The excitement of a driver in one motorsport championship heading over to compete in another will never fail to thrill me. Having a racer famed for their F1 prowess head to Indycar or Le Mans, as Fernando Alonso explored in recent years, or seeing WEC champion like Brendon Hartley racing in Formula One are like crossover movies for me. It's like seeing Batman turn up in a Spider-man flick – two characters inhabiting parallel worlds but never meeting, suddenly face-to-face with one another and answering all my unanswered fan questions.
The latest example of the convergence of two racing championships came in F1's Italian Grand Prix, where Formula E driver, Nyck de Vries debuted in Formula One. While there has been a steady flow of F1 drivers heading to the all-electric single-seater championship, it's always one-way traffic. So seeing someone from Formula E, particularly the champion, was a unique treat... Unless your name is Nicholas Latifi.
De Vries was always set to appear at Monza, with a Free Practice test for Aston Martin planned before the weekend. However, taking to the Williams FW44 for the second time in 2022 (after his Spanish Grand Prix Practice session) wasn't on the schedule. Stepping in for Alex Albon, who underwent surgery for appendicitis, was a last-minute call, yet de Vries took to the task like he had been part of the paddock all year.
While lap times can only tell part of a story, no matter how you assess de Vries over the weekend, it doesn't look great for Latifi. In FP1, Latifi finished bottom of the pile and 1.4s adrift of his teammate Albon, who took his Williams to P11. De Vries drove the Aston Martin for the first time in 2022 and finished ahead of Latifi, although over a second behind Lance Stroll's P15 time. However, de Vries was also spotted with some aero rakes to pick up test data on the car, so perhaps those times weren't indicative.
On Saturday, de Vries went from enjoying a relaxing morning coffee to having to refamiliarize himself with the Williams team and subbed in for Albon. With just an hour of prep time in FP3, where he was just a tenth of a second off of Latifi's best lap, the young Dutchman faced his first competitive F1 session. While Latifi has participated in every practice, qualifying, and Grand Prix of 2022, de Vries had just two Free Practice sessions to his name with Williams machinery. So, it should've been a day for Latifi to lead the team.
Imagine you work in a cocktail bar, making exotic drinks for clients and serving the occasional beer or wine, thoroughly familiar with your surroundings after spending most of your year there. Then a talented new hire also with experience being behind a bar, but not like yours comes in. You'd expect it to take at least a week or two to learn the ropes. For example, how to operate your cash register and credit card machine, where the bar keeps its surplus stock, the price list, and so on. If they took an hour and began outperforming you, it'd be fair for someone to question if you're the right person for the job. That's what de Vries did with Latifi.
In Q1, just two-hundredths separated the pair. In a sport where slim margins can be the difference between winning and losing, de Vries was very much the winner. Latifi slumped out of Q1, while his rookie teammate set the 13th fastest time in Q2. Both would receive promotions for the Grand Prix, thanks to the numerous penalties for nine drivers, meaning de Vries would start in P8, with Latifi one row behind in P10. Still all to play for, right?
Although both Williams cars started in point-paying positions, the season's evidence, Latifi's in particular, suggested that an FW44 scoring points at Monza would be a tall order. Considering Sergio Perez, Carlos Sainz, and Lewis Hamilton all began their Italian Grand Prix further back, losing some places was expected. Latifi lost four positions on the opening lap and dropped another two before Lap 5 as Perez and Sainz found their feet. The Canadian was down in P17 by Lap 8. De Vries, meanwhile? He hadn't lost a single position, even though he and his Williams were, theoretically, well out of place.
De Vries had out-qualified his more experienced teammate, had a far better race start, and then to cement his supremacy – or, rather, Latifi's inferiority – crossed the line in P9 to collect two points. Latifi, by contrast, finished second-last and one lap down after losing further places to Valtteri Bottas and Mick Schumacher in the race's closing stages. It was a humbling weekend for Latifi.
News from Williams following the Italian Grand Prix suggests Albon's surgery might've been more serious than initially stated. Although the Thai driver is at home resting, their press release read as though he might not be fit to race in the upcoming Singapore and Japanese double-header. With Formula E's season finished and de Vries making a dream debut, finding a replacement driver shouldn't be too arduous. Don't be surprised to see the surprise F1 newcomer on the grid again in Singapore.
De Vries now sits ahead of Latifi in the championship standings, despite racing in 15 fewer Grands Prix this year. As well as beating Latifi to the 2019 Formula 2 championship, he's now beating the Canadian in the 2022 F1 standings, showing that the wrong driver graduated that year. Questions over Latifi's F1 future have hounded him all season, and now, after the de Vries cameo, they may have been answered.