Following the news that Giancarlo Fisichella had been given the opportunity to drive for Ferrari as substitute for the recuperating Felipe Massa, Force India have promoted their test driver and once Scuderia Toro Rosso pilot Vitantonio Liuzzi. Liuzzi, who has 39 race starts under his belt, has scored points in every season he has competed in and it had been widely speculated that Force India would be promoting the young Italian for 2010 onwards.
When Vijay Mallya announced that Fisichella was to leave his team with immediate effect, the words spoken seemed to imply that the three-time race winner wouldn’t be retained for next year, saying that this deal would secure Giancarlo’s future long-term future. And so Force India lose one Italian, but gain another.
Liuzzi’s time with Red Bull Racing and Scuderia Toro Rosso was dogged with uncompetitive machinery, but at the times the Italian impressed despite being relatively inexperienced. Vitantonio managed to score a point on his debut , but this only came about after the BARs of Jenson Button and Takuma Sato were disqualified 10 days after the event at an FIA hearing.
The following year and after Red Bull had purchased the Minardi team, Liuzzi was given a full-time seat alongside American racer Scott Speed. Although the car wasn’t overly competitive, Liuzzi again managed to score and generally out-performed his team mate. The point Liuzzi earned at the US Grand Prix was the team’s only point that year.
In 2007, the Scuderia Toro Rosso car started to improve after the Red Bull parent squad started to push parts down the chain to the B-Team. The STR gradually got better as the season progressed and Liuzzi again scored points with a sixth place at the Chinese Grand Prix. However, towards the end of the year Scott Speed abruptly left the team and Red Bull managed to acquire Sebastian Vettel from BMW. Vettel outshone Liuzzi almost straight away and in the same Chinese Grand Prix where Vitantonio had scored his best result to date, Vettel went one better and took fourth and the lion’s share of points.
Scuderia Toro Rosso replaced Liuzzi with Sebastien Bourdais for the 2008 season and retained Vettel for another year. Vitantonio moved to Force India to become their test and reserve driver with the hope of being promoted at some point during his tenure with the Silverstone-based squad. With the departure of Fisichella, Mallya has given Tonio this opportunity.
I’m delighted to give Tonio the opportunity to get back into a race seat, which I know he has been itching to do for the past two years.
Force India is now in a very competitive position and we need a driver who can continue this momentum. This will be the chance for Tonio to demonstrate to both the team and the field that he has the commitment, speed and professionalism to perform and I am sure he will seize this opportunity. Vijay Mallya.
Liuzzi made a point of stating that his promotion is related to the accident Felipe Massa suffered, but he is of course pleased to be promoted to the race team.
I can’t wait to get back into the car in race trim, particularly at my home Grand Prix in Monza. I really appreciate the opportunity Vijay has given me, particularly now Force India has a great car that’s performing very well.
Although it’s unfortunate that this came about as an direct result of Felipe’s accident, this is my opportunity to show people what I can do and I’m really looking forward to it. Vitantonio Liuzzi.
Liuzzi has taken part in a couple of tests for the team prior to the season beginning earlier in the year, and more recently did some straight-line running in the VJM02, so the Italian has driven the car and should have a better idea of how it handles than Luca Badoer did of the F60 he was charged with prior to Fisichella joining.
The Italian Grand Prix this upcoming weekend will feature three Italian pilots, with Jarno Trulli in the Toyota, Giancarlo Fisichella in the Ferrari and now Vitantonio Liuzzi in the Force India.