Q & A with Vitantonio Liuzzi
Q: There have been some stories this week about things you are meant to have said about Gerhard Berger. Can you just clarify what the actual situation is? How were things with him, and at Toro Rosso?
Vitantonio Liuzzi: “The relationship was actually good at the end of the year. For sure the beginning of the season was difficult and there was a little bit of tension, but after that we built up a really good relationship until the end of the season. The results showed everything was going in the right direction.”
“Gerhard always had on his mind that he wanted Sebastien Bourdais for 2008. So I think maybe the fact that Sebastian Vettel came after half a year didn’t help me much. But Berger felt he had made a better decision and it was just a shame that I left Red Bull. I’ve no bad feelings about it though. For sure Gerhard and Franz have never been big fans of mine, and they wanted other opportunities for the future. But I don’t regret any moment of my two years with Toro Rosso.”
Q: How are things with Berger now?
VL: “There is no conflict at all. Part of the business of F1 is that you come through one door and you go out another. It is always the same in the paddock. We had no fight at all. He will always be a friend and that is part of the business. He thought he had a better solution for 2008, and I fully understand that. I have also found myself a good opportunity.”
Q: You’ve also been quoted as saying that Adrian Newey blocked any move to Red Bull Racing. Is that what you meant?
VL: “There was a plan many times for me to go to Red Bull Racing, but I just think I didn’t convince some people in the team. I think Adrian was one of those. It’s not that he blocked me. He just wasn’t convinced, and that is all it was. I’m not angry about it. It is part of the game. And again, there are no bad feelings.”
Q: You talked about the arrival of Vettel not helping you in terms of staying on board for 2008. But is it fair to say that he helped enhance your reputation because people could better appreciate the job you were doing against him than they could against Scott Speed?
VL: “Of course Scott and I started together as rookies. It was difficult to judge the actual speed between us though, so when Sebastian came along he was highly rated and people could work it out better. I didn’t suffer from him coming into the team. People realised that I too had big potential and I think I got more publicity from it.”
Q: You must be excited about the new chapter in your career with Force India though?
VL: “I am really, really excited about this. Since the very first test with Force India, even when I had not signed with them, I saw they had a good structure, a positive structure, with professional people. VJ (Mallya) has put a lot of effort in the team and I am looking forward to working with them. My project here is for the long term, and soon we will be able to make a big step forward.”
Q: Do you feel you will be able to contribute more as a test driver now than before you raced in F1?
VL: “For sure. Now after two years of racing in F1, you realise more what an F1 car needs to be fast. Now I feel mature enough to lead the team into making the car a good one.”
Q: But you will have one eye on proving that you deserve a race seat with them in the future?
VL: “Definitely my big objective is to be back racing in F1 in 2009. I am putting a lot of effort into that and I feel positive with Force India. They are giving me a lot of chances and a lot of mileage, and we are doing big steps forward together. So that makes me feel positive. I have a lot of positive feelings for the future and I want to give the maximum this year to try and improve the car, because I think 2009 is a time when the team will be able to make a big step forward.”
Q: You seem to have the spring back in your step now…
VL: “Yeah, I feel really good and really motivated. I think at the beginning it felt weird when I had to leave the Red Bull world, but the Kingfisher world is really similar. I feel like I changed my family, but it still has the same good environment and everyone works for a single objective now. I think VJ showed very strongly that he wants to perform and bring the team to a podium finish in a few years. And he will put a lot of effort to make it happen.”
Q: Do you have any plans to race this year? There has been talk about you discussing with Peugeot for their Le Mans project?
VL: “We have had a few talks with strong teams, but we want to be sure that everything can fit together and it is the right thing to do. It is a completely different world from F1, so we want to be sure that if we do it we can do it properly. We are still thinking about this, and it will become clearer soon. I am thinking about a few other opportunities outside of F1 as well. Being a third driver all year is good for kilometres, but the racing hunger is always inside us. So if we can sort something out, to make some races, then I will find a way to do it. It is good to keep myself sharp for racing.”
Q: And what are you expecting Force India to be able to do this year?
VL: “I have to say that now we have got a big step forward coming in two weeks in Barcelona with the new package. From the numbers I have seen in the wind tunnel, the progress is coming quickly over the next two or three months. So I think our target for this year is to close as much as possible the gap to our competitors. Then we want to try and get into Q2 by the end of the season. It is not going to be easy, but I think we have got a lot of updates coming and we can get the maximum out of the new car.”