ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Canadian driver Nicholas Latifi anticipates his Formula One debut for the struggling Williams team next season will be a difficult one.
He is joining as a replacement for veteran Robert Kubica, who has scored the team’s only point in a campaign where Williams has lagged behind other teams in terms of speed.
“I don't underestimate the challenge ahead,” Latifi said on Thursday. “I look forward to the journey ahead with the team, and I am excited to make my F1 debut at the Australian Grand Prix in 2020.”
Latifi finished the F2 championship this season in second place, winning four races with one race left this weekend at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. He has also worked as a reserve driver for Williams this year, doing testing and simulator work as well as participating in practice sessions during race weekends.
“It still feels a bit surreal,” the 24-year-old Latifi said. “I don’t think it will sink in fully until I’m on the grid in Melbourne next year.”
He will race alongside British driver George Russell, and completes the F1 grid for 2020.
Williams has been the slowest car all season, and the only point in 20 races was Kubica’s 10th-place finish at the German Grand Prix in July, with one race left.
Kubica was formerly one of the fastest young drivers in F1, touted as a future champion. But the 34-year-old Polish driver has struggled since returning after many years out of competitive racing, following a serious injury at the Ronde di Andora rally in 2011 in which his right forearm was partially severed.
At the Brazilian GP two weeks ago he almost collided with the Red Bull of Max Verstappen exiting the pit lane. Last month, he crashed into a wall just two minutes into qualifying.
Still, his return to the series was widely praised considering how serious his injuries were and how unlikely his comeback had seemed.
Kubica is reportedly considering whether to combine an F1 testing role with racing next year in the DTM series, a German touring car series.