Canadian Nicholas Latifi was so affected by online abuse and death threats after the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix that the Formula One driver hired bodyguards for his sightseeing trip to London with his girlfriend.
The 26-year-old Montreal native was threatened after the season-ending race, where he crashed his Williams car into a wall with a few laps left. It led to a safety car, and late drama followed as Max Verstappen overtook Lewis Hamilton on the last lap to win the world title in one of the most controversial moments in F1 history.
“I was back in London after the race and I had security with me when I went to Winter Wonderland with my girlfriend,” he said Tuesday after Williams’ 2022 unveiling at Silverstone. “You have to take the threats seriously because you don’t know what might happen and it is just an unfortunate reality of the world we live in, and there were extreme death threats which went way over the line.”
As outrage grew among some observers at how Hamilton missed out on a record eighth title, Latifi was unfairly caught in the firing line and took the threats very seriously following the December race.
“It sounds silly to some people but at the end of the day, you don’t know how serious people are,” Latifi said. “All it needs is one drunk fan at an airport, or you bump into someone who is having a bad day and they are intoxicated under the influence of something, and they have these really extreme opinions."
Latifi had anticipated receiving online abuse after Abu Dhabi so, at the time, he deleted Instagram and Twitter from his phone.
“I’ve been trying to figure out the best way to go about handling this. 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?” he said in a statement at the time. “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.”
The 23-race season begins on March 20 at the Bahrain GP.
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Jerome Pugmire, The Associated Press