Canadian F1 driver Latifi says he received death threats after crash

Williams driver Nicholas Latifi of Canada attends a media conference ahead of the Austrian Formula One Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring racetrack in Spielberg, Austria, Thursday, July 1, 2021. (Bryn Lennon/AP)

Canadian Formula One driver Nicholas Latifi is speaking out about online bullying after receiving death threats following the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

The Toronto native crashed out of the season finale with five laps remaining. Latifi's wreck brought out the safety car to bunch up the field as Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton was firmly in the lead ahead of Red Bull Racing's Max Verstappen, who pitted for fresh tires.

Race director Michael Masi let the five drivers between Hamilton and Verstappen unlap themselves (after initially saying they weren't allowed) and the two title contenders faced off head-to-head when the Grand Prix resumed for the final lap. Verstappen overtook Hamilton and held on to win both the Abu Dhabi GP and his first career world championship.

It doesn't take long for one to search online and find accusations Latifi was bought off by Red Bull and cost Hamilton a record-breaking eighth world title.

Latifi, who drives for Williams, knew he would be on the receiving end of the blame game on social media as soon as the chequered flag dropped but it's the level of vitriol that stunned him.

"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," Latifi said in an online post Tuesday. "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 finished 17th overall, collecting seven points during his sophomore F1 season and believes the only people he has to apologize to are his crew. He's hoping to spark the conversation on condemning online bullying by calling out those who spread messages of hate and abuse.

"Some people said I was racing for a position that didn’t matter with only a handful of laps remaining," he said. "But whether I am racing for wins, podiums, points or even last place, I will always give it my all until the checkered 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 said he also received messages of support and explained it's only a vocal minority who have directed negative comments, however, he showed concern for others who can't easily brush them off.

"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," he said. "I realize 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 behavior and not stay silent."

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