Canada rumours - Piastri set to replace Latifi at Williams
The future of the Canadian driver is in doubt after some speculation at his home race last weekend.
Canada was meant to be a homecoming for Nicholas Latifi. 3 years since his last home race, the weekend should have been a celebration, a homecoming for the local hero. Alas, a weekend of gossip ensued, and it was all about the end of Latifi's time at Williams.
Rumours throughout the weekend from the like of Sky Sports F1 and The Race seemed to indicate that 2021 F2 Champion and current Alpine Reserve Driver Oscar Piastri is likely to become a Williams driver from 2023, replacing Latifi who has had a poor start to the current Season. Whilst the team themselves have struggled to have a competitive car for the past 4 years, many saw George Russell's dominance over his old teammate as being the British driver's determination to prove his worth in the Mercedes. Alex Albon who, after a year on the sidelines, now pairs with Latifi and has quickly picked up where Russell left off - outperforming his teammate in qualifying, race finishes and championship points. The points themselves are still scarce for the team (Albon sits on 3, Latifi on 0) however Albon has had a number of close-call finishes just outside of the Top 10 on more than one occasion. Latifi by comparison has finished 16th in 5 of the 9 races so far this year.
Then there's Oscar Piastri. There was a lot to be said about the young F2 Champion missing out on a seat for the current Season. Speaking at the Autosport Awards in February he said "I would have loved to have been on the grid full time, but I think it's been proven time and time again that a year out is not a career killer". There was certainly an expectation from fans and the paddock alike for Oscar to make his debut this season and in just missing out he becomes the perfect candidate to replace Latifi, the only question is about his ties to Alpine. Rumours are of a loan deal by Alpine, who with an impressive return in the form of Fernando Alonso, could keep their current lineup for next year. After that, the action of bringing back their own talented young driver with real F1-driving-experience is certainly an appealing one.
What else could Latifi do if he does lose out? Budget caps across the sport put a bit more pressure on who a team chooses to drive their car, and Latifi's current record of crashes (Monaco, Saudi Arabia, Australia) comes with a hefty price tag. He could remain at Williams in reserve, keeping his sponsor and partnership at the team that brought him into F1 in the first place. There's also the option of an alternative championship, with Formula E being the most likely choice. Latifi's old F2 teammate Sérgio Sette Câmara is currently paired with former-Alfa Romeo driver Antonio Giovanazzi at Dragon Penske. Giovanazzi has had a disappointing debut in the electronic series, and any exit would be a good opportunity for Latifi.
Whilst Latifi's exit looks to be on the cards, we are yet to receive any formal confirmation from the team themselves. Williams will want to ensure their own future in the sport, particularly with a risky driver move such as this. Sofina Foods, a private catering company, is run by Nicholas Latifi's father and is a major sponsor for the team, and parting ways with the driver often results in losing any tying sponsor, as seen very recently with Haas and Mazepin. With hype over Piastri's potential and the incredulity of his absence this year, it's unlikely Williams will struggle to attract a new partner compared to previous years. It'll be a sad end for the Canadian driver who never really got going in the Williams, and constantly in the shadow of his teammates. In many ways, a new opportunity elsewhere could be best all parties involved, but knowing when it's time to go is a rarity in the motorsport world.