Vitantonio Liuzzi: the forgotten champion

Over the past couple of days, Vitantonio Liuzzi has re-emerged into the consciousness of this F1 fan. He remains in his role as test driver for Force India. But apparently it’s an “open secret” that the Italian has a contract to race for the team in 2010 and 2011.

I, for one, applaud this news. I have always been perplexed by the way Liuzzi was sidelined and shunned by all teams. That goes especially for Force India, who have possibly the two most easily-dropped drivers on the grid.

Giancarlo Fisichella — never the most exciting of drivers — is well into the waning phase of his career. Meanwhile, Adrian Sutil has precious little to show for his two full seasons, besides a one-off good run in Monaco which he partially attained by illegally overtaking under yellow flags. The only way you could construct a rustier partnership with current F1 drivers would be if you paired Rubens Barrichello with Nelsinho Piquet.

But why Liuzzi?, I hear you ask. Quite simply, he hasn’t had a proper chance to demonstrate his considerable talent in F1.

I say considerable talent, because that is what he has. Look back at the 2004 Formula 3000 season. Liuzzi was not only the last-ever F3000 Champion. He utterly dominated the field.

Granted, the field wasn’t the most exciting. The only other drivers to win a race that season were Enrico Toccacelo (whose career path fell off the edge of a cliff after that season), and Robert Doornbos and Patrick Friesacher, both of whom got a drive in F1 with disappointing results.

But someone who wins seven out of ten races and finishes second in two of the others in one of the most important feeder formulae needs to be seriously talented. Indeed, at one point he was supposedly destined for a role at Ferrari.

Unfortunately for him, he ended up getting tied up in the overly political world of the Red Bull driver development programme. In his first season as a Red Bull F1 driver, he was forced to share the seat with Christian Klien (another person whose career was left on the scrapheap). Even then, it was not exactly a fair share. He ended up racing just four times, as the Red Bull management clocked that having two drivers with limited experience was not as good as having one driver with solid experience.

For 2006, Liuzzi was offloaded to Toro Rosso where he partnered Scott Speed. It was the first year of the team’s existence, and an outdated and (deliberately) underpowered Cosworth engine did not help matters.

2007 should have been better, and things did begin to look up towards the end of the season. If we believe what we read, the atmosphere within the team was very political, and neither driver saw eye-to-eye with the management. Scott Speed left the team after allegedly being physically assaulted by team boss Franz Tost. After that, Speed came out and said that Franz Tost and Gerhard Berger were “pushing like hell to get rid of me and Tonio.”

Nonetheless, Liuzzi, unlike Speed, saw out the season. He was partnered by a certain young Sebastian Vettel. Today people note what Vettel has gone on to achieve, and how Liuzzi’s performances in the same car show the Italian in a more favourable light — as the Grandprix.com article highlights. This is perhaps slightly unfair. Vettel’s F1 career was just a few races old. By the end of 2007, Liuzzi had 39 races under his belt.

Nonetheless, you cannot avoid the fact that Liuzzi has not yet had a fair crack of the whip. He has never had decent machinery, nor has he ever had a favourable political environment to let him get on with the job.

Now his relatively large amount of experience would make him an ideal candidate for an F1 drive. This is especially the case now that (thanks to the ever-ingenious Max Mosley and the FIA) young drivers can’t get enough testing mileage to get proper experience before being thrown in at the deep end.

Tonio Liuzzi has played a canny move by taking part in the Speedcar series. Apparently his performances have turned heads. It certainly ensures that he won’t get race rusty.

I, for one, hope he makes it back into F1, if only for him to get a proper chance to show what he’s made of. A race seat at Force India is not exactly the Ferrari that seemed to be his destiny four or five years ago. It’s the least he deserves.

4 comments

  1. I’d never really considered how unlucky Tonio was. As you say he does appear to be a good driver and it’s a real shame that he hasn’t had a fair chance to show his talent.

    Hopefully he does get the drive next year and it’s a decent Force India car.

  2. Tonio might have ended up reduced to testing a Force India through no fault of his own, but his testing pace was slower than either Sutil or Fisichella last year, which is not indicative of a driver who is likely to do better than either of them at Force India.

    That said, there’s likely to be a lot of movement across the grid at the end of the season – it may well be that another team finds that Tonio is the best candidate for them.

  3. I think this year will be Fisi’s last season. And tbh I’ve never seen why Sutil is so highly regarded. I’d have dropped him after the end of last season.

    So the signs are good that Tonio will be in the hot seat next year – probably with Sutil alongside him.