On Tuesday (Dec. 21), Williams driver Nicholas Latifi took to Twitter to make a statement on the abuse he’s received following the events of the Formula 1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix almost two weeks ago. Latifi’s crash on lap 52 of 58 stemming from a battle with Haas’ Mick Schumacher inadvertently spoiled what would have likely been an otherwise uneventful procession to the end of the race and Lewis Hamilton’s eighth drivers’ title. Instead, the crash brought out a safety car and a one-lap battle to the finish that saw Max Verstappen win his first Championship.
Here’s what Latifi had to say. You can also read his message on his website.
If you don’t know the story by now, here’s the gist. Due to Latifi’s collision, the field was bunched up under yellow flags while marshals cleared the track. Then, a late decision by FIA race director Michael Masi to free only the lapped traffic between race leader Hamilton and second-place Max Verstappen set up a sudden death scenario on the final lap — one Verstappen easily won on account of having much fresher tires.
Inevitably, the hate speech and death threats came pouring in Latifi’s way in the days since. As if he’s to blame for a course of events over which he had no control, and as if he’s supposed to not drive in the final race of the year because he’s not one of the championship contenders, even though any points at all is a good thing for the struggling Williams team.
I can’t even begin to immerse myself into the mindset of a self-proclaimed fan that wishes ill on one of the drivers for any reason, nor do I want to. This reaction is regrettably far from surprising in the tensest, closest title fight F1's had in ages, where the staggering level of competition exhibited by Hamilton and Verstappen on track throughout the whole of 2021 paradoxically brought out the worst in an unsettling number of those watching.
The abuse is even more absurd when you consider that, for a lot of these idiots, their ire boils down to a belief that in a championship of 20 drivers, only two are allowed to try. It’s the duty of the rest to trundle around like lemmings so the special few can have a real race. From Latifi’s comments:
Reflecting on what happened during the race, there was really only one group of people I needed to apologize to for the DNF: my team. I did that right afterwards. Everything else that followed was out of my control.
Some people said I was racing for a position that didn’t matter with only a handful of laps remaining. But whether I am racing for wins, podiums, points or even last place, I will always give it my all until the checkered flag. I’m the same as every other driver on the grid in that regard. To the people who don’t understand or don’t agree with that, that’s fine with me. You can have your opinion. But to use those opinions to fuel hatred, abuse and threats of violence, not only to me, but to those closest to me as well, tells me these people are not true fans of the sport.
Of course, Latifi isn’t the only one on the receiving end of this ugliness; you can bet Masi, as well as Hamilton and Mercedes boss Toto Wolff, have gotten generally hateful messages in their mentions too. Especially Masi, which has resulted in collateral as these instances often do. Max Verstappen and Christian Horner, who at least have a world championship trophy to distract from the bullshit, are probably getting the same. I’d add that slightly inflammatory and unnecessary comments from the likes of Wolff and Horner really didn’t help ease tensions year amidst their respective fanbases, but of course they’re not responsible for anyone’s death threats or conspiracy theories.
It’s coming from all sides and all camps, which I feel a duty to point out when someone inevitably comments “typical Lewis fans” underneath this post. And while it’s true that this sort of thing isn’t new, precedent doesn’t make it excusable. Personally, I find it a relief that there won’t be any racing for a few months.