Nicholas Latifi: Life in the (Very) Fast Lane
From go-kart to race car, Nicholas Latifi’s metoric rise in motorsports comes from a life- long desire to be first place.
Interview By Sarah Kanbar
If life can sometimes feel like it’s going by in a flash, imagine what it must look like from the perspective of race-car driver Nicholas Latifi of Toronto, zipping down a straightaway at speeds reaching 300 kilometres per hour in a sport that, from the outside, appears to be one of the world’s most dangerous and risky.
“Most drivers never think about the risk involved; it’s just an inherent part of the sport,” says the 22-year-old Latifi. “It’s a surprisingly very safe sport, as there is probably more risk of injury playing hockey, soccer or American football. Safety is a top priority in our sport, as the cars are very safe and the manufacturers are always working toward improving them.”
There is a school of thought that says race-car drivers are in fact the world’s greatest athletes, not only for their bravery, but also for the incredible microsecond synchronization of all of the human motor skills. Think of it: hands on the wheel changing gears, ears and body sensing when to gear up or gear down, both legs working the accelerator and brakes, eyes darting about an instrument panel that resembles a space shuttle, all the while being cognizant of the twists and turns of the track and the actions of your fellow competitors.
And this isn’t just a two-minute downhill run. This can be more than two hours of intense, unrelenting pressure in extreme heat while enduring crushing G-forces, where losing concentration or focus for even a nanosecond can mean losing your life. For Latifi, the mental part of being a motorsports driver is key.
“Yes, you obviously have to have a bit of natural, raw driving talent and the competitive desire to win, but the mental part is very important,” says Latifi. “You have to be able to cope with pressure in every race, as you have to perform and deliver — your seat in the car is never guaranteed. This may be the most cutthroat sport in the world, as there are only so many spots in the field. Mentally you also have to overcome adversity because there are so many things that could go wrong. In motorsports there are a lot more lows than there are highs — but the highs are so great.”
Latifi has been enjoying more highs than lows lately, as he debuted in the Formula Two Championship series in 2017 with one win and eight podium finishes in just 19 race starts, placing him in the top 10 overall. And the big show of Formula One may be even closer, as in 2016, Renault named Latifi its new test driver. This continues the meteoric rise of one of the bright young stars of world motorsports. Latifi has been racing competitively for just eight short years, and like many race-car drivers, got his start go-karting.
“I started karting at Formula Kartways in Brampton when I was 12, which is actually quite late,” says Latifi. “When I began I didn’t have the intention of pursuing it as a career; I just sort of stumbled upon it as a hobby for fun. But when I started to get better at it, I started to love it more and more and thought, maybe this is what I want to do as a career, with my goal being to drive Formula One.”
“In motorsports there are a lot more lows than there are highs — but the highs are so great — Nicholas Latifi
Latifi’s career has been distinguished by success after success; he has been making his mark on racetracks across Europe since he was just 16 years old. In 2012 he won on the Italian Formula Three Championship circuit and in 2013 moved to the British and European Formula Three Championship series. In 2014 he graduated to the Formula Renault 3.5 Series, where he finished in 11th place overall in 2015, before moving to the Formula Two Championship series to drive for the DAMS team in 2016.
In his brief ascension toward the top of his sport, this kid from a Brampton go-kart track has now rubbed shoulders with motorsports royalty. His two favourite drivers are legendary seven-time Formula One champion Michael Schumacher of Germany and four-time champ Lewis Hamilton of England. While Latifi has never met Schumacher, he has encountered the mercurial Hamilton, widely regarded as the best driver of his generation.
“He sometimes gets painted in a bad way, but he’s a really nice guy,” says Latifi. “He’s always under the spotlight and has an aura around him as the ‘bad boy,’ but in my opinion he’s very nice and down to earth, and of course he has that natural raw speed.”
It has been a momentous career for Latifi thus far, with the highlight coming earlier this year. “No question, my most memorable moment to date was the race I won this year at Silverstone in England, my first win at this level,” says Latifi of his victory at one of Europe’s most famous racetracks, and his personal favourite. “It’s true what they say about your first win being the toughest, and while I had come close before, it was a relief to finally win and to prove to myself that I actually can win. I also take pride that I’m one of the few Canadians to race at this level and win, while representing Canada on the international stage.”
Nicholas Latifi — remember the name. Canadians will take pride in watching this young superstar athlete’s racing career as it flashes past us so quickly.