The Forgotten Man
The world was at his feet, yet cruelly taken away from him. He is stuck as a reserve driver in the worst team in Formula 1 and taken part in events significantly lower down the motorsport pecking order. How can Vitantonio Liuzzi be forgotten so easily?
Liuzzi impressed in the International F300 Championship of 2004, of the 10 races that season he scored 9 pole positions and 7 race wins. He dominated the season with a final total of 86 points, 30 points more than the nearest competitor and fellow compatriot Enrico Toccacello. The season impressed Red Bull Racing, who for 2005 bought out Jaguar, and the new team originally opted for the Italian to partner David Coulthard.
Yet life never seems fair, the main people at Red Bull opted for Christian Klien instead of Liuzzi. But since there was a contract for Liuzzi to race at least a few races of that season, he got the gig for races 4-7, San Marino, Spain, Monaco and Europe. He managed to get his highest finish of 8th in the San Marino Grand Prix, but mainly benefitting of the BAR exclusions and Ralf Schumacher being handed a 25 second penalty at the end of the race. His last race of that spell was at the Nurburgring, where he clocked a 9th place finish. It would also be his last race of the season, the team keeping him as a test driver with Klien on the front line. The Austrian would end up scoring another 6 points that season and Red Bull would end up with a solid end to their first season in Formula 1.
But the Red Bull empire wasn’t going to stop at helping with one team, oh no, the lovable minnows of Minardi were purchased and the new team of Toro Rosso were created. The team needed drivers, and with Red Bull using David Coulthard and Christian Klien again for the 2006 season, Liuzzi was left without a race drive. He opted for the new Italian outfit alongside American Scott Speed.
The season was slow, the team struggling to get to grips with Formula 1 and securing just the one point, yet still finishing in 9th ahead of other new comers Midland and Super Aguri. The high point of the season involved Liuzzi at the United States Grand Prix, mainly being helped by the massive first corner crash involving seven drivers who were forced to retire, including Liuzzi’s team mate Scott Speed.
He was signed up for Toro Rosso again for the 2007 season alongside the American, but cracks began to show in relations between the two drivers and the owners of Toro Rosso, Franz Tost and Gerhard Berger. Scott Speed issued a statement where he said that the owners wanted to get rid of both him and Liuzzi for next season. Unsurprisingly, Speed was sacked a week later for the BMW Sauber test driver Sebastian Vettel. Vitantonio Liuzzi lasted the season, securing a 6th place at China, and along with Vettel’s 4th, made the race Toro’ Rosso’s best finish at the time. He came close to scoring points at the Japanese Grand Prix as well, but in the torrential rain he overtook under waved yellow flags and was given a 25 second penalty, losing his point to fellow minnows Spyker.
Liuzzi was not retained for 2008. Vettel stayed at Toro Rosso and they brought in four time Champ Car champion Sebastien Bourdais. He moved to Force India in the winter of 2008, where he was in competition for a race seat alongside the likes of Franck Montagny, Ralf Schumacher and the eventual driver Giancarlo Fisichella. He was still chosen as a test driver at the team, but with no opportunities arriving for him during the 2008 season and so far during the 2009 season, he opted to drive in Speedcar and the A1GP. He showed speed during the first qualification he was a part of, securing pole position at the new Portimao circuit in the Algarve of Portugal. His highest finish was a fourth in the Sprint Race at that same venue.
What are the options now for Vitantonio Liuzzi?
The contracts for the race drivers at Force India, Giancarlo Fisichella and Adrian Sutil are coming towards an end at the final race of the season. Liuzzi’s contract on the other hand finishes at the end of the 2010 season. Therefore, assuming that the contracts are not renewed for either driver, especially considering Fisichella’s age and the slight demand that Adrian Sutil is in, after two long years of test drive and reserve duties at Force India, he may finally get the gig after two years of patience at the team.
But Force India have shown loyalty to both race drivers and it could be a case that both their contracts are renewed for yet another season, leaving the unfortunate Italian once again left out in the cold. The problem I see with this is that in my own opinion, Liuzzi is the best driver out of the three of them. What is the use of using the best driver in the team as someone who turns up at a race weekend hoping that one driver or the other can’t make it due to being ill. If it were me in Vijay Mallya’s boots, Giancarlo Fisichella would be the reserve driver. The only the reason he is in the team is for experience that he has over the years, race victories at Renault. But race victories shouldn’t buy yourself into a race seat just because you have a few more than the other guy. At best, Fisichella is average, compared to work Liuzzi had to put up with at two poor, slow Toro Rosso cars he showed some class at times, I am yet to see that from Fisichella in his Force India. Sure he has come close to the points at several occasions this season, Monaco this season is a good example, but at a track like Monaco, its down to strategy that he got where he was, all he has to do is keep it on track and from there cause some sort of Trulli Train in the form of a Fisichella Ferry (Possibly better to have been used during Monaco of 2008). Adrian Sutil has outclassed him in qualifying and had it not been down to some pretty bad luck in races this season, he could have had Force India’s first ever points. Tonio could easily match Sutil.
My only worry about Liuzzi is the in season testing ban meaning he will be rusty if he does end up at Force India or another race team next season. Without being involved in another racing series, come January when pre-season testing starts, he will not have driven a race car around circuits since May and the A1GP at Brands Hatch. Ideally for Liuzzi, he needs to be in another series, possibly GP2 if there is a race seat available. Aside from GP2 however, there are no series going on during the summer that can offer the same class of quality that he needs to be driving at. There is the possibility of doing what Bourdais did and feature in a LMS or ALMS race at some point.
One thing is for certain about Vitantonio Liuzzi, he deserves more than he has got in motorsport thus far. No chance to shine at Red Bull before he was quickly hushed under the carpet for Klien to step on him again. Toro Rosso didn’t give him a competitive car for two full seasons and wanted to get rid of him half way through the second of those seasons. Yet to get a race drive in one and a half years now, the popular Italian must be wondering how it never seems to go his way. With the good chance of getting into an ever improving Force India next season, the future could be bright for Liuzzi and I for one, want to see him prove the doubters, the former teams, everyone what he can do.