• Tonio Liuzzi Q&A

'Money is the key'

Laurence Edmondson January 25, 2012

Tonio Liuzzi talks to ESPNF1 about his chances of driving for HRT next year and why currently money speaks louder than talent in Formula One

Tonio Liuzzi is still holding out for a race drive at HRT in 2012 © Sutton Images
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How are things looking for the upcoming season?
When it comes to this period of the year, everyone just wants to start [the season] and you're waiting for the time to jump in a car and get on with it. But it's a really difficult time because at the moment we don't know if there will be a car finished in time and what will happen with the situation of the team because at the moment it's all a bit up in the air.

Can you confirm exactly where things stand for next year with HRT and your position at the team?
I always said - and I think people know this already - that I have a contract, and the team can confirm that I have a contract. When I signed for the team last year I signed for a long-term project because you can't build Rome in a day. We started from zero with the Carabantes and they had different ideas for the team to Thesan Capital that came in and wanted a more Spanish team and a different involvement. Things change, but I'm still linked with the team and have a long, multi-year contract. At the moment the team has been clear to me; it's a difficult period in terms of money so they are trying hard to find sponsors to be able to run me as per the contract. But in the case that they are struggling then they might be forced to look for a driver that brings money.

Are you working with the team as if you're driving next year, in terms of input for the 2012 car?
Yes, of course, I'm still involved in the development, but most of the work was done before New Year when we knew already which way the team was going and how the project was shaping up for 2012. At this period of the year most of the work is about being quick to get the car ready for the first test, passing all the crash tests and not having the difficulties we had last year by starting in Australia.

Are the guys confident about being at the first test in Jerez?
[By the] second test we should be able to be 100% at the track. So the first test will be quite tight, but that's the same for everybody. I'm pretty confident we are pushing on to build everything in time for the first test, but we are still two weeks away and anything can happen.

Will it be a completely new car with as little carry-over from last year as possible?
I think from last year's car there won't be anything at all. It's been hard work building a new tub, a new gearbox, everything will be new. We are looking forward to see how the car will react.

Tonio Liuzzi: "I can just bring my talent and my skill and pay a team back with results" © Getty Images
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Do you feel you have still got unfinished business in F1?
Of course, but I'm really realistic. I'm a driver that gives a lot to the team that I race with, but unfortunately at the moment it's not a matter of talent or skill or your CV, it's a matter of money. We see that 60% or 70% of the teams involved in Formula One have got drivers that bring in a huge amount of money. Obviously, with the global position being so difficult at the moment, it is not easy for anybody and I don't have much money myself to spend or to bring sponsors. So I can just bring my talent and my skill and pay a team back with results. Unfortunately, at the moment, the teams just want the money upfront and in their pocket and they care less about the results.

Do you think that's short-sighted of the teams?
I think it's the way it is now, but I think sooner or later it will change because at the moment drivers are getting into F1 that have never won a main series before F1 and they don't have a CV - it's not the way it should be. If you've got a big sponsor behind you then you are an F1 driver and that's not the way it should be from my point of view. There may be some people that think differently, but Formula One is the top of the sport and should be full of talent that have got the results during their career and have been kicking arse since they were kids, not people that just have the money. I'm sick of it being like this at the moment, but I have to just accept it and hopefully I will get another chance.

After losing out on a drive at Force India despite having a contract last year and now facing a similar situation at HRT this year, are you getting disillusioned with Formula One?
At Force India I had a contract - and the contract was there - and we are still discussing about it. But all it needs is for another driver to arrive with money and take your seat. But everybody with their own money can do their own thing and the team owners can run their toy as they want. If they are there to do business, you have to try and understand that. There are not many manufacturers left that do it for success and results; probably right now it is Mercedes and Ferrari and the rest are private owners that do it for investment and business, so that's why money is the key.

Going back to Force India quickly, has your contract been settled yet?
We spoke for a long time before finding an agreement and then we did find a settlement that we are still talking about. But everything is OK - it's still ongoing, but I'm confident that it will soon be OK.

Tonio Liuzzi left Toro Rosso at the end of 2007 © Sutton Images
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Red Bull has been praised for bringing Sebastian Vettel to the top of the sport, but you were also a Red Bull junior driver at one point. Do you think Red Bull and Toro Rosso have the right idea when it comes to promoting young talent?
The right idea? It depends. During their time of running the Red Bull school they had maybe over 50 or 60 drivers under their shoulders and things happen like with [Jaime] Alguersuari, [Sebastien] Buemi, me, [Scott] Speed. But money is power and they can make a difference. They've got the best team in the world and they've got a good development school for youngsters, so in a way it is the easiest way to make it, but I can't judge the way they run it. It's easy when they can choose from a huge number of drivers because they can make the career of a driver or not, it depends on which one they prefer.

Are you happy with how your time at Red Bull and Toro Rosso panned out?
I don't have any regrets. I have to thank Mr Mateschitz and Dr Marko because they helped me, for sure, to get to Formula One. They pushed me with my early career and they got paid back with results. I've always said that things started to break down when Gerhard [Berger] came into the team. I was in the right place at the wrong moment and both me and Scott Speed paid the consequences. It was not a matter of speed or results, but a matter of typical, usual politics that happens in a business with so much money involved. But I don't regret anything and I just thank Mr Mateschitz and Dr Marko for what they gave me.

Coming back to the present, you're signed up to race in the i1 Super Series over the next few months, could you talk about the decision to drive in that?
I've linked myself to this championship - which was meant to start this week but has been postponed to better prepare the championship - because usually in the period of January, February and March you don't have much to do. So it's a good project to be linked with and there will be some really good drivers to race against. But Formula One always comes first, whether it is a test or anything else, I'll make sure I don't have a clash. But the series is ready to go and I think it will be an interesting challenge.

Your success has come in karting, F3, F3000 and F1 - all single-seaters - would you ever consider a more permanent shift to a different form of motorsport?
Of course, because I always like to challenge myself in different categories. It doesn't matter whether it's touring cars, endurance cars or go karts - whatever. A driver needs to be versatile and talented in whatever he does. Even if it will be a rally car! If in the future I find myself out of Formula One then I will consider other things because I like to challenge myself. I've done V8 Supercars, Speedcar and everywhere I've gone I've always been pretty competitive. I wouldn't consider a switch a big problem, but at the moment I'm still just focused on F1.

Does that mean we will see you in the paddock with HRT next year no matter whether you have a race drive or not?
It could be. But until they come to a clear decision or find another driver with a big budget anything is possible. I don't know yet, we are still open to everything.

Laurence Edmondson is an assistant editor on ESPNF1

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Laurence Edmondson is deputy editor of ESPNF1 Laurence Edmondson grew up on a Sunday afternoon diet of Ayrton Senna and Nigel Mansell and first stepped in the paddock as a Bridgestone competition finalist in 2005. He worked for ITV-F1 after graduating from university and has been ESPNF1's deputy editor since 2010