ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — Canadian driver Nicholas Latifi will make his Formula One debut for the struggling Williams team next season as a replacement for veteran driver Robert Kubica.
The 24-year-old from Montreal finished the F2 championship this season in second place, winning four races with one race left in his third campaign on the circuit. He has also worked as a reserve driver at Williams this year, doing testing and simulator work as well as participating in practice sessions during race weekends.
"It still feels a bit surreal," Latifi said. "I don't think it will sink in fully until I'm on the grid in Melbourne next year."
He will race alongside British driver George Russell, and completes the F1 grid for 2020.
Latifi joins Montreal's Lance Stroll on the top circuit next season.
Williams has been the slowest car all season and scored one point, which was Kubica’s 10th-place finish at the German Grand Prix in July.
"I don't underestimate the challenge ahead," Latifi said.
Canadian Grand Prix promoter Francois Dumontier, who attended Williams' introduction of Latifi in Abu Dhabi, called the presence of two Canadians on the F1 grid historic.
"It has never happened in the history of F1. If we talked to the 22 promoters of the F1 races, I'm sure they would all like to have one driver from home in the championship," Dumontier said by phone.
Dumontier is excited about the prospect of having two Canadian drivers to promote at next year's race in Montreal.
"Having two Canadian drivers gives us possibilities we did not have before," he said. "Nicholas was born in Montreal and moved to Toronto with his family when he was young. We have never hidden the fact that Toronto is a market that is important to us. We will work with Nicholas, because he can play a very important role at the promotional level. He will give us more visibility in the rest of Canada."
Kubica was formerly one of the fastest young drivers in F1, touted as a future champion. But the 34-year-old Polish driver has struggled since returning after many years out of competitive racing, following a serious injury at the Ronde di Andora rally in 2011 in which his right forearm was partially severed.
At the Brazilian GP two weeks ago he almost collided with the Red Bull of Max Verstappen exiting the pit lane. Last month, he crashed into the wall just two minutes into qualifying.
Still, his return to the series was widely praised considering how serious his injuries were and how unlikely his comeback had seemed.
Deputy team principal Claire Williams said he was delighted with the signing.
"All of us at Williams have been immensely impressed at what he has achieved this year in FIA Formula 2, along with his commitment to the team, and the work that he has put in behind the scenes," Williams said.
"Nicholas has become an established and well-respected member of Williams, and we look forward to him stepping up into this new role, as we look to fight our way back to the midfield."
— With files from Canadian Press reporter Alexandre Geoffrion-McInnis