes for the field,” said Robson in a statement. “We obviously benefited, not least from the crashes at the initial race start. However, the team made the most of the situation and made good decisions throughout the race.
“Both drivers managed their pace, their cars and their tyres expertly and both were calm and confident throughout. Although we ultimately lost some places to faster cars, we are nonetheless very happy with the result. Finishing on the lead lap and in relatively dry conditions meant that we had to work hard to manage the fuel, but this was done well and in conjunction with the tyre management.”