Red Bull Racing have decided to give Vitantonio Liuzzi three races to prove himself, starting this weekend past, at the expense of Christian Klien. For Liuzzi this is a golden opportunity.
Luckily for Liuzzi, these three races are at Imola, Catalunya and Monaco, all places the Italian knows from his F3000 days. He knows he is stepping into a well-sorted racing car that has a very real chance of scoring points.
But you have to feel for Christian Klien, who has excelled in the first three meetings of the year and but for some bad luck would easily be ahead of David Coulthard in the points. Both Liuzzi and Klien are fully deserving of race seats, and it seems a travesty that two of Grand Prix racing’s better prospects are scrapping each other for the same berth. There are many at Red Bull with similar views who felt that the team may have been better served in 2005 by going for an all-youth line-up from the outset. Although Coulthard did a sterling job in Australia, how often before have we seen him promise much in the early season but fail to deliver later on? I hope that if Coulthard’s performances drop below those of the number-two car on a regular basis that he too will be benched.
Although mid-season driver changes are not unusual, they are often prompted by money (as when Giorgio Pantano failed to pay up last year), injury (Ralf Schumacher last year), enduring crapness (Pantano again) or a bust-up with the team.
None of these applies to the situation at Red Bull, which make the upcoming races a fascinating prospect as neither driver truly deserves to lose out.
Paddock gossip suggests that the ‘loser’ of the Red Bull shoot-out will more than likely fill Jaques Villeneuve’s baggy suited berth at Sauber if the Canadian doesn’t get his act together soon. Though this would be preferable to Friday testing, the Sauber drive cannot be all that tempting to Klien and Liuzzi given the car’s lack of testing and competitiveness compared to the Red Bull.
It is musical chairs time at McLaren too thanks to Juan Pablo Montoya’s injury. Few will have reacted to Montoya’s clay court catastrophe with as much glee as Pedro de la Rosa and Alex Wurz, the Columbian’s enforced sabbatical giving both a chance to show their worth in a very competitive car. De la Rosa admirably rose to the challenge in Bahrain producing one of the most entertaining drives so far this year and showing some of the others how this overtaking business is done (even if it was on a trial and error basis.) Wurz acquitted himself similarly well in Imola, running to a very strong fourth.
This state of affairs has also provided Kimi Raikkonen with a bit of a hurry up. Beating your regular team mate is one thing, but being shamed in qualifying by a driver whose career at Arrows and Jaguar delivered few results is quite another. This weekend Raikkonen must fend off Wurz who will undoubtedly be ‘going for it’, the oversize Austrian looking for a result to match the 1997 British Grand Prix.
Over at A1 Grand Prix the tactical substitution is being debated six months ahead of the first race, with British team boss John Surtees suggesting his driver line-up will be decided on a race-by-race basis. Surtees has a wealth of talent at his disposal with Robbie Kerr, Ralph Firman Jr, Alex Lloyd and Adam Carroll all in line for the seat. Any combination of these would be more exciting than many current F1 squads. For what it’s worth, my dream team would be Kerr and Carroll with Lloyd on the subs bench. In A1GP such an abundance of talent is more or less limited to Britain and it is unlikely the Lebanese and Chinese squads are having such difficulties.
Such driver-swapping malarkey as this may be entertaining and provide talking points, but these strategies come at the expense of one of the most essential components of success – continuity. Take Michael Schumacher and Valentino Rossi – both are undoubted talents and both have had more or less the same team around them for much of their career and have been able to thrive as a result of such a stable environment.
By chopping and changing drivers at will, teams run the risk disrupting their environment and developing the car inconsistently. These symptoms may already be manifesting themselves in Red Bull’s gradual decline during the season so far. Furthermore by telling drivers they have one race to prove themselves, there is a high risk of a lot of trashed machinery as man and machine explore their limits. How Red Bull’ strategy pans out in the long term will be fascinating, but for the time being, just enjoy the action.