At the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix Latifi progressed to Q2 for the second time is his career after showing promising pace in practice, which Williams said “disturbed” Russell.
“Nicholas had the upper hand on me every single lap this whole weekend, I was just confused as to why,” Russell admitted after qualifying.
Russell fought back in Q2 to qualify 12th, two spots ahead of Latifi, but Williams couldn’t capitalise on a relatively competitive weekend as both drivers crashed out of the race.
Still, the team took solace from its solid showing “on merit” in Italy, and Latifi’s improvements in particular.
According to Head of Vehicle Development Dave Robson the Canadian’s improvements stemmed from a combination of car upgrades, a lack of wind.
The Williams FW43B is notoriously wind sensitive, which the team hopes will make it competitive on some weekends while sacrificing others, and that radical design choice looked as if it was going to pay off in Imola.
“I think we had a few new parts here – the floor was the obvious one – I think that’s improved the car a bit,” Robson explained.
“We had the tyres working well here and I think the calmer conditions in terms of the wind helped the car perform better, which meant the tyres were working better.
“Everything was just a bit calmer and easier here, and that’s really where the lap time came from.
When asked if the lack of wind meant Latifi could find more confidence in the car, Robson replied “that certainly helped”.
“I think he was quick here out of the box in October as well when we came, so I think for whatever reason, he’s comfortable here in Imola.
“But for sure, having that confidence in the car definitely helps. Nicky needs that kind of momentum through the weekend, and he had it here.
“And even when he had a little blip in FP3, we got him back out and he was straight back on it. It really didn’t perturb him at all, either in terms of his faith in the car or what was going on in his mind.
“He just had tremendous mental strength and a great approach all weekend.”
Latifi crashed out on a wet opening lap when he rejoined the track after an earlier spin and then cut across Nikita Mazepin, admitting he hadn’t even seen the Haas driver in the treacherous conditions.
“I think just a small misjudgement on his part caused him to spin, and then he thought he was rejoining a clear track and the whole of the pack had gone past,” added Robson.
“A bit of contact with the Haas, and that was him in the wall unfortunately. It was a real shame. I think it’s one of those things in those conditions.”