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Liuzzi: I haven't lost any of my speed or hunger

9 September 2009

Vitantonio Liuzzi received the dream call-up ahead of this weekend's Italian Grand Prix, being promoted from his position as test and reserve driver with Force India F1 to a race seat for his home outing in place of the Ferrari-bound Giancarlo Fisichella – and he argues he has never been fitter, faster or hungrier to succeed.

Indeed, Liuzzi's Formula 1 comeback could scarcely have been better timed had he planned it himself, off the back of Force India's jaw-dropping performance in the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps just under a fortnight ago, when Fisichella stunned observers in firstly storming to pole position in qualifying – and then hounding new Ferrari team-mate Kimi Raikkonen all the way to the chequered flag on race day to finish as runner-up, registering the Silverstone-based minnows first points in the top flight...and with them the first podium to-boot.

What's more, that kind of form is expected to be carried over to the similarly low-downforce, high-speed Monza circuit – and having been absent from active competition at the highest level since the 2007 finale in Brazil, Liuzzi is patently champing at the bit to get back on-track and kick-start his stalled F1 career into gear once more.

“I think I'm ready to jump in the car because I have kept myself really fit – more than ever,” the Italian asserted. “The work we've been doing is helping me a lot to keep me sharp. Monza will be perfect because it's good from a physical approach. Singapore would have been tougher, because I don't know the circuit, and everyone complained last year that it was very physical. The speed doesn't concern me – I think we'll be straightaway close to the pace.

“I feel very much involved with the team and with the improvements we've made. A lot of the developments have been made with the wind tunnel, and I'm very happy that the team is moving forward and we are doing a great job. For sure in Spa it was a bit of a dream for us to be on pole position, but it's been a difficult year [for me] because it's been my second year as a third driver.

“I think I'm born for racing. It's difficult to watch the races on TV, but inside myself I was pretty confident that I'd be back in a race seat soon, and that kept me motivated for the future. I was ready to jump in the car whenever I was needed.”

Liuzzi has kept himself race-sharp during his F1 exile with a brace of outings for his country in the A1GP World Cup of Motorsport and also the Middle East-based Speedcar Series – competing against grand prix legends of the likes of Jean Alesi, Jacques Villeneuve, Johnny Herbert and Heinz-Harald Frentzen. That being the case, though he may not have been able to test the Force India VJM02 during the course of the campaign due to the new in-season ban, the 28-year-old insists he is ready to reclaim his place on the starting grid.

“I did Portugal and Brands Hatch [in A1GP],” he explained. “They were good events, definitely good training for me. Even if it's not F1, we're racers, so whatever they give us – if it's a Fiat 500 or an F1 car – we'll race it! The A1GP car was a good car to drive, because the feeling was not that far from a proper F1 car, just a little bit heavier and the engine is less strong.

“Speedcar was another event that kept me busy, but for sure it's very different from a single-seater driving style! It taught me a lot because I drove with some really professional drivers – everyone in the history of F1 was there! I learned a lot from them in the way they approached the racing and the way they behaved in the races. It was really good fun, because the car was good fun to drive. I haven't lost that hunger.

“[With Force India], we did one test in February, but it was only a shakedown at Silverstone. We got the car quite late, so we only had time to do one proper test with the race drivers to get ready for Australia. From that point on I could only do a few aero tests, which is not proper testing, but at least it's miles in the car to get used to the systems. I've also been spending a lot of time at races with the team.

“Until a few months ago we were testing all the new updates that we put on the car, like the package we had in Valencia and before that, Silverstone. We always run what we are testing in the wind tunnel and what we are bringing to the circuit to see if it's giving the same answer, and then of course we try to make the set-up arrangement with the new aero balance, so when we arrive at the circuit we already have a good baseline.”

That kind of preparation will be crucial to Liuzzi's chances of making a good impression on his return to competition this weekend, and with the VJM02 tipped to be a Q3 contender and points challenger at the very least, expectations are high. Though he never visited the hallowed Autodromo as a fan when he was young, the Locorotondo native has raced there twice in F1, finishing respectively 14th and 17th for Scuderia Toro Rosso in 2006 and 2007, what he describes as 'good results...because at Toro Rosso we always struggled for top speed at Monza'. He is clearly hoping for more, far more than that, third time around.

“Monza is one of the most historic races in the entire championship,” Liuzzi underlined. “The vibe that is in Monza is great, and when I won there in F3000 in 2004 it was an unbelievable feeling. You just need to see the surroundings of the circuit. At the end you are in a forest, and you are driving at 330km/h in the middle of the trees. The park makes it really special. When you walk around and see the old banking it's really nice – you really feel the history there.”


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