Nicholas Latifi has strongly rebuked those who sent him personal threats in the aftermath of Formula 1’s season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and says that such a culture within sport needs to change.
The Williams driver crashed out at Yas Marina, triggering the late Safety Car period that prompted the dramatic denouement to the race and championship fight, in which Max Verstappen prevailed.
In the aftermath Latifi was the recipient of a deluge of insulting messages across his social media accounts, which included death threats.
On Tuesday, nine days after the finale, Latifi addressed the situation in frank fashion, condemning the abuse, and questioning the culture that led to such a torrent of abuse.
“I’ve been trying to figure out the best way to go about handling this,” he wrote.
“Do I ignore it and carry on? Or do I address it and tackle the bigger issue that is sadly a reality when you use social media?
“This isn’t some scripted statement, but rather me speaking my mind in the hope that this maybe sparks another conversation about online bullying and the drastic consequences it can have on people.
“Using social media as a channel to attack somebody with messages of hate, abuse and threats of violence is shocking – and something I am calling out.”
Latifi went on to explain that he “knew how things were likely to play out on social media” following the incident and removed the apps from his phone for several days.
“The ensuing hate, abuse, and threats on social media were not really a surprise to me as it’s just the stark reality of the world we live in right now,” he wrote.
“I’m no stranger to being talked about negatively online, I think every sports person who competes on the world stage knows they’re under extreme scrutiny and this comes with the territory sometimes.
“But as we’ve seen time and time again, across all different sports, it only takes one incident at the wrong time to have things completely blown out of proportion and bring out the worst in people who are so-called ‘fans’ of the sport.
“What shocked me was the extreme tone of the hate, abuse, and even the death threats I received.”
Latifi crashed out of the race while pursuing Haas’ Mick Schumacher and rejected any suggestions that he needed to apologise to anyone beyond his Williams squad.
“Reflecting on what happened during the race, there was really only one group of people I needed to apologise to for the DNF: my team,” he wrote.
“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 chequered 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.”
Latifi believes the negativity online that has enveloped Formula 1 – and more widely in sport – needs to change.
“People will have their opinions, and that’s fine,” he continued. “Having a thick skin is a huge part of being an athlete, especially when you are constantly in a position to be scrutinised. But many of the comments I received last week crossed the line into something far more extreme. It concerns me how somebody else might react if this same level of abuse was ever directed at them. No one should let the activities of a vocal minority dictate who they are.
“Events in the last week have made me see how important it is to work together to stop this kind of thing happening and to support those on the receiving end.
“I realise I’m unlikely to convince those who acted in this way towards me to change their ways – and they may even try to use this message against me – but it’s right to call out this kind of behaviour and not stay silent.
“To all the fans and people that did have my back during this whole situation, I want to say a huge thank you. I’ve seen and read a lot of your messages and they are much appreciated. It’s nice to know I have so many people supporting me.
“Sport is by its very nature competitive – but it should bring people together, not drive them apart. If sharing my thoughts, and highlighting the need for action, helps just one person, then it was worth it.”