• Nicholas Latifi interview

Racing Roundup: Nicholas Latifi on schedule for F1 seat next year, farewell to Jim Martyn and the rest of the auto racing news

I am back at my auto-racing post.

Norris McDonald By: Norris McDonald October 28, 2019
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Although jet-lagged beyond belief – I flew back from Japan Saturday, just as I was getting acclimatized there following a 13-plus-hour flight to that Far East country last Sunday – I am back at my auto-racing post. Although I had a hard time staying awake for it (that jet-lag thing again), I saw Lewis Hamilton win the Mexican Grand Prix (I will have more to say about him later) and tuned in just in time to see Martin Truex Jr. win the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup race at Martinsville, which was followed by the now-obligatory fist-fight.

I will be at the U.S. Grand Prix in Austin, Tex., next week where two things of significance will happen: unless something calamitous happens, Hamilton will win his sixth world championship. He needs a mere four points to wrap up the title. And Nicholas Latifi of Toronto will drive a Williams in the first Free Practice session Friday morning (as he did in Mexico Friday – see photo above) and unless something calamitous happens (I like that phrase . . . ), it will only be a matter of time before the team announces  that agreement has been reached for him to partner George Russell in the 2020 world championship.

When that happens, and unless something calamitous happens and Lance Stroll isn’t in a seat next year with SportPeza Racing Point F1, it will mark the first time in history that two Canadian drivers will be racing full seasons in F1 at the same time.

Here is a transcript of a recent interview I had with Nick.

Norris McDonald: You were a bit of a late-bloomer, weren’t you? In that, your parents didn’t have you in a go-kart when you were a child. And you went to Europe to start racing cars. For those who might not be fully aware of who you are, how about bringing us up to date?

Nicholas Latifi: You’re right, I didn’t do any car racing in North America. I did some kart tracing but not a lot because I didn’t start racing those till I was 13. I did four years of karting; my last year of karting was also my first year of cars.

If you ask the drivers who are racing at a high level – Formula 3, Formula 2, Formula 1 – when they started racing, the average would likely be around age 8. You have the extreme cases like 4 and 5 years old, the Verstappens and people like that, but there was not a lot of karting for me. I didn’t have a lot of time to hit my stride.

I decided if I was going to give cars a try, and that was in 2012 – I didn’t have a lot of guidance as far as which championships to enter – but we knew if I wanted to race in Formula One, I was going to have to go race in Europe. It’s happened in the past but it’s very rare now for someone who’s racing in North America to move over there and be successful.

The first time I raced over in Europe, it was 2012 and it was in Formula 3. Because I was still doing a full season of karting in North America and select races in Europe, I would go back and forth. I was still living at home – I was doing home schooling, online schooling at that point because the traveling was becoming too much (I never did finish my schooling, by the way). So I would go at the beginning of the week, have a few days to get over the jet lag, and then come back Sunday night or Monday after the race, so there was a lot of travel. At those times I would just stay in hotels; I had my driving coach with me – David Tennyson: he was with me all through karting so we had developed a very strong relationship.

Norris: Going from karts to F3, that’s a pretty big jump. How did you handle it?

Nicholas: For sure I was nervous. The first year in cars,  there were a lot of unknowns. As I said, we didn’t get a lot of guidance as far as the right series, the right teams. We didn’t have any knowledge of the European teams. Looking back, I would say that was probably one of the biggest mistakes we made in terms of my racing career – going straight to Formula 3. Especially me being so inexperienced in motorsport in general, I would have really benefited from having a year in, say, a lesser series like Formula Renault 2.0.

Here I was in my first year in cars and I’m in there against people who have been in cars for three or four years plus years more in karting, so it was very, very difficult for me. It forced me to grow up pretty quickly. It was Italian F3 the first year, so it wasn’t a big championship – there weren’t a lot of promising drivers like there were the next two years in the European F3 championship I was in, with over 30 cars on the grid. Tons more competition. That second year was really like being thrown into the deep end.

Norris: You handled it all pretty well, though. You showed some serious mental toughness during those early years.

Nicholas: I think it (mental toughness) is something that comes from experience. I would say motor racing – all sports at a high level are like this, actually – what separates the good from the not-so-good is that mental edge. I know it’s something I work on to this day. You can’t get flustered or frustrated when things don’t go your way but how you deal with them and overcome them is what counts.

“I mean, I went to Formula 3 and didn’t get the results that I wanted because I didn’t have the experience and didn’t really know what was going on. In European racing, you go through a lot of lows but those lows are character-building. If I compare how I am today with my first year in cars, or when I started in karting, like how I deal with the setbacks, it’s like I’ve matured. If you go through a racing career and have it easy and drive for the best teams and win all the races, it spoils you. And then when you have negative things, you probably don’t deal with them as well.

I think when you arrive in F1, and there’s so much more pressure, scrutiny from the media, how well you do from one day to the next, it’s important to be mentally tough and to have a thick skin.

Norris: Well, when you get to F1, you really are in the big leagues.

Nicholas: Yes, Formula One is probably the most cutthroat business in the world. One day you can be a hero, the next day you’re a zero.

Norris: You seem to have made a good progression. You’ve done well in F2 this season . . .

Nicholas: Coming into this season, I knew I would have to fight for the championship. (Another driver has locked up the title; Latifi is in second place.) I do feel that I’ve been driving at my best. There’s a consistency that perhaps wasn’t there before. Everything that happened to me before in my racing career more-or-less prepared me for where I am this year.

Norris: Your results in F2 and your time in the car in FP1 in F1 the last two race weekends have impressed people, several of whom have suggested that you are a driver who has the Right Stuff. Is this how it seems to you?

Nicholas: Yes, I think so. It hasn’t been all smooth sailing for me but I’ve been taking it one step at a time. I haven’t rushed things; I didn’t rush into F1. This is only my 11th year in total being involved in motorsport and, to be frank, everything is on track. Nothing has been rushed; it’s been very methodical.

Norris: Do you expect to be in F1 next year?

Nicholas: That’s the goal. If everything goes to plan, I should be there next year.

Norris: How is Williams to work with?

Nicholas: I expect it will be a good, comfortable, working relationship. I like the team atmosphere, I like the professional way they go about doing things. I know the performance of the car and team this year isn’t where everyone would want it to be but that’s how things go in F1 sometimes. They could change really quickly. That’s how it is.

But yes, from the first day I spent at the factory, to the on-track, everyone from the mechanics and engineers, marketing, media PR people, hospitality and so-on has made me feel very welcome and if, at some point, I wind up racing with this team, I would feel very comfortable. I feel confident that we would be able to turn it around. They have the knowledge, the expertise, the resources to be able to do that. Look back at their history, they have the pedigree and capability to do it.

Norris: Your father owns part of McLaren. I have to ask: is a ride there a possibility?

Nicholas:  I would say what I said when the news came out last year: it’s a business investment by my dad. A passion project of his. He always said he wanted to invest in a sports team. It’s completely separate from my racing career.

FAREWELL TO JIM MARTYN

As mentioned at the beginning, I was in Japan, at the Tokyo Motor Show. It was there that I learned that my old friend Jim Martyn had passed. I’d known Jim for years, of course, as the consummate professional announcer but we got close when we worked together on a radio show for the Fan590 and it continued from there.

Nicholas Latifi interview

His daughter, Trice, sent out the bad news: “It is with a heavy heart that we have to let you all know that our father Jim Martyn has passed out of this life to the great PA booth in the sky. For all who knew him, he was sweet and kind, always had a smile and something nice to say or a sharp word.”

Jim was a fixture at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, which distributed this tribute:

“Canadian Tire Motorsport Park is deeply saddened to learn of the passing of our long-time friend Jim Martyn. A fixture at our track as announcer, Jim was well known throughout the motorsport community as a talented broadcaster with a kind and warm personality and a friendly smile that lit up media centres at race tracks everywhere.

“Jim started broadcasting at then-Mosport in May of 1987. Track owner Harvey Hudes gave him the job announcing races leading him on a career journey covering motorsports, eventually working with Radio Le Mans among others, but always a mainstay as our track announcer.

“Our deepest condolences go out to the Martyn family, as well as our gratitude for sharing Jim with all of us for so many years. Jim loved our sport greatly, but also (as so many of us do) held this track especially close to his heart.

“Thank you, Jim, for all the hard work, passion, and care you poured into this place. You will be greatly missed.”

And IMSA, through Marshall Pruett at RACER, had this to say about him: “All of us at IMSA are deeply saddened to hear the news of Jim Martyn’s passing,” outgoing IMSA president and former ALMS president Scott Atherton said. “He was a true friend of IMSA and motorsports of all kinds and I know everyone will miss hearing his voice coming across the PA.”

I don’t think anyone knew as much about sports car racing as Jim did. It was his speciality and he knew the history of the sport and literally all of the drivers, particularly early in his career when he was doing races like the Petit Le Mans, the Rolex 24 and the big one itself, the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

It was while working as part of the international announcing team for Radio Le Mans early in the Millenium that Jim lived through what I believe had to have been a life-altering experience. While leaving the Circuit de la Sarthe early in the morning the day after the race, the car in which Jim was riding collided with a transport truck and he was seriously injured. As well as putting him into the hospital and out of action for a period of time, I think it also robbed him of something and his life wasn’t really the same after that.

It was following his recovery, though, that we wound up working together on Fan590. There was an opportunity for a motorsport program and producer Pete Gibson had sold a sponsorship to Pfaff Auto and hired Jim to host the show. They needed a sidekick for him and I wound up with the job.

In retrospect, I really have to say it was a good show. Between Jim’s and Pete’s connections, and mine, we had most of the major motorsport players of the day on the program and we got along really well together. There was one big problem, though: we were supposed to be on the air Monday nights at 7. The company that owned the station also owned the Raptors (still do . . .) but were unable to sell the radio broadcasts to another station or network so had to put them on Fan590. You would not believe how many times the Raptors played games on Monday nights back then, so we’d get bumped till after the games ended. Our 7 p.m. show would often not make it onto the air till midnight or later. It’s hard to build a radio audience in this day and age at the best of times but impossible when a program is always getting moved around. Anyway, we got cancelled but it was terrific fun while it lasted.

As well as announcing at CTMP and other North American tracks, Jim was also on the auto show circuit for years, representing General Motors. In fact, a couple of years ago, I assigned Jim a story for one of Toronto Star Wheels’ Canadian International AutoShow special sections and he did a fine job explaining what a manufacturer’s rep does when dealing with the public at places like the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

His funniest line – and Jim had a great sense of humour: “We’d spend a month, or so, learning everything there is to know about all the new cars that will be on display in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver but sure as shooting, the one question I’m always asked, year-after-year, doesn’t have anything to do with cars or trucks. It’s, ‘Excuse me, sir: where’s the washroom?’ ”

R.I.P., Jimmy. You were one of a kind.

WEEKEND RACING

As mentioned up top, Hamilton won the Mexican GP and will most likely wrap up the championship next week at the U.S. GP. Sebastian Vettel finished second and Valtteri Bottas, who destroyed his car on Saturday during qualifying, was third. That shunt Saturday was very significant. First, it was a big hit and the car was badly damaged. Kudos to the Mercedes pit team for getting it back together and running well enough for the driver to finish up on the podium. But Max Verstappen, who won the pole, had it taken away from him because he didn’t slow down when the yellow flags were waved.

Nicholas Latifi interview

I suggest that Max will now clam up about everything. The stewards, apparently, were not going to investigate but when Max was asked about the flags during his post-qualifying media conference, he talked at length about the situation. It was then that the stewards got involved. So his honesty cost him the pole and – who knows? – maybe even a victory, So when he says “yes,” and “no,” in answer to questions the rest of the way, you will now understand why.

For a complete story of the race, please click here.

One thing before leaving F1. It is true, in life, that when people don’t pay attention to history, they will repeat it. (Actually, never mind history. I don’t think most people pay any attention to anything, which was illustrated by the results of our latest election.) Anyway, F1 is convinced it is a wonderful idea to race in a parking lot in Miami next year. They have to race there because if they try to race through the streets of that city, the residents will simply not allow it. However, the last time F1 raced in the U.S. in a parking lot was in 1981 and ’82 at Las Vegas. They raced around Ceasar’s Palace and both races were disasters financially because nobody attended. Modern F1 cars need modern circuits on which to stretch their legs. A parking lot GP is a dumb, dumb, dumb idea.

Okay, NASCAR now, better known as Sunday Night Fights.

Martin Truex Jr. won the Cup race at Martinsville, Va., Sunday, with William Byron second and Brad Keselowski third. Truex, with his Canadian crew chief Cole Pearn, thus qualified for a spot in the Final Four who will race for the championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway in a month. For the second straight weekend, there were fisticuffs. Denny Hamlin didn‘t like Joey Logano pushing him and pushed back. Then the pit crews pitched in and the NASCAR officials got involved and – well, a short donnybrook ensued. Look, I like passion as much as the next guy but NASCAR got away from this stuff years ago and it was for the better. You don’t see football or hockey players going after each other when the games are over and that should be the case in NASCAR.

For race details, please click here.

Last item: Kyle Busch did his one-word-answer bit again Sunday and a reporter asked his employer, Joe Gibbs, about it. Joe said that except for his wife and child, racing is the only thing Busch has in his life and that when something goes wrong he gets very upset. Good explanation but not good enough. He’s a professional racing driver and media relations are part of the job. Every time he pulls that nonsense, he should be fined by either NASCAR or Gibbs Racing.

By Norris McDonald / Special to Wheels.ca

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