Labours of Liuzzi - can home crowd help secure Italians future? 10 Sep 2010
One of only two Italian drivers on this years grid, Force Indias Vitantonio Liuzzi is certainly better placed to take advantage of a quick car at his home Grand Prix this weekend than fellow countryman, Lotuss Jarno Trulli. It has been 44 long years since an Italian - Ludovico Scarfiotti in 1966 - won the Monza race and five since a local hero - Giancarlo Fisichella - even claimed a podium.
The question is can Liuzzi convert the VJM03s latent pace into a real result? Sadly, recent form is not on his side. Although the car has certainly shown strong performance at recent rounds, and should do well at low-downforce Monza, the 2010 season hasnt gone to plan for the man from Locorotondo. There have been some flashes of brilliance, but overall the Italian has struggled for results and, more importantly, struggled to match his team mate Adrian Sutil.
Although he filled in for the Ferrari-bound Fisichella at the last five rounds of 2009, this is Liuzzis first full competitive F1 season since his 2007 campaign with Toro Rosso. The best result that first foray garnered was a sixth place in China, but it did win him a reputation for a quick, smooth driving style, and one which many believed hadnt been used to its full potential.
So when Force India recalled him to the frontline it was a welcome move. Pre-season testing certainly went well, with Liuzzi describing the VJM03 as the best Formula One car I have ever driven. But when the racing got underway Liuzzi seemed mysteriously unable to get the most from his new charge.
The opening seven races of 2010 saw him reach Q3 on just two occasions, with his worst grid slot - 18th - coming at Aprils Chinese Grand Prix. Team mate Sutil, meanwhile, made the most of his machinery to earn four entries into the top-ten shootout and a fourth-place grid slot in Malaysia. On Sundays too, Sutil enjoyed the lions share of success, scoring 22 points to Liuzzis 12.
Yes, Liuzzi had two retirements to Sutils one DNF in that time, but the fact hed lost ground to his German counterpart was not just down to luck. In Monaco he enjoyed a better showing to finish ninth, immediately behind Sutil, but at Istanbul Park the best he could manage was 18th on the grid and 13th in the race. Sutil on the other hand scored his third successive points-scoring finish.
After Turkey a disappointed Liuzzi and team went back to their Silverstone base to investigate just why he had struggled so much in Istanbul. They discovered some minor damage on the chassis that they believed hed picked up in Monaco, and in Canada a chassis switch seemed to make all the difference. He qualified a career-best fifth and then finished ninth after surviving an early clash with Felipe Massas Ferrari and passing the Mercedes of Michael Schumacher on the last lap. Liuzzi was understandably relieved to come home ahead of tenth-placed Sutil.
But in Formula One, youre only as good as your last race. And, unfortunately for Liuzzi, his Montreal form didnt last long. At the next round in Valencia he had to watch Sutil finish sixth whilst he crossed the line in 16th. Despite a strong-minded battle with Alonso at Silverstone, he finished outside the points and he could only bounce back to 16th from his 21st-place grid slot at Hockenheim. In Hungary and Belgium too he struggled, a fact no doubt worsened by his team mates fifth-placed finish at Spa.
So Liuzzi arrives at Monza under somewhat of a cloud. A fair few outsiders believe his future at Force India is under threat, and it seems the uncertainty has knocked the Italians confidence. So with third driver Paul di Resta snapping at his heels for his chance in a race seat, and team principal Vijay Mallya no doubt expecting signs of improvement, he surely needs to match - or better - Sutil this weekend.
Liuzzi certainly believes the boost from his home crowd could well make the difference. It's one of the races I'm always waiting for most during the year, he said. It's a bit like Monaco for me, because I love the circuit and I love the tough challenge. Monza in a way is a bigger challenge, because you are in front of your crowd as well, and you want to perform particularly well.
It can only help that he also enjoyed some great results at the Italian circuit during his junior formula days, including an F3000 pole and win in 2004. In Formula One, however, hes had less success, finishing 14th in 2006 and 17th in 2007. The 2009 Monza race was going far more positively, with a seventh-place grid slot, until a broken driveshaft saw him retire from a promising fourth place.
Similar form - and no reliability problems - this weekend would serve Liuzzi and his future well. But hell no doubt require more than a one-off result to secure a seat for next year. A sustained presence in the points is what Liuzzi needs. Lets hope his Italian fans can give him a shot in the arm strong enough to carry him through the remaining six rounds, and beyond.