Vitantonio Liuzzi hailed from the Red Bull Driver Academy programme, and with his funky wardrobe and love of all things bling, he was backed by the drinks giant from an early age all the way to his graduation to the F1 stage.
But his impressive pedigree never translated into F1 results, and after races with Red Bull and Toro Rosso between 2005 and 2007, he was dumped by both parties and seemingly left in the wilderness.
Determined to prove that he had not been given a proper chance to show his worth, Tonio tested with Force India during the 2007-8 off-season and impressed enough to be appointed as the team’s test and reserve driver.
It was Giancarlo Fisichella’s call-up to Ferrari for the Italian GP that finally gave Tonio the chance that he was looking for. The Force India was mightily quick in low downforce trim, and he duly made it through to Q3 to qualify an impressive seventh – an incredible achievement given he had been out of action for several years. Bar a gearbox malfunction on Sunday, he looked set for a big points’ haul and a true opportunity to correct the doubters once and for all.
Tonio had support from the Red Bull drinks company at a young age after starring in the karting championships.
Despite his early prowess, the results didn’t eventuate when he graduated to Formula Renault or Formula 3.
Despite the lack of success, Red Bull bankrolled Tonio’s progression to Formula 3000, and in 2003 his form finally returned with some scintillating drives in his rookie season.
He moved to the Arden team for the 2004 season, and was utterly dominant. He won 7 out of the 10 rounds, and took the title by a huge margin.
Success in F1 awaited, or so we thought…
Tonio had completed test drives for Williams and Sauber on his run up the junior series’ ranks, but it was the long-term support from Red Bull that meant he would only be driving for one F1 team after managing to clinch the F3000 title in the drinks giant-backed Arden team.
With David Coulthard occupying the primary seat in the RB1, Liuzzi found himself alternating with fellow Red Bull graduate Christian Klien in the second race seat. However, by season’s end Liuzzi had contested just four Grands Prix in comparison to Klien’s fifteen!
Tonio achieved a lucky point for 8th at his debut race at Imola after both BARs were disqualified, and in the remaining three outings with the team, he made little impression and was soon sidelined to the role of Friday test driver once again.
When Red Bull purchased the Minardi team and renamed it Toro Rosso, Tonio found himself helicoptered into one of the team’s race seats for the start of the 2006 season.
His time with Toro Rosso mirrored that of his brief stint with its sister squad: Tonio did not appear to have the outright pace he’s demonstrated in his formative years. In his first season, he managed to score the team’s single point of the season in an attrition-hit US GP at Indianapolis.
The following year saw little improvements in his results, or that of team-mate Scott Speed. Unhelpfully to the team, both he and Speed began publically questioning the team’s management of its drivers, suggesting none-too-subtly that Toro Rosso was trying to force them out.
The team responded by jettisoning the off-the-boil Scott Speed and replacing him with its latest star, Sebastian Vettel.
With a team-mate of a completely different calibre, Tonio magically found that extra bit of pace he’s been lacking, and set about delivering some solid performances, particularly in Japan and China with some solid drives in the wet.
But it was too little, too late, and he was without a race drive for 2008. Toni found a new home with Force India as the team’s test driver, and kept himself race-ready with some outings in the Speedcar Series and A1GP championship while waiting, and hoping, for another bite of the F1 cherry.
- Fired up to finally prove himself after a period in the F1 wilderness.
- In spite of success in karting and F3000, his form in other series (including F1) hasn’t shone through consistently enough.
What defines success in 2010?
- Match Sutil’s pace and compete regularly for points, if not podiums.
[Images via StatsF1]
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