Still no word from Force India on its driver line up for the coming season. There are three jobs available; the two race drivers and the Friday/test driver. There has been speculation that the race drivers will be Adrian Sutil and Paul di Resta with Williams refugee Nico Hulkenberg taking the test slot, but no confirmation.
It truly is a buyer’s market for Force India at the moment. But one person for whom this does not work is Tonio Liuzzi, who has broken his silence today with an interview on Italian website 422.com.
Liuzzi would not be doing this if it looked likely that he would be keeping his seat. He clearly doesn’t know where he stands. All he does know is that he has a contract for 2011 and he keeps repeating that if the team choose not to run him, “they know what they are facing.”
Although he has many apologists among the team and a few in the media, the bare facts are that he has not performed at the same level as Adrian Sutil, who also brings money to the team, apart from a few moments of brilliance. Last season he was on average three grid slots lower than Sutil.
“My situation is clear: Force India hasn’t informed me about any change and for me only the words of the team count. I’m pretty calm, because I have a very clear deal with the team for the 2011 season and if they should decide to take other routes, they know what they are facing.”
Asked what he means by that he says, “Should they decide to take other routes, for sure I won’t be just saying good evening or good night and retire. I have a contract to race and I want to race.”
I’ve been asking around in F1 circles about his options and – with the caveat that we do not know what his contract says – it looks like Liuzzi would have to be paid off for the 2011 season, probably around €1.5 million, plus possibly 50% of the bonus cut (another €750,000). But then he may also seek damages because being dropped so late like this harms his career and his chances of finding a seat for 2011.
There will be a performance clause in his contract, but he must have fulfilled this because otherwise the team would have said he was dropped much earlier than this.
However it seems there may also be an issue of money outstanding between Liuzzi and Force India from 2010. So when he says, “they know what they are facing” he may also be thinking in terms of legal levers he can pull in the event that he does not get his payoff, such as seeking an injunction against the team when it races in Italy or maybe even at Silverstone, as the contract is probably under UK law. Certainly Force India will want to avoid this so I’m sure he will get his money.
Liuzzi isn’t the first F1 driver to find himself in this position. He knew he faced competition from Di Resta, who has performed well as a test driver this year, but Hulkenberg being released by Williams really complicated the picture. F1 being all about how high a driver’s stock is, it’s tempting to take a driver who took pole in Brazil over one who qualified between 16th and 20th for the last six races, regardless of the story behind that.
“Formula 1 doesn’t surprise me anymore,” says Liuzzi. “You can never be sure, I won’t be until the first Grand Prix, on the 15th of March. I’m sure of having a valid contract with them. Again, if they should decide to change route in the end, they know what they are facing. I want to race, I waited two years as a third driver, so for sure I want to stay in my seat.”
Mercedes has an interest in what happens at Force India, with Di Resta being a favourite of Mercedes boss Norbert Haug and Hulkenberg also now coming under his sphere of influence. Di Resta’s Mercedes support is believed to mean that the Force India team gets a free or heavily-subsidised engine supply, with the lightweight Mercedes KERS also being attractive.
One possibility which has been suggested is that Liuzzi occupy the DTM seat which would be left vacant by Di Resta who is DTM champion. This would avoid Liuzzi seeking damages.
“So far I wasn’t offered anything: neither money nor a seat in DTM, as I read elsewhere, ” says Liuzzi. “They didn’t tell me such things, for sure.”
I contacted Force India and they say that nothing is finalised yet, but they hope to announce their drivers in the next two weeks.