Following his latest Formula 1 outing with Force India during practice for the Canadian Grand Prix, we catch up with development driver Nicholas Latifi to get the latest on his push towards the pinnacle of motorsport, his ongoing Formula 2 season, and, of course, those McLaren rumours...

It must have been good getting back in the F1 paddock at your home race in Canada. How did you feel your after your latest FP1 running?

Nicholas Latifi: I really enjoyed it. It was the highlight of the year up to this point. I think it’s going to remain the highlight of the year. As it was my first full FP1, there were obviously some emotions and feelings just associated like that, the first time driving on an official grand prix weekend, and the fact it’s at my home grand prix and that I was born here. I have so many family and friends, so a lot of people came out to support me. With that obviously comes some added pressures, positive pressures which gives positive energy. The goal was never really to go for a quick lap time, because there’s much more to lose than to gain from that. I really enjoyed the experience.

As you said it’s your home track as well. Growing up as a kid, did you come to the race a lot?

NL: Yeah, we used to always sit at the Turn 10 hairpin when we first started coming here as a kid, so we have a lot of good memories with the family. We always used to make it, because I live in Toronto, a big family trip here to Montreal and join the rest of my family, have a big chunk of that hairpin grandstand! Later on we moved to Turn 1 and Turn 2, and some of those grandstands. Lots of great memories coming here to watch those races.

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How important was attending those races in building your dreams of becoming an F1 driver? Was it here it clicked, or did you know much earlier than that?

NL: Honestly, I only started racing quite a bit after I was originally coming to the grand prix. I started racing cars at 13, so relatively late compared to most drivers like Esteban Ocon, Charles Leclerc, and Max Verstappen. It really started out at 13 for me. Before that, although I’d been to many grands prix before, I hadn’t really thought that this is something I would like to do because I never experienced it, never tried it. We always watched the races, but that was about it. I kind of just stumbled into the sport and karting, then I tried it once and I was hooked. Then the passion growed from there.

You’ve got a few more FP1 outings planned with Force India between now and the end of the season. Are you able to talk about it, or is it still hush-hush?

NL: I can’t say yet which ones I will be doing, but there will be a few more FP1s, so I’m really looking forward to that and to build on the experience that I have now. Obviously there’s an opportunity to get in the car as well in Budapest at one of the test days. We’ll have more opportunities in the car. I can’t disclose yet which specific ones I will be doing, but there should be announcements made relatively soon. I’m looking forward to those obviously.

How are you finding your work with Force India in this development role? Are you doing a lot of work behind the scenes as well?

NL: So far I think I’ve settled into the role quite nicely. I’ve done quite a lot of simulator days. That’s a big part of what I try to help the team with, especially now that in more recent times since the Barcelona test as I’ve actually driven the car. Before that I was sort of just driving and giving feedback based off a feeling, or trying to get the simulator to feel more like a real car but not necessarily the real car because I hadn’t driven it. Now I have driven the car, so it’s only beneficial for the sim engineers. As much as they would like to have one of the race drivers in every day, it’s just not possible. We have a full-time simulator driver, Nick Yelloly, who does a very good job for the team, but obviously he’s not driven the current car. Just to have someone else that has, it helps them a lot. Everyone has been very welcoming and friendly. It’s a great environment. When you spend some time in the factory and around the team, you realise why they have the reputation they do. Obviously they don’t have the biggest budget and aren’t the biggest team, but they’ve been able to do quite extraordinary things in the past years. You understand why they’ve been able to do that in the way they work. I’m just really enjoying my experience so far.

In building your experience, are you really looking to 2019 and thinking that you are ready to make that final step up to Formula 1 if an opportunity comes up?

NL: For sure that’s my goal. I’d like to arrive in a Formula 1 seat sooner rather than later. I know that at the end of the day, first and foremost it’s dependent on my performance in Formula 2 and nothing else really, because I need my Super Licence. I have 20 of the points, so if I finish I think a minimum of fifth again, I get 20 points. Obviously I’m pushing for much more than that, but I think any driver in a situation like myself who is racing in Formula 2 and has a link to an F1 team, it’s always clear. But without the F2, it doesn’t really matter what happens in F1. In all the FP1s I do, I can be faster than my teammate, but it doesn’t really matter if I don’t have my Super Licence, right? That’s the important thing, the focus is on that. Obviously we have a big stretch of races coming up which I’m excited for, and the outings I have in Formula 1 are really to supplement just track time and further the knowledge and the experience of it, so if I do eventually arrive in an F1 race seat, which is ultimately the goal that I’ve been working towards.

Looking back at your start to the F2 season, things haven’t gone perhaps as you would have hoped. How are you looking at responding in the next few races? Are the right ingredients there to add up and spark an upturn in fortunes?

NL: I definitely didn’t have the strongest start. I got quite sick at the start of the season, and I even had to miss the first F1 test and the first few days of F2 testing, which with the new car was not ideal for sure. So I was going into the first race already a little bit behind. I’ve made some mistakes, which have been quite costly. There have also been mistakes that have been out of my control. I’m sure you’re aware of the start situation with the clutch. In Barcelona I had my best qualifying of the season so far, and then in the feature race there was literally nothing I could have done to avoid it, there was a problem with the clutch. That kind of ruined the whole weekend. I think on paper, it looks much worse than it actually has been. If I’m to break it down, let’s say you need five boxes to check across a weekend, I think we’ve been hitting four of them each weekend. It’s just the one thing you don’t hit.

It must be harder for a driver like yourself who is getting close to F1, trying to prove yourself, and then you’ve got issues outside of your control with the car dragging you back...

NL: For sure it doesn’t make it easier. That is the name of the game in motorsport, it can happen to anyone. I’m not the only one who’s had bad luck this year in Formula 2, there’s been many other people stalling and having engine failures. I think that’s just a bit of the same issue that everyone’s had to deal with, the fact that the car is brand new. It’s understandable that there are technical gremlins and stuff. For sure probably much more than the series organisers would have liked, but it is what it is. Everyone’s in the same boat. For sure it obviously doesn’t help the situation. But everyone really is in the same boat. It kind of adds to the character and the mental toughness that you have to have. I think that’s one of the things that makes motorsport one of the most difficult sports in the world, because there are so many things that are out of your control. You can be doing everything perfectly, and then something happens that ruins your weekend and it’s gone. A lot of people and athletes perhaps don’t realise that in a lot of sports where most of it is in your control or your teammate’s control, but there’s things like ‘acts of God’ that can happen, a technical problem can happen, someone can crash into you.

Looking at Formula 2 for next season, do you think you’ll still be in the category? You’ll have done three full seasons by then. Will you be looking to move on even if there isn’t an F1 seat available?

NL: I think it’s too early to think about next season. The goal is fully on this current season and F2, and turning this season around so I have a strong year there. Ultimately if I do do that, and I’m confident that I will be able to do that, hopefully I won’t have to spend another year in Formula 2. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Are series like Formula E or IndyCar of interest at all?

NL: Honestly, I’ve never really considered them. It’s not because I don’t find them appealing, but when I started my journey of moving to Europe and trying to reach F1, that’s been the goal. I haven’t really wanted to think about ‘if I don’t make it to F1, I can go here or here’. I find that kind of takes the focus away, having that back-up plan. Formula 1 is the goal, it’s what I’ve been working towards. Until I know it’s 100 percent not possible, which I don’t think I’m nearly there yet or anywhere close to that, then I can evaluate options for my future after that. Like I said, I’m confident I can turn the F2 season around and get the results I need to hopefully prove I deserve a seat in Formula 1.

Quite a lot has been written and said in recent weeks about your father investing in McLaren. Is there any impact on your racing activities? What’s your side of it?

NL: In reality, as much as it seems from the outside to the general public, it really has no involvement in my racing career. It was a pure commercial opportunity for my dad, something he’s quite passionate about and has been for a long time. Ultimately if I get to Formula 1, I want to do it based off my performances on-track, getting there on merit and earning it. You can’t put two and two together. As much as it seems from the outside, that’s the situation.

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