Ex-driver opens up on Red Bull ‘politics’ and points finger at Gerhard Berger

Thomas Maher
Vitantonio Liuzzi chatting with Red Bull's Christian Horner in 2019.

Vitantonio Liuzzi chatting with Red Bull's Christian Horner in 2019.

Vitantonio Liuzzi said politics played a big part in him losing his seat with Toro Rosso as a result of internal politics at Red Bull.

Vitantonio ‘Tonio’ Liuzzi became a Formula 1 driver with Red Bull in 2005 with the newly-revamped Jaguar team running Christian Klien for the first three races, and Liuzzi stepping in for the next four rounds.

The intent was to have the pair share the second seat at the team with veteran David Coulthard in the lead role, but Liuzzi was sidelined after the first swap back as Red Bull realised the unusual approach wasn’t ideal for either driver, nor themselves.

“The plan was to have four races for Klien, four for me, four for him… but after the first swap, we realised it was not good for him, nor for me,” Liuzzi told F1 Unlocked.

“I decided to step out and Didi [Mateschitz, Red Bull owner and team founder] himself, he came to me and said, ‘Don’t worry, we are planning to buy another team, an Italian team, and I would like to make you as a first driver with a fully Italian brand. It will be called Toro Rosso’.

“He [Mateschitz] told me: ‘Don’t worry, we really believe you can be our future, and we don’t want to stop your growth, so just wait one more year, and next year you’re going to have a full car for a full season’.”

Vitantonio Liuzzi: There was a lot of politics at Red Bull

Red Bull duly increased their F1 participation in 2006, purchasing the former Minardi outfit and moving into the factory at Faenza to begin life as Toro Rosso. Mateschitz held his promise and signed Liuzzi on for 2006, with the Italian driving for the next two seasons. But he was dropped for 2008, after scoring just four points in two seasons – F1 running under the old points system at the time.

Liuzzi said that his dismissal came about as a result of too many people having the ear of Mateschitz, including former F1 race winner Gerhard Berger. The Austrian had bought into Toro Rosso as a co-owner, enjoying a 50% stake alongside Mateschitz.

“At that period it was very difficult because Mateschitz had a lot of people around him trying to convince him of a different point of view,” Liuzzi said.

“There was [Gerhard] Berger, [Niki] Lauda – not only them, but seven, eight people consulting Mateschitz, so it was not an easy period – there were a lot of politics in the team in 2006, 2007.

“Actually, I stepped out of Toro Rosso because of Berger. In 2007, for politics, he took me out of Red Bull. If not, I would have stayed there for a really long time. It was done in a bad way… It was really not a fair situation. It was a big shame.”

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Liuzzi has gone on to become a restaurant owner in Italy, with five locations opened in Milan and Pescara, as well as staying involved in motorsport as an FIA steward and a driver coach.

Looking back on his career, the Italian feels he could maybe have brought a harder edge to his personality that may have served him better.

“Maybe I also regret that I should have been more political because I’ve always been a straightforward person,” he said.

“I thought that only on-track performance counted – but in this business, it’s not the case. You have to have marketing, politics, and speed. It’s a package – and I was not the full package, I think.”

Vitantonio Liuzzi: Dietrich Mateschitz was a ‘real person’

Liuzzi’s link to Red Bull came about as he had raced for the Christian Horner-founded Arden team for the 2004 F3000 championship, as well as being signed as a Red Bull junior. With Horner being hand-picked by Mateschitz to become team boss for his new F1 team, it was no surprise that Liuzzi’s dominance of that year’s championship led to Horner and Mateschitz approaching him for 2005.

While things never quite worked out with Red Bull, Liuzzi said Mateschitz had always been considerate and kind to him.

“I think he was one of the nicest people I ever met,” he said of the company’s founder, who died in October 2022 at the age of 78.

“He’s a real person – when you are somebody like him, so big, with such a position, it’s not easy to have a connection – but he was so real and so passionate about what he was doing, not only in Formula 1 but in taking care of every person in the company. Every time we were together, it was like he was a father to me.

“I really miss him. It’s a big shame, and a big loss for the world of motorsport, and at the end of the day, he gave a big chance to drivers who are still in the paddock right now.”