Vitantonio Liuzzi (also known as Tonio) was born on August 6th, 1981 in Locorotondo in Italy. He made his way to Formula One in a relatively short period of time but only stayed for an equally short time.
Tonio started is motorsporting career with karts in 1991 at just ten years old. By 1993, Liuzzi had won the Italian Karting Championship, and two years later he finished runner up in the World Karting Championship and also came in fifth place in the European title race. Tonio’s highlight of his karting days came in 2001 when he managed to clinch the World Karting title, and also managed to beat guest racer Michael Schumacher at one event. This put Liuzzi on the map and in 2001 he participated in German Formula Renault which culminated in a runner-up spot in the overall results.
2002 brought Liuzzi closer to Formula One as he remained in Germany and competed in their Formula Three series. Although he didn’t succeed as well as in other formulae (he finished in ninth place), Tonio was awarded with a test for the Coloni Formula 3000 team and also with Williams in a Formula One car. Impressed with Liuzzi’s capable abilities, Coloni signed Tonio for the 2003 season and was rewarded with fourth place in the final standings. Liuzzi remained in Formula 3000 for one more year, moving to the Arden team and succeeded in winning the title. Tonio managed a total of seven wins out of the ten events and he clinched the title with one race remaining. This dominating performance brought Liuzzi into the world of Formula One, and it was clear that it would be too long before he was competing in the sports highest series.
After Liuzzi won the Formula 3000 crown, rumours started spreading that Tonio would be signed by Ferrari as a test driver, or at minimum with Sauber, a team that Ferrari were closely associated with. Liuzzi had a test with the Swiss team in late 2004, but Sauber eventually employed world champion Jacques Villeneuve instead. Red Bull Racing also paid interest to Liuzzi’s activities, and in November 2004 gave him the opportunity to test for them. Shortly after the test they signed the young Italian as their test driver for 2005. However, Red Bull made a promise to Liuzzi that he would be given the chance to race in 2005, exchanging him part way through the season with Christian Klien.
Liuzzi’s maiden race came at San Marino in 2005, working alongside David Coulthard in the lead car. Liuzzi drive well and after the two Hondas were disqualified from the event, Liuzzi was promoted into the points, thus scoring on his debut Grand Prix. Tonio continued with the team for the Spanish, Monaco and European Grands Prix. Klien then had the seat returned and the team stuck with the Austrian for the remainder of the season.
For 2006, Red Bull decided to retain the services of both David Coulthard and Christian Klien. However, the energy drinks company purchased Italy’s second team – Minardi – in late 2005 and Tonio was rewarded with a full time drive. The Minardi team was renamed and re-branded into Scuderia Toro Rosso – Italian for Team Red Bull.
2006 was the debut season for the new team and also Tonio’s team mate Scott Speed, and as such the team struggled to perform as well as the senior Red Bull squad. Liuzzi did manage to score a point at the United States Grand Prix, and this was to be the only point of the season for both Tonio and STR.
With the Ferrari engine bolted to the back of the car for 2007, team boss Gerhard Berger re-signed the young Italian to his team and while he tested hard all winter, STR pondered some more before re-signing Scott Speed for another year. Eventually Speed was signed for another year and the consistency had hoped to help the team progress.
Initially, STR struggled and found themselves towards the back of the grid with Spyker. However, with Adrian Newey passing on design tweaks from the Red Bull car, the squad slowly improved. Unfortunately, much like the Red Bull, they also had serious gearbox issues and this unreliability hampered the team during their campaign.
Further unrest would come from Scott Speed part-way through the season, and the American left the squad vowing to never race for Franz Tost or Gerhard Berger again. Scott had attempted to involve Liuzzi in his troubles, but the Italian kept his head down during the saga and continued for the remainder of the year.
Speed’s replacement, BMW test driver Sebastian Vettel, proved to be a great move from the team and the squad were lifted suddenly by his presence. Unfortunately for Tonio, the team announced he would not be retained for 2008 at the same time as the team had recruited Sebastien Bourdais from the Champ Car World Series.
But having lost his drive for the next season, Liuzzi appeared reinvigorated. Points were gained and lost in Japan as Tonio passed Adrian Sutil’s Spyker under yellow flags. Initially he was awarded the point for finishing eighth, but after investigation the Italian was demoted.
Fortunately for STR, the points would be reclaimed in Shanghai when both drivers finished in the points, albeit Liuzzi was behind Vettel. However, it was the team’s first championship points and Liuzzi’s highest ever finish.