Williams driver Nicholas Latifi says he received “extreme” death threats after his crash at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix led to Max Verstappen controversially winning the Formula 1 world title.
Latifi, 26, crashed with five laps remaining, resulting in the safety car being deployed.
The race was then resumed with one lap to go, in which Verstappen passed Lewis Hamilton to win the race and the title.
In a statement, Canadian Latifi said he had received “a lot of hate and abuse”.
He revealed: “Going back to the race weekend, as soon as the chequered flag dropped, I knew how things were likely to play out on social media.
“The fact that I felt it would be best if I deleted Instagram and Twitter on my phone for a few days says all we need to know about how cruel the online world can be.
“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. 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.”
The sport’s governing body, the FIA, has launched an inquiry into last weekend’s events in Abu Dhabi, where race director Michael Masi appeared not to follow the organisation’s own rules when it came to the operation of a late safety-car period.
The FIA has admitted the controversy surrounding the race was “tarnishing the image” of F1.
Latifi, who made his F1 debut at the 2020 Austrian Grand Prix, added “only one group of people” needed an apology from him – and that was his team.
“Thankfully, I’m comfortable enough in my own skin and I’ve been in this world long enough that I can do a pretty good job of just letting any negativity wash over me,” he said.
“But I know I’m not alone in thinking that a negative comment always seems to stick out more – and can sometimes be enough to drown out 100 positive ones.
“People will have their opinions and that’s fine. Having a thick skin is a huge part of being an athlete, especially when you are constantly in a position to be scrutinised.
“But many of the comments I received last week crossed the line into something far more extreme. It concerns me how somebody else might react if this same level of abuse was ever directed at them. No-one should let the activities of a vocal minority dictate who they are.
“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.
“I realise 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 behaviour and not stay silent.”