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Opinion: Latifi's treatment in 2022 has been cruel and unnecessary

The Williams driver will not be returning for 2023, but some of the treatment towards him on social media in '22 has been cruel and was not necessary.

The news that Nicholas Latifi will not be returning to the Williams Formula 1 squad in 2023 is no great surprise. He has looked badly off the pace of new teammate Alex Albon - who has three points finishes to his name, while Latifi is yet to finish higher than 12th in the current campaign. Throw in Williams' courting of Nyck De Vries to partner Albon, and it always seemed likely that Latifi would be the one to end up without a seat once the music stopped and so it has transpired. The affable Canadian is by no means a bad Grand Prix driver. Merely to get anywhere consideration for a race seat, you must be very good. He won six F2 races and was second - to De Vries - in 2019. It's just that Latifi is unable to extract those final few tenths to put him above his teammate or elevate himself into a consistent midfield runner, as Albon has done this term. A Grand Prix career of an expected 61 starts over three seasons is nothing to be scoffed at - and let us not forget, that it was Latifi who ended Williams' points drought in the 2021 Hungarian Grand Prix with seventh place. Teammate George Russell was only ninth that day where Latifi ran as high as third after the first corner bowling from Valtteri Bottas. A very respectable effort then, but this year especially, Latifi has been treated to some cruel and horrendous social media treatment - perhaps best encapsulated by the 'Goatifi' moniker banded about.

Latifi treatment is wrong

Latifi's treatment in 2022 unfortunately stems back to the one thing his F1 career - should this be the end - will be remembered for: crashing on Lap 53 of the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. This of course brought out the Safety Car and then-race director Michael Masi rewrote the rulebook on the fly to trigger a one-lap shootout for the title between Lewis Hamilton (who had the race under control up to that point) or Max Verstappen on far fresher Soft tyres to the worn Hards on Hamilton's Mercedes. It was fairly obvious what was going to happen on Lap 58 as Verstappen dive-bombed Hamilton in the hairpin and held the lead to take the title. Latifi admitted to receiving death threats and other abuse on social media over the winter of 2021/22 for simply making a mistake while chasing Mick Schumacher. Had social media favourites Daniel Ricciardo or Charles Leclerc for example made a similar mistake, the outcome would have been vastly different - and the cloud of it would not be hanging over them nearly a year later. As a result of that day in Abu Dhabi, whenever Latifi does anything on track, a cursory check of the Deep Blue that is the bird-inspired social media app, the term 'Goatifi' is immediately banded about. Not since Pastor Maldonado has one driver been subjected to such uncalled far and cruel treatment. Big name figures within the F1 social media community and their publications bandy 'Goatifi' memes about all in the name of 'likes' and social media clout. You can just imagine now that after the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, someone will post about Latifi's purple sector in qualifying in Hungary - setting green and yellow in sectors 2 and 3 before finishing P20. "Thanks for the memories 'GOATIFI'' or some variant thereof will be the accompanying caption while others will no doubt post the image of him with a goat's shadow in the background. And what for? Because the guy made a mistake in the wrong place at the wrong time if you happen to support Hamilton - or believe the ending of Abu Dhabi was wrong. But there was still a racing lap in Abu Dhabi. Hamilton's driving at Yas Marina was not his best. When battling with Sergio Perez and losing seconds of race time, why didn't he cover the inside in the new 180 degree corner to stop Perez doing exactly what he did and dive up the inside? On that final lap, why didn't Hamilton park it on the apex of Turn 5 instead of leaving a gaping door marked 'WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP AVAILABLE HERE' for Verstappen - who would have been forced around the outside? If the guy drives around you after that, there's nothing left to say but fair enough.

Not Latifi's fault

Because he is a pay driver, in the eyes of some, Latifi is not worthy of holding an F1 race seat - which made him vulnerable to attack. But at the end of the day, consider this: while the keyboard warriors continue their agenda, Nicholas Latifi was able to drive and race Formula 1 machinery against some of the all-time greats in Hamilton, Verstappen, Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso. What can his critics attest to? Getting a few hundred interactions on social media. It's not even comparable.

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