• Tonio Liuzzi's exclusive column

The safety car lottery

Tonio Liuzzi
June 28, 2010

Tonio Liuzzi rreflects on the European Grand Prix, including the timing of the safety car, his run in with the stewards and the drivers' reaction to the rule changes for next year.

Tonio Liuzzi finished 16th after being hit with post-race a penalty in Valencia © Getty Images
My whole race fell apart when the safety car came out. Basically, my team-mate Adrian Sutil and I got the call to come into the pits at the same time and I had to queue behind him while the team changed his tyres. I had to wait for his pit stop and then got delayed by another four or five seconds while he waited to leave the box because of traffic in the pit lane. In the end I lost about seven or eight positions and from there it was practically impossible to fight for points. No one was to blame, it was just bad luck

It's a shame because we were confident we could have had a very good race, even starting from as far back on the grid as we did. The problem with Valencia is that once you lose position it's really difficult to overtake, because it's a circuit where the straights are mixed with high speed corners. The only way to get past is if someone makes a mistake, but that is very rare when you are competing at the highest level. We were stuck behind Nico Rosberg's Mercedes and knew we were faster but we weren't able to overtake. That's so frustrating because had I been ahead of Adrian coming into the pits it would have been a different story. So the timing of the safety car was the key to the race and the second driver to come into the pits from each team really suffered because he had to queue behind hiis team-mate.

After the race I was given a five-second penalty for my in-lap under the safety car, and while it didn't make much difference to the end result, it's worth explaining. When the safety car light started flashing on my steering wheel I was about three or four corners away from the pit entry and I immediately backed off. But as I lifted everybody in front of me kept pushing and, because we were all in a train of cars, I picked up my pace again. I knew I was in a bad position already and didn't want to be screwed over even more by falling behind the pack.

When the race finished we were all summoned to the stewards and I told them what happened. I think everybody was a bit surprised by my honesty, because I was the only one that admitted I was speeding to keep up with the cars in front. But in the end that was the truth and I don't see any reason to try to dress it up any differently - it certainly wasn't going to change what happened earlier in the race and in every situation.

But, to be honest, I think the five-second penalty that was handed down was a bit ridiculous. In my opinion they should give a 20-second penalty or nothing at all - it should be one or the other. If they aren't consistent, teams are going to push the rules further and further and then turn around and ask why it isn't the same at every race.

Tonio Liuzzi crosses the swing bridge in Valencia © Sutton Images
I also think that Valencia showed the downside to the current safety car rules. Hamilton appeared to get away quite easily with what he did, while some of the other drivers lost out more without doing anything wrong. But it's not Lewis's fault necessarily, it's just that that's the way the rules work. I read on Monday that Ferrari complained about what happened, but unfortunately that is sometimes the way it is, and as a team you just have to anticipate that anything can happen and try to adapt - sometimes you are lucky, sometimes you are not.

Another contentious topic among the drivers in Valencia was the adjustable rear wing that is set to be introduced to the cars next year. There have been a lot of regulation changes in the last two years and we accept that they have been good for the sport. I genuinely believe this has been one of the greatest championships for some time because of certain rule changes, but this moveable rear wing has the potential to be dangerous and that is why we are worried. If it fails or if it doesn't close under braking, then it could be very dangerous and none of us want to be the first guy to have a really bad crash because of it. We'll have KERS again next year so that should improve the racing, but adjustable rear wings could be a step too far.

I can see why the FIA has introduced it, and it's true that it could increase overtaking, but we also have to ask ourselves if it will make it a bit too easy to overtake and whether it will take some of the skill out of racing. But like I said, for the drivers the main concern is the safety and only once that is guaranteed can we start looking at what it will do for the racing.

Focusing back on this season, I'm really looking forward to the next grand prix at Silverstone. We always liked the old layout of the track, but now with the changes, we are thinking that it might be even more suited to the characteristics of our car. I think we can be as good there as we were in Valencia, but without the qualifying problems we had. So that means we will be aiming for the top ten again.

A lot of teams brought big updates to the car in Valencia, most notably the blown diffusers, but we are not too worried about them and are ready to cover that with some improvements of our own. We have won't have a blown diffuser in time for Silverstone but we are working on it for later in the season and the updates we do have for the British Grand Prix will give us extra downforce in high-speed corners, which is crucial at that track. It's also a home race for all the people that work at the factory, so we really want to put on a good show for them and pay them back for all the hard work they have put into the car this season.