Nicholas Latifi was set to make his Formula 1 debut for Williams at the 2020 Australian Grand Prix but the event’s cancellation means he remains without a race start to his name. Motorsport Week takes a look at the five other recent examples of those who came so close, but yet so far.
Esteban Gutierrez (Canada 2011)
First there was Sergio Perez and then there was Esteban Gutierrez: talented young Mexicans with a healthy amount of backing, and both wound up at Sauber. Perez’s promotion to a race seat for 2011 vacated the test/reserve role and that was filled by GP3 champion Gutierrez. Perez’s hefty qualifying crash in Monaco ruled him out of that race and while he hoped to compete in Canada he was not given clearance. But Sauber opted not to turn to reserve Gutierrez, fearing the 19-year-old would be thrown in at the deep end, and instead drafted in veteran McLaren tester Pedro de la Rosa. Gutierrez eventually made his debut for the team in 2013, made 59 starts for Sauber and Haas, and retains a Formula 1 connection through his Mercedes reserve role.
Luiz Razia (Australia 2013)
Brazilian youngster Luiz Razia had various Formula 1 test outings with Virgin Racing, Team Lotus and Toro Rosso in the early 2010s and in 2012 edged ever closer to the top by finishing as runner-up in the GP2 Series. Razia secured a Formula 1 seat with backmarker Marussia for 2013 but, after running at the opening Jerez test, did not appear at the second group session amid reports he had problems with his backers. Just two weeks before the season-opening round in Australia Razia’s contract was terminated. Marussia drafted in Jules Bianchi, who had been overlooked by the Force India team with which he spent 2012 as reserve. Razia never again got behind the wheel of a Formula 1 car.
Davide Valsecchi (USA 2013)
He is now known as everyone’s favourite excitable co-commentator but back in 2013 Valsecchi was the reigning GP2 champion. Having failed to capture a race seat he took up a reserve role at Lotus, acting as back-up to Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean. It wasn’t the worst place to be: in 2012 then reserve Jerome d’Ambrosio got a run out at Monza when Grosjean was banned for one event. In 2013 it was Raikkonen’s turn to be absent when he skipped the final two rounds in order to undergo back surgery. But instead of turning to reserve Valsecchi Lotus called former McLaren and ‘other’ Lotus racer Heikki Kovalainen. The Finn failed to add to Lotus’ points tally. A spurned Valsecchi left soon after, his golden chance gone.
Alexander Rossi (Belgium/Russia 2014)
Rossi is now one of IndyCar’s finest front-runners, a multiple race winner, and famously a victor of the Indianapolis 500 in his rookie year. But through the early-mid 2010s he was the American trying to break into Formula 1, initially with Caterham, then Marussia. On Thursday afternoon in Belgium in 2014 he was handed a race seat while “contractual issues” with Max Chilton were resolved. But early the following morning that decision was reversed. Rossi participated in FP1 but Chilton took back his race seat thereafter. Following Jules Bianchi’s ultimately fatal accident in Japan Marussia officially entered Rossi for the next round in Russia, but decided to field just one car for Chilton. Marussia then did not enter the final three events as the team collapsed. However, the entity was revived for 2015, thanks to its 2014 prize money, and Rossi eventually made his F1 debut in Singapore, the first of five events in which he raced.
Roberto Merhi (Abu Dhabi 2014/Australia 2015)
Erstwhile Formula 3 champion, one-time DTM racer and Formula Renault 3.5 front-runner Roberto Merhi surprisingly emerged as a test driver for the beleaguered Caterham squad mid-2014. Mud-flinging between various owners soured Caterham’s journey but its administrators secured funding for the Abu Dhabi finale – having missed two rounds – and Merhi was expected to drive, given ex-full-timer Marcus Ericsson had already left. But Caterham turned to Will Stevens instead. Merhi nonetheless persevered and for 2015 turned up at the revived Manor Marussia squad, next to Stevens. However, the team didn’t turn a wheel in Australia as it scrambled to ready its cars, leaving Merhi and Stevens kicking their feet all weekend. Merhi eventually made his Formula 1 debut at the following round in Malaysia, and started 12 more races through the year.