Nicholas Latifi says the online abuse he received after the Abu Dhabi grand prix prompted him to hire security staff as a precaution – and wants to work against it happening to others.
The Williams driver revealed in December he received extreme online abuse including death threats in the days following the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. He was targeted after his crash which caused a Safety Car period late in the race which proved a deciding factor in the title fight between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton.
During the abuse, Latifi said he did feel legitimately threatened. “It sounds silly to some people,” he said “but at the end of the day, you don’t know how serious people are. All it could take is one drunk fan at an airport or you bump into someone who was having a bad day and they’re intoxicated, under the influence of something and [have] these really extreme opinions and all it takes is that one-in-a-million person.”
He admitted that the threats had been worrying enough to hire private security. “I went to Winter Wonderland with my girlfriend because we didn’t manage to fit that in before the last block of races and I had some security detail with me on that. It sounds funny, sounds silly but we definitely did take threats seriously because again, you really don’t know what could happen.” Latifi called the situation “just an unfortunate part of the world we live in.”
“It’s always going to be there, not even in sports – entertainment, arts industry,” he continued. Latifi believes there is more to be done to address toxic environments online. “Personally, since being back from my holidays I’ve been looking at ways myself, first doing a bit of research.”
Latifi said his focus is “specifically along the themes of what I endured with the cyber-bullying, hate, online abuse, which I guess is one of the more new generation’s common contributors to potential mental health issues, especially for younger people, for teens and whatnot.
“I’ve been looking at ways to try and get involved, looking at different organisations. There will be some things throughout the year that I will be doing, obviously there’s nothing to say or announce yet. I think it is a very serious topic, especially now more than ever. Maybe in previous years it was a topic that maybe a lot of people didn’t want to speak about, but it is one of the most important things in modern times.”
Latifi noted fellow F1 driver Lando Norris’s advocacy work around mental health issues. “I think it is important to be open, to talk about these certain things. Obviously Lando is one of the outspoken drivers about it. I think everyone knows – drivers, teams, organisations as a whole – it’s something that can definitely be pushed a bit more.”
Norris said “it was a shame to see” the abuse Latifi received. “Obviously, it’s just nothing that you ever want, he deserved none of it in any way. It’s just a shame.” He agreed such problems are “not just Formula 1, it’s everywhere in sport, football and whatever as well.
“It’s something I’ve learnt over the past few seasons already, that there just always seem to be those people out there who, I guess, that’s the only thing they’re doing with their lives, they’ve got nothing better than to attack those people and just make fun of people and those kind of things. It sucks and you just hate to see and maybe it affects you in a small way but nothing more than that, hopefully, anyway.”
He said that he tried to see online abuse as funny and “kind of take it as a laugh, as a joke rather than take any of it personally because there’s nothing you can do, you’ve got to focus on your own job, on your laps or whatever and if something happens then that’s out of your hands, there’s no reason you should take the blame for it.”
Norris said that “hopefully it can change” but in the interim, drivers had to “not care about it really. It’s quite simple or blunt but you’ve just got to not care what people say, up to a certain standard and just get on with things.
“Hopefully it can get better, there’s a lot of effort that us as a team and Formula 1 are doing about these kind of things and hopefully it can just continue to improve and get rid of those people.”
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