Reports surfaced over the weekend that Williams are lining up reserve driver Nicholas Latifi to replace Robert Kubica after the Pole’s underwhelming start to the 2019 Formula 1 season.
Kubica, in his first season back in F1 after a forced hiatus of eight years after being seriously injured in a rally crash in Andorra whilst driving for Renault in Formula 1, has found himself behind his rookie team-mate George Russell in every qualifying session and race of 2019.
Whilst making it back to Formula 1 at all should be hailed as a complete triumph, Kubica himself would undoubtedly have wanted to fare better than stone last on his return.
The distance between the two Williams drivers was as big in qualifying for the Spanish Grand Prix as it’s been all season, despite Kubica ridding himself of the much maligned chassis with which he’d contested the first four Grand Prix of the year and that was blamed for the Pole’s relenting time deficit to his team-mate.
This, and Nicholas Latifi’s form in F2 where he’s won three of the six races of the 2019 campaign and hasn’t yet finished lower than sixth, building up a 26 point lead in the championship as a result has led to speculation that the Canadian is being lined up to take Kubica’s seat from him before the season’s out.
Much discussion followed, mainly online – via some semi-respected news outlets and on social media – about the varying merits of keeping Kubica and replacing him with Latifi.
All of these reports and discussions seem to be conveniently ignoring the fact that Nicholas Latifi doesn’t have the required super license points to compete in Formula 1, and won’t unless he finishes fourth or better in this year’s F2 championship.
The FIA superlicense points system was introduced in 2015 to ensure that drivers entering Formula 1 had the required experience to be able to handle racing at an elite level.
The threshold for competing in F1 is 40 points accumulated over a three year period, with points being awarded for different achievements in motorsports: F2 & champions are awarded 40 points, F3 and FE champions get 30, DTM champion 20 points etc. all the way down to junior kart championships which earn their winner a handful of superlicense points.
By my reckoning, Latifi currently has 27 superlicense points, 13 short of the 40 required to compete in F1 (there’s a different requirement for drivers taking part in Friday practice), and therefore is unavailable to replace Kubica even if the team wanted it to happen.
Even if he were available, would Williams see any benefit in replacing one of their drivers with another that is AT BEST going to be able to finish only ahead of its other car with the team net result being exactly the same (ie last and second last)?
Williams sponsor Orlen have made no secret of the fact that their involvement depends on Kubica being at the wheel. Why would Williams jettison one of their main financial backers whilst at the same time having to financially compensate both Kubica and Orlen as per their contractual obligations for such a meagre gain?
The answer is, they wouldn’t. It would be madness.
So unless Robert decides he’s given it a go and it just hasn’t worked and hangs up his helmet, don’t expect any mid-season driver changes at Williams.