• Tonio Liuzzi's ESPNF1 column

The best is yet to come

ESPNF1 Staff
April 18, 2011
Tonio Liuzzi had a slow start to the Chinese Grand Prix weekend but finished his first race of the season on Sunday © Sutton Images

Tonio Liuzzi gives his assesment of HRT's start to the season, talks us through his false start at the Chinese Grand Prix and explains why there will plenty more exciting races this season

We had a difficult start to the weekend with a water leak on Friday, but on Saturday it all started to go in the right direction. We had a good performance in qualifying and we've narrowed the gap to Virgin compared to a week ago in Malaysia.

We probably could have been even closer to Virgin but we couldn't use some of the updates we brought to the race because of material problems. We used a new engine cover exit and some improvements on the brakes and other bits and pieces, but they mainly improved reliability and we couldn't use the bits that would have given us the biggest advantage. We had some new rear wing endplates which were a big part of the package, so it's a shame we didn't get them on the car.

The pieces we did use amounted to a little improvement, but in Turkey we are expecting quite a significant step forward. Having a guy like Geoff Willis leading the development process gives me a lot of confidence as he has a proven track record with top teams like Red Bull, BAR and Williams. I really like the way he works, he's very methodical and always talks realistically about the development - he's not a dreamer. He's got a good group of engineers around him, so that makes me confident we can achieve our short-term targets over the next few races.

Hopefully when all the updates are on the car it will take our performance in the right direction. The Turkey upgrades will focus on several aspects of the car, but rear-end grip is our weakest point and that's what we have to concentrate on the most going forward.

The HRT is still lacking grip © Sutton Images
Alongside Virgin, our other main rivals are Lotus. We always expected an improvement from them this year and we know that, among the three new teams, they are the ones with the biggest budget. It's true that we didn't expect them to be quite so close to the midfield cars as they were in China, so we will have to work really hard to close the gap to them if we want to take tenth in the constructors' championship. From the plans we have, I think our development should progress on a really steep curve, but our competitiveness all depends on the other teams and how quickly they develop their cars.

Looking back at Sunday's race, I think we were closer to the rest of the field than it looked. Unfortunately I made a jump start so I got a drive-through penalty and that made our race more difficult. Pace wise we were not too bad, we had some problems with the rear tyres, but it looks good for the future.

I lost between 15-18 seconds with the penalty which is about the same as the gap to Timo Glock's Virgin at the end of the race. Without the drive-through I'm pretty sure I would have been fighting with him, maybe not in front in him, but certainly close behind.

The jump start itself was a little bit unlucky because I wasn't trying to pre-empt the lights. The clutch's bite point had been quite late engaging before the start, so when I arrived at my grid position I dropped the clutch paddle a little bit to get my finger closer to the perfect bite point. But somehow it must have changed, because as I eased it out the car moved forward half a metre on the grid. That actually put me in a worse position than if I'd started normally because I couldn't follow the correct procedure when the lights went out for real and I ended up with loads of wheelspin.

Tonio Liuzzi got ahead of the Virgins on the first lap © Sutton Images
Once I got going the first five or ten laps were quite good fun and I was able to pass my team-mate Narain and the two Virgins on lap one. At that point of the race we didn't quite have the pace to stay ahead of the Virgins and then of course I had my drive-through which meant I was suddenly chasing down a 13-second gap to Narain. I passed him on the last lap of the race because he was on a one-stop strategy and his front tyres were shot by the end of the race.

I opted for a two-stop strategy and it gave us quite a lot of useful data because we saw that changing to soft tyres for the final stint can gain you quite a lot of time. It's clear that the tyre wear makes a big difference this year in terms of performance and making the right choice to stop at the right time can give you a pretty big advantage - we saw that with the leaders who had a great battle for victory.

The good news is that we can expect even more exciting races later this season because China has never really produced much overtaking in the past and we have some good tracks for racing coming up on the calendar. With the Pirellis you can take advantage of drivers who are on worn tyres and we will see a lot more of that in the future.

As for the Drag Reduction System, it depends on what kind of show you want to see. If you just want to see overtaking, then sure it gives a lot more, but in a way the overtaking is quite fake because there is such a speed difference between you and the car in front - sometimes as much 10km/h to 12km/h. I can see both sides of the argument but, personally, I'm 50/50 on the issue at the moment.