DECEMBER 7, 2007
Driver decisions at Force India F1
The Force India F1 team is in the process of trying to figure out who should drive next year after running a whole list of candidates in the last few weeks.
The team does not need money so that the rent-a-drivers have (thankfully) faded out of the picture. Adrian Sutil seems to be definitely in one car although there are more than a few people in F1 who believe that while the German looked good against Christijan Albers at the start of the year he was nowhere near as far ahead of Sakon Yamamoto as he ought to have been in the second part of the year. It also rather depended on the day as he was rather inconsistent. This undermined much of his early promise and meant that when it came to the bigger teams looking around in recent months his name has never really been seriously mentioned. Sutil may improve as he gets more experience but that is a necessity if he is to make a serious career in F1.
The choice the second seat seems to have boiled down to being between old lags like Giancarlo Fisichella and Ralf Schumacher and semi-proven youngsters such as Tonio Liuzzi and Christian Klien. Klien is quick but it seems that he has the same problem that he had in Jaguar and Red Bull days and is not very good at technical feedback. There are questions about Ralf Schumacher's motivation and consistency and so it seems that the choice is now down to Fisichella and Liuzzi.
Fisichella did nothing against Heikki Kovalainen this year and was not even in the ballpark with Alonso the year before that. F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone, a man with a good eye for drivers, says it is time Giancarlo retired and so one wonders why Force India is considering such a move as it looks to be a bright new force in the future.
Is Sutil good enough to lead the way? And will Fisichella do what sometimes happens to older drivers who find themselves ahead of slower youngsters and simply sink into racing at the same level? Older drivers who have made plenty of money tend to need to be pushed to get the maximum from them. It is significant that when they do feel threatened they can pull out extra performance, as Jarno Trulli and Rubens Barrichello both seemed to do in Brazil this year when there were questions about their futures. Fisichella has been testing well but will that performance he seen again if he goes racing in 2008?
It is a question that Force India F1 needs to consider.
Fisichella is of course a safe decision given that Tonio Liuzzi has not had an easy time in F1. He was an astonishing Formula 3000 champion, and has shown on numerous occasions that he will fight with the best of them (overtaking Michael Schumacher twice on his first racing lap in F1). Being forced to share a car with Klien at Red Bull Racing in his first year was a daft idea which the team soon realised was hopeless. Klien was the Austrian and so Liuzzi got shoved into testing and then he was pushed into Toro Rosso. Despite the setbacks Liuzzi has remained solid and has not become bitter and twisted as happened to Scott Speed. When Sebastian Vettel arrived in the team Liuzzi was every bit as quick as the new German superstar but did not get the same good fortune when it came to race strategies. If he had been a little luckier he might have landed the Williams drive and only lost out because Kazuki Nakajima not only has great connections with Toyota but also did a decent solid job in Brazil. Williams will find out in 2008 if that was the right thing to do.
When you boil it all down will a soon-to-be 35-year-old with two kids and no real chance of getting back to the higher echelons of the sport after a career stretching back 12 years, really be as motivated as a 27-year-old who has been frustrated and knows that his chances of being a top F1 star are slipping away if he does not get a decent opportunity soon?
The other question is whether Fisichella is really the man with the right image for a team that is aiming to inspire hundreds of millions of new India fans who are looking at F1 hoping to see dynamic, young and charismatic stars?