There is a lot of speculation surrounding poor old Nicholas Latifi at the moment after his unfavourable start to the season with Williams, but could be really be replaced before the 2022 season is over?
Alex Albon has out-qualified and out-raced Latifi at every event so far this season having arrived after a year away from the sport, and he has scored all of their three points with splendid performances in Australia and Miami.
Latifi has suffered notable crashes in Saudi Arabia and Melbourne this year, and they have been intertwined with a lack of pace compared to his team-mate.
The Canadian was significantly adrift of the pace needed to secure a place in the second qualifying session in Imola, but his lap times improved in Miami as he managed to qualify within a couple of tenths of the Thai-Brit.
But we are yet to see anything special this year from Latifi, whose vicious cycle at the moment is bringing more crashes followed by a loss of confidence, and he must find a way to break the spiral.
His form through 2021 was rather impressive; he scored points on two occasions alongside George Russell, and out-raced the 24-year-old of five occasions as he began to vindicate the faith the Grove-based side had shown in him.
Unfortunately, he has been unable to carry that over to this season, perhaps partly due to a hangover from having a crucial, and much maligned, part to play in the late title drama between Max Verstappen and Sir Lewis Hamilton.
And his frequent mistakes while trying to compensate for Albon’s pace advantage is gathering a lot of unwanted attention.
The names of Mercedes reserve Nyck de Vries and Alpine reserve Oscar Piatri are being thrown in the hat to replace him, and speculation was intensified by Spanish journalist Albert Fabrega claiming that there is an imminent swap “between two teams.”
De Vries is fresh off winning the Berlin E-Prix for the Mercedes EQ team – his second win of the season after a difficult run of his own – while Piastri could easily count himself unfortunate not to be on the grid having dominated the Formula 2 championship last year.
De Vries is taking the Canadian’s seat for the first practice session at the Spanish Grand Prix this weekend, but his immediate sights are set on Mercedes’ title bid in Formula E, with a possible seat in IndyCar with the Meyer Shank possible on the horizon too following his test with them in December.
It would therefore seem that Piastri – if anyone – would be the logical option if Williams did decide to make the switch – and former F1 driver Ralf Schumacher believes that the young Australian would deserve the drive after winning four races on his way to F2 glory in 2021.
“The Williams investors want two strong drivers in the car. Albon is doing a great job and the difference to Latifi is very, very big,” he said, quoted by PlanetF1.
“There are a lot of exciting things happening in Formula 1 right now and one of them could be a driver change this year.
“Piastri would be a perfect choice. If he doesn’t deserve the seat, who does?”
Williams team principal Franz Tost moved to cool speculation over Latifi’s future, asserting that he intends to honour the 27-year-old’s current contract that expires at the end of 2022.
“We have contracts with both of our drivers and we respect them,” he told Sport1.
“Nicholas was only slightly slower than Alex on Saturday. He just needs a little more time to get used to the new car.
“But he has our full support and for us there is currently no question of changing anything about our driver pairing over the course of the season.”
As for Piastri, the German confirmed his belief that “he’ll be in F1 next season.”
Will Williams make the switch mid-season?
Probably not. Though Piastri is deserving of a drive in F1, it is evident that the Williams team find great value in the money that Latifi brings to them, but there seems to be a genuine and vehement belief at the team that he can start to replicate some of the form that he has shown in the last two years.
Whether he can replicate the stunning drive we saw in Hungary last year on a consistent basis remains to be seen, but Williams have never been particularly big on turning their backs on drivers before the season is completed.
Will Latifi be gone next year? Almost certainly, and that is when the door will likely be open for either Piastri or de Vries.
Exactly whom will be given the drive is a point of great intrigue, and that puzzle will go some way towards being solved when we see how the Dutchman gets on during free practice this weekend.