Multiple sources are confidently predicting that the Force India Formula 1 team will shortly announce that Adrian Sutil and Paul di Resta will be its race drivers for 2011, with Nico Hulkenberg as the reserve driver.
This is a very stupid move as it will, in effect, destroy the F1 career of Tonio Liuzzi. One can argue about Liuzzi’s ultimate talent, but there is no argument that he has done a decent job for the team, has always been loyal, never criticised the team openly and was a committed team member for three years, being happy to act as test driver in order to earn his place in one of the racing cars. None other than Fernando Alonso has said on the record that Liuzzi is “a major talent” and the drivers as a group are unlikely to ignore the plight of their colleague as this could open the way for contracts to be ignored throughout the F1 world – and that is obviously not something they want to see.
No doubt once the announcement is made Force India will go on to the offensive and claim that Liuzzi did not do a good job for them in 2010, but given what has been said before in public announcements this will carry little weight as team members have admitted that the team was to blame for some of his misfortunes in 2010 and there is no doubting that when the car was working properly Liuzzi delivered, notably in Montreal where he qualified sixth on the grid. There are also some ex-employees of the team who might be willing to step forward in support of the Italian.
If the announcement goes ahead then Mallya and his assistants must face whatever response Liuzzi cares to embark upon. Clearly the Indian billionaire does not care much about money, nor about contracts, and seems to be happy to be relying on the fact that Liuzzi can take legal action against him and that will take time to sort out, by which time all that the driver can hope for is a financial settlement, as his career will be ruined by then. Liuzzi could try to claim damages from Mallya, but finding a suitable figure for the damage that will be done is not going to be easy.
Liuzzi and his advisors would be forgiven for thinking that the only way that they are going to get satisfaction is if they decide to take action that will damage Mallya’s reputation or dent his (considerable) ego. There is thus much incentive for the Italian to go in hard, in a very public way, and concentrate on making sure that people in Formula 1 and in India know that Mallya is not a man with whom it is sensible to do business.
Mallya likes to think of himself as the posterboy of Indian business but his reputation has taken a serious knock in the last 12 months as the result of two damning judgements against him in the High Court in London.
It remains to be seen what happens next. The first stage of action would be for Liuzzi to complain to the FIA Contract Recognition Board. This is a lengthy and expensive business for the driver, even if he knows that one day a court will rule in his favour and force the Indian to pay his legal bills. If the Contract Recognition Board rules in Liuzzi’s favour, Mallya is contracted – to Liuzzi, to the other teams, the FIA and the Formula One group, to respect that judgement.
A parallel course of action, which might be more effective, would be to apply for an injunction to stop Force India racing in Bahrain, as Liuzzi has a legal right to be in one of the cars.