Hispania have made some pretty odd driver decisions thus far. Replacing Karun Chandhok with Sakon Yamamoto? Weird. Dropping all of their 2010 drivers and signing Narain Karthikeyan? Utterly bizarre. Okay, so all were motivated by money, but they still managed to puzzle us.
Now it would seem they’re on the verge of hiring someone who can help push them forward. Recently fired Force India driver Tonio Liuzzi got behind the wheel of their 2010 racer today as the team assess his worthiness for a drive this season. The Spanish outfit would do very well to sign the lad up for 2011.
Now we’re not saying Liuzzi is world champion material, but as far as available drivers go he’s about the best about. No, we’re serious! He’s got solid experience, with 63 grand prix starts to his name, and at 29 is still relatively young. Best of all the guy is actually pretty talented, despite what some may think following a patchy 2010 campaign.
Talented? Yep, undoubtedly so. One of the best kart racers of his day, Liuzzi walked the Formula 3000 championship back in 2004, taking seven wins and two second places from ten events. He didn’t get a proper crack at the whip with Red Bull in 2005 and then joined their junior sqaud, Toro Rosso, for 2006. It’s not really worked out since, but there have been flashes of speed.
Take last year, when despite generally struggling in comparison to team-mate Adrian Sutil he was impressive in Monaco, Canada and, above all, at a soggy Korean Grand Prix. None of those performances were easy; none could have been delivered by a no-hoper. On his day Tonio can compete at the top level.
There are questions over his ability to lead a team – something he’d undoubtedly have do with Karthikeyan in the other car – and it’d be interesting to see how he coped with this were he to land the drive. Development on last year’s car was non-existent, and you have to question whether there will be much more this year at a team who won’t even have their 2011 challenger ready until a week before the campaign kicks off.
As a career move it wouldn’t be much good for Liuzzi, with Hispania expected to remain rooted to the back of the grid again this year. But what other options are there? Take a reserve driver role? It wouldn’t make much sense at his age and following an under par season – he needs to be racing, even if it is for a tail-end team. He could always have switched categories, maybe trying out sportscars, tin-tops or another single-seater formula, but Tonio still clearly feels F1 is the place for him.
Which, if we’re honest, is not how anyone (Hispania boss Colin Kolles aside) feels about Karthikeyan. Whereas you’d be hard pushed to say the Indian racer deserves an F1 seat in any sense Liuzzi doesn’t fall in to the ‘what on earth is he doing here?’ category. He’s capable and a definite step up from Sakon Yamamoto.
So in that sense we’d be quite pleased were he to land the seat. Okay, we’re also very glad he lost his Force India berth and thus gave Paul di Resta his chance in a full-time F1 drive, but that doesn’t mean we wanted Liuzzi out of F1 altogether. 2011 may be incredibly difficult – some might say futile – but he will almost certainly be able to easily put Karthikeyan in the shade. And who could say no to a Formula One seat – even if it is with Hispania.