Formula 1

Latifi shows how Albon’s Williams heroics compared to Russell’s

by Mark Hughes
4 min read

There wasn’t any real element of in-team competition at Williams in 2022, as Alex Albon smoothly took on the role of team leader formerly held by George Russell, leaving Nicholas Latifi in his wake.

This effectively ended Latifi’s three-year Formula 1 career and while there were occasional moments of promise by the Canadian – he made Q3 in the wet of Silverstone, for example – the FW44’s balance issues destroyed any confidence he had built up in the previous two seasons.

For Albon, the Williams drive was a career lifeline after being replaced at Red Bull by Sergio Perez for 2021 and he grabbed it with both hands after a year on the sidelines. It would probably be fair to say he was undercooked when in his rookie season he was placed at the senior Red Bull team alongside Max Verstappen. But it would be equally fair to say that he overdelivered at Williams almost as convincingly as had Russell before him.

His progress was no longer littered by incidents and he made a habit of over-qualifying what was undoubtedly the slowest car in the field and using out-of-synch strategies to gain track position over faster cars and then to defend for all he was worth. It garnered the team more points than the car probably warranted.

Latifi contributed a couple of points with a gritty ninth in the wet of Suzuka, gained by a gamble straight onto intermediates as soon as the safety car came in.

Albon made Q3 on merit at Spa, utilising the car’s strong straightline speed, and while there were no Russell-style miracle grid positions (George having qualified second at Spa and third at Sochi in 2021), probably even Russell couldn’t have achieved them had he been in the car this year.

Latifi is the baseline for this – and for him there is absolutely no doubt.

“This year’s car was a step backwards,” he says. “I guarantee if George was here he’d say the same.

“Last year’s car wasn’t easy and I did have to adapt my driving style to it, but this one I found particularly difficult.

“It’s partly the philosophy of this generation of car; they are less driveable, stiffer, more on the edge, less forgiving. It’s partly the tyre, partly the aero. But our car in general has some fundamental flaws in the balance.

“We’re lacking downforce but for me that wasn’t the problem – though obviously you always want more of that. But for me it was about the balance, the fundamental handling. It was similar to previous years’ cars but more.

“You know what you want when you hit the brakes and the initial input on entry, mid-corner and exit and it’s all been a bit mismatched and that’s what I found particularly difficult. I wasn’t able to get on top of it as strongly as I needed to. And I didn’t have the confidence to push the car on the limit.

“It’s a results-based industry and the performance hasn’t been there, this year particularly and the team had to do what’s best for them. But I’m definitely satisfied that I didn’t leave anything on the table, how I went about things. No regrets. The work on the simulator, I spent a lot of time on the simulator. I’ve done a lot trying to get on top of the issues I’ve had with this car. But it didn’t work out.”

Latifi’s deficit to Albon in qualifying, at 0.472%, was greater than in any other team-mate match-up. Although he qualified ahead of Albon in the wet of Silverstone, the comparison figures are taken only from dry sessions. That margin was also greater than Russell’s advantage over Latifi in 2021 (0.319%).

While that could be taken as evidence that Albon was quicker than Russell, realistically it’s a measure of how much more Latifi struggled with the FW44 than the less bad FW43. Internal measures suggest that Albon wasn’t quite on Russell’s pace, but the gap was respectably small.

2022 team-mate qualifying gaps*

Record Average margin (%) Average margin (seconds)
Albon 12-0 Latifi 0.4717% 0.390s
Verstappen 14-3 Perez 0.4001% 0331s
Norris 14-1 Ricciardo 0.3548% 0.294s
Bottas 9-3 Zhou 0.3399% 0.281s
Magnussen 10-5 Schumacher 0.1764% 0.146s
De Vries 1-0 Latifi 0.1622% 0.134s
Vettel 7-6 Stroll 0.1563% 0.129s
Leclerc 10-3 Sainz 0.1521% 0.125s
Gasly 7-5 Tsunoda 0.1274% 0.105s
Alonso 7-6 Ocon 0.0589% 0.049s
Stroll 1-1 Hulkenberg 0.0219% 0.018s
Hamilton 11-5 Russell 0.0149% 0.012s

*Only dry sessions counted. Only times from same session compared (ie if one graduates and the other does not, the comparison is only from the session both took part in). Only trouble-free sessions compared (ie not mechanically-compromised ones, nor non-serious q-laps because of PU penalties). Percentages all relative to a seasonal pole lap of 1m 22.736s (ie the average of all the ’22 pole laps at the 17 dry circuits)

Albon has made himself a hugely popular member of the team, but former technical director Francois-Xavier Demaison felt he needed an extra ingredient, commenting on the official F1 website: “Alex was a really good help for us, because we are only engineers and we need drivers to give us a direction. Because of his experience, it’s helped us and given us the right direction.

“He’s a nice person – sometimes too nice. He needs to be a bit more hard with the team and push us a bit more, but I’m working on this. Every day I tell him, ‘You have to be a…’ – a word I will not pronounce! If you want to be a world champion, you have to be like this.”

All Albon can do is continue to punch in the quality performances and hope the team can make progress. He certainly sets a high benchmark for the incoming rookie Logan Sargeant.

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