Stu Cowan: Nicholas Latifi geared up for first Canadian Grand Prix

Hoping for a similar result that fellow Montreal native Lance Stroll enjoyed in his first race on Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve in 2017.

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Like Lance Stroll, Nicholas Latifi was born in Montreal and as a youngster would attend the Canadian Grand Prix as a fan.

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And like Stroll, Latifi will get to race in the event for the first time as a driver for the Williams team.

Stroll made his Canadian Grand Prix debut in 2017 as a Formula One rookie at age 18 and also earned his first two points in the drivers’ standings by finishing in ninth place.

The hometown fans went wild, celebrating almost as if Stroll had won the race.

Latifi, 26, is in his third season in F1 and has only seven career points in the drivers’ standings — none this season. Since the Canadian Grand Prix was canceled the last two years because of COVID-19, this will be his first race on Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve.

“The last few years, it goes without saying that it’s been pretty frustrating and disappointing to have missed this race,” Latifi said Friday morning, ahead of the two practice sessions for Sunday’s race. “Not only because it’s my home race, but I think it really is one of the best races on the calendar. To have the opportunity to be here now is just a very, very special feeling.

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“I think naturally, any driver’s home Grand Prix is ​​for sure a bit more going on in the background,” he added. “I flew straight from Baku, so I’ve been here since Monday evening. I’ve tried to get some media stuff and commitments done before Thursday just to kind of lighten the load throughout the weekend. In reality, I’m just trying to treat it the same as any other race. In reality, this race is no more important than any other race. For sure, there’s that special feeling of being here and having that home support and have so many family and friends here. A lot of them haven’t even been able to come to any Formula One races so far in my career, so it’s obviously pretty special. But I’m just going to try and keep it business as usual once I get on track.”

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Latifi is the only driver besides Mick Schumacher of the Haas team not to have scored a point this season. Stroll has only two points with Aston Martin.

Schumacher is the son Michael Schumacher, the former Ferrari legend who won seven F1 world championships, a record he shares with Lewis Hamilton.

Speaking of fathers, Latifi and Stroll have something in common in that both of their fathers — Lawrence Stroll and Michael Latifi — are billionaires who have helped finance their sons’ F1 careers.

“To be honest, I don’t remember the first year that I came here,” Latifi said about attending the Canadian Grand Prix as a fan. “I don’t know if it was maybe like 7 or 8 years old, something like that. I think since then I’ve only missed the Grand Prix once, in 2012, when I was in Italian Formula Three and just happened to be racing on the same weekend. Even before I started racing, it was always kind of like the first weekend off after school was done. Come over here, make it a family weekend, being reunited with a lot of my family that still lives here in Montreal. It was always just a very enjoyable weekend in the summer — just to kick off the summer, really, the summer break. So it’s pretty cool to be back.”

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Team Williams-Mercedes pilot Nicholas Latifi at the team's paddock at Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve in Montreal on June 16, 2022.
Team Williams-Mercedes pilot Nicholas Latifi at the team’s paddock at Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve in Montreal on June 16, 2022. Photo by Dave Sidaway /Montreal Gazette

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen is also happy to be back in Montreal. He’s the defending F1 world champion and has won six of the first eight races this season to lead the drivers’ standings with 150 points — 21 points ahead of second-place teammate Sergio Perez.

“I always enjoy coming here,” Verstappen said. “First of all, it’s a great city. The track as well is quite unique in their layout and the way the corners are with the chicanes and the way you have to take curbs. So I’m excited to be back and hopefully have a good weekend.”

Montreal is also a special place for Hamilton, who has won the Canadian Grand Prix seven times, including his first F1 victory in 2007 and the last race on Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve in 2019.

This has been a difficult season for Hamilton, who ranks sixth in the drivers’ standings with 62 points for his Mercedes team.

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“Very special coming back to Montreal,” Hamilton said. “It’s great to see the people of the city, it’s great to see the energy throughout the city as you’re going through. I remember my first time here and my first Grand Prix win here, my first pole in 2007. So it’s always special when I come back here.

“My dad called me and we reminisce about these sorts of things,” Hamilton added. “So it’s great to be back. I can’t wait to drive this track because the track is also great. I just hope our car is better this weekend.”

Latifi is hoping for the same thing about his car.

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