The Tonio Liuzzi Fan Club is a small but very exclusive group and I am proud to be a member. I have followed his career since karting days and I am a believer. The guy has speed and character. He’s a class act. Fate has not been kind to him. He was a great kart racer (and still is). In 2001 he won the World Karting Championship at Kerpen, Michael Schumacher’s home track, beating Michael who had descended from the heights of F1 to show the kids how to do it. Michael got shown…
Red Bull signed him up for Formula 3000 in 2003. It was a necessary step as Tonio had no money to go further. In 2004 he dominated the championship with Arden, winning 10 races. When he won the title at Monza, he moonwalked on to the podium wearing gold lamé racing boots… showing a little of the charisma that he has in spades.
He came close to a deal to race for Sauber in 2005 but the team chose World Champion Jacques Villeneuve instead. So he became a Red Bull driver but the team was a political hotbed (as ever) and the powerful Austrian lobby wanted Christian Klien. It was decided that Liuzzi and Klien should share the second Red Bull seat – a stupid idea as neither was able to show as well as they might have done. Tonio made his debut at Imola and overtook Michael Schumacher TWICE on his first lap of racing in F1. Michael noticed even if no-one else did. He ended up with a point after the BAR drivers were disqualified. By the midseason the team realised that it was dumb to try to share the drive and politics again dictated that the drive be given to the Austrian.
At the end of the year when the team was picking drivers for 2006 Klien was chosen because (obviously) he had more experience (although he was later dropped). Liuzzi was pushed into the far less competitive Toro Rosso and later scored the team’s only point of the year, despite a not very good technical package. He stayed with Toro Rosso in 2007 but it was clear that the team management wanted different drivers to Liuzzi and Scott Speed and things became very tense. Speed came to blows with the team and left, Liuzzi stayed quiet and when the much-toted Sebastian Vettel turned up, he showed the German up on several occasions. The team then axed Tonio in favour of Sebastien Bourdais, which ended up being another big mistake. With a better car in 2008 Vettel was able to produce some great results, but Liuzzi fans wondered if Tonio might have done more.
Liuzzi took the Force India test role in 2008 and 2009 because it promised a race drive in 2010 and 2011. The cutbacks in testing meant that Liuzzi had to do most of his work in a simulator, but he has stayed motivated and hungry despite the frustrations.
He could be a big surprise at Monza, given the speed of the cars in Spa.