Nicholas Latifi at the 2016 US Grand Prix. Photo: Stefano Facchin.

Lance Stroll has been making headlines as the third driver to race in Formula One, following in the footsteps of the Villeneuves before him. There is however another Canadian element in F1, Montreal native Nicholas Latifi, who is currently a test driver for Renault works team. We sat down with Nicholas during the US Grand Prix in Austin, Texas.

JF: How are you enjoying Austin?

NL: It’s my first time here. I did the track walk with the team, it’s a beautiful track and definitely at the top of my list of tracks that I want to drive that I haven’t yet.

Have you done simulator tests of the track (COTA)?


So really new to you. Videogames?

Videogames, yeah [laughing]! It’s a really fun track. It as a little bit of everything, it has high-speed corners, elevation change, slow-speed corners. The first sector for me seems looks really, really fun to drive, and that’s what I like in a track. It’s very similar to the Maggots Becketts complex in Silverstone, which is probably my favorite section of corners out of any race track.

The one thing that I think when you walk, you don’t realize from watching videos and onboards is that the cameras don’t do the elevation justice because when you walk it … turn one obviously looks steep on camera and it is… but every other place on the track, there’s many more elevation changes that I didn’t even know were there. This is like a roller coaster of a track!

BARCELONA (ESP), 13-15 May 2016: Grand Prix of Barcelona at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. Photo: Sebastiaan Rozendaal / Dutch Photo Agency

Do you miss being back home in Toronto?

For sure I miss my home. I wouldn’t say I get homesick, but Toronto is my favorite place to be, it’s my home. It’s where my family is, it’s where my friends are. Out of all the places I’ve been to, Toronto is my favorite. I prefer as much as I can to be there if I have a break in the schedule and it makes sense for me to go back without unnecessarily tiring myself out from travel back and forth.

What do you feel about the level of education and Knowledge in general towards Formula One in North America? Do you feel something should be done to get North American audiences more involved in the sport?

Honestly, I don’t think the level of education about Formula One is as high as it should be. I think that it’s something that in my opinion should be worked on improving. I’m hoping that with the new ownership of Formula One there will be certain things that will be more interactive with fans and be more attractive or appealing to audiences, especially younger audiences.

I think it was said at the Singapore Grand Prix that the average age for viewers of Formula One is thirties and forties. We have young drivers in Formula One, for me it’s something that’s very appealing, it’s something that should be appealing to young people…. so why not? I think there’s a little bit of a gap there that needs to be bridged to make it more appealing, to make it more interactive and more accessible.

Were you attracted to Formula One when you were younger?

When I was younger, yes, I always went to the Montreal Grand Prix with my family, we always made a family weekend out of it. Besides my immediate family, my whole family lives in Montreal, I was actually born there. So we always made a family weekend out of it and it was always something that we enjoyed. When I would go at that young age, I never thought that I would be racing. I never thought at that point that I wanted to race in Formula One, I only started racing go karts at 13-years-old, so quite late compared to when most people start…

What made you get into it? What was that first spark?

NL: I kind of stumbled upon it really because my family wasn’t really a motor racing family, so no racing history. I had some cousins that lived in Montreal that had go-karts, not to race but just to take out on the weekends for fun and make a family event out of it, and I went with them one weekend. I had to drive the arrive and drive kind of karts, the slow ones because I was young and I didn’t know what I was doing.

I really enjoyed that so when I got back to Toronto, I told my father that I wanted to find a place in Toronto to go indoor, or outdoor, but again just for fun… no intention of racing. This was when I was about 12-years-old.

Honestly, I don’t think the level of education about Formula One is as high as it should be. I think that it’s something that in my opinion should be worked on improving. I’m hoping that with the new ownership of Formula One there will be certain things that will be more interactive with fans and be more attractive or appealing to audiences, especially younger audiences.

We found a place, and to make a long story short, the owner of the track used to race karts and he saw some talent in me. he convinced me and my parents to try a proper race in a proper go kart. It took a bit of convincing because initially I just wanted to do it for fun, it was nice to go on the weekend with my older brother, my dad. We just enjoyed our weekend event out of it. I said no on a few separate occasions but I kind of gave in. Once I started… the first race I did… I’m hooked, this is it!

Tell us about 2016, being your first year as a Renault test driver. Tell us about what you’ve done with the team in terms of development.

Obviously my main priority this year is the GP2 series. It’s my first full year in that. To compliment that I have a test driver role with Renault Formula One team. I’ve spent some time at the shop… at the beginning of the year I spent some time there doing some simulator days. At the beginning of May I drove the 2012 car, a race winning car, Kimi Raikkonen in Abu Dhabi. I did a test at Silverstone to get my mileage to apply for the [FIA] super license. I had another test before my GP2 race in Malaysia. I tested the same car in Valencia, I did over 100 laps.

It’s track time, but track time in a Formula One car, working with a Formula One team. I get to experience work with an F1 team, it’s completely different. There’s obviously many similarities, but it’s different with just the sheer amount of people you’re working with- and also the amount of information they have access to because of the different sensors they’re allowed. It was quite neat, and any track time for me is beneficial, especially considering that in GP2 you don’t get a lot of track time. You can’t do any testing except for pre-season testing. You show up, you have your 45 minute practice, and then straight to qualifying. Any little bit of driving you could do in between a round kind of helps because it keeps you in driving mode and it keeps you sharp.

Both Kevin and Jolyon are young drivers, any advice you’ve been able to extract from them?

In terms of Formula One, no because I’m not driving in Formula One. Jolyon is a GP2 champion, so he has given me some advice in GP2. He raced with the same team I’m racing with now so there’s a bit of familiarity there and he did quite a few years in the championship too so he has the experience and he knows what you need from yourself, what you have to try and get from the car. I think GP2 is a very driver influenced championship, you see that experience counts in that championship.

There are a lot of expectations from Canadian Formula One fans to have a Canadian driver in F1. Do you find yourself as a competitor with Lance Stroll, or a compliment to him.

I don’t really see it as competition. Besides a winter series I did with him in 2014, I haven’t actually raced against him in a proper championship. We’ve kind of taken different paths. He’s much younger than me as well. We were always in the same races in karting, but we were never in the same category.