The GP2 Boy from Brazil Luiz Razia
For a country which is almost a by-word for Formula One, it seems incredible that the last time we saw a Brazilian driver on the F1 podium was – come this October – two years ago courtesy of Felipe Massa in Korea. Even stranger, is that the last time the sport had a Brazilian winner was three years ago with Rubens Barrichello at Monza. Stranger still, is that the last Brazilian to have won the drivers championship was Ayrton Senna in 1991. That is, of course, that is if you don’t count Ferrari Team Principle, Stefano Domenicali’s observation that “Felipe (Massa) was World Champion for sixteen seconds in 2008″.
On face value then, things aren’t looking great for Brazil as F1’s third most successful nation. There hasn’t -arguably- been a World Champion in two decades, a race winner in three years, a podium in two and the country’s two representatives on the grid, Felipe Massa and Bruno Senna, whilst steady, are unspectacular given the jobs being done by their team mates. If, however, you scratch beyond F1 and into its feeder series, GP2, a very different story begins to appear.
A young guy who seems intent on changing the situation for his country, is Luiz Razia, a 23 year old from the Brazilian town of Barreiras who drives for the Arden team in F1’s feeder series, GP2. I was able to have a chat with Luiz at his team’s factory last week about the situation going on for Brazilians in F1 and whether or not he can break the country’s seemingly stagnant period in the sport. Turning up to the factory in a cool looking pair of trousers and navy blue shirt, it was a pleasant surprise that he didn’t begin to answer the question with the stock motorsport response, “for sure” which seems to pepper most race-drivers vocabulary. Instead, he looks thoughtful against the Arden factory’s backdrop of trophies, Bruno Senna’s GP2 car and Mark Webber’s 2010 Red Bull RB6 – a serious reminder that his team is owned by Red Bull Racing’s Team Principle, Christian Horner and his father Gary – and answers cheerfully “I think everybody wants to win, I want to win”. He follows this sentence with “I don’t care if Massa finishes second, that’s not my goal.” This leaves me unsure as to whether he is referring to the Paulista’s and Brazil’s 2008 heartbreak, or his compatriot’s supporting role to Fernando Alonso at Ferrari, but as Luiz continues, he leaves me in no doubt as to his future plans and reveals a focussed determination behind his friendly and relaxed exterior; “I wanna be a world champion, but in the meantime, we need to focus on today, on where we are now which is GP2, we are doing a great season and the future we never know…”
He’s not wrong. After finishing second in the GP2 season’s opener in Bahrain and winning races convincingly in Malaysia and Catalunya, the boy from Brazil lies second in the championship, 31 points behind Italy’s Davide Valsecchi. When I ask him if he can win the GP2 title this year, again he seems relaxed and answers with a sense of pragmatism and sensibility which gives the impression you’re speaking with someone far older than 23. “Yeah, that’s the goal!” comes the excited reply. He seems be relishing the fact that he has the possibility in his hands to break his country’s championship draught but remains realistic that whilst he’s done well so far in 2012 to get to second in the championship, it’s a long season and there is still a lot of work to be done; “we’ve shown some very good speed and results, but we need to show that throughout the season. We’re going now to Valencia for the other half of the season, and I hope to be in Singapore in a very good place to win the championship.” After four seasons in the series, an underlying determination and a candid admission that he feels “different, a different person, because I’ve had to reinvent myself this season” it would seem foolhardy to write Luiz Razia off when the series arrives at the season finale as being either the championship leader, or being near as dammit. The hard work doesn’t seem to scare him, though. Using Arden’s Red Bull connections, Luiz admits that he has been “working very hard” up to three times a day with James his trainer who is also the head of Red Bull Racing training programme. To add to his regime, he has been training in the 2011 champions’ race simulator at the Red Bull factory in Milton Keynes, not far from the Arden workshop. Perhaps most astonishingly, for a member of the Playstation Generation he is also on a self-imposed Twitter and Facebook ban until Valencia, a task unthinkable for many – including me! – early twenty-somethings.
Whilst he seems to have everything in place to take the 2012 GP2 title, the burning question is whether Luiz can make it into Formula One and bring some “new blood” into the sport for Brazil within the next few years? He breaks into a massive grin against the backdrop of silverware and Webber’s Blue Red Bull. An ironic symbol that he could be in a similar car within a few years, should he get onto the Red Bull Driver Programme and should the Australian retire or jump ship to Ferrari. “No, I definitely will be [there] next season”. Given his 2012 results and the maturity and determination he has shown so far over our chat, I wouldn’t doubt him. Furthermore, he was Marussia (née, Virgin Racing) F1′s test driver in 2010 and switched to Caterham (née, Lotus Racing, then Team Lotus) for a similar duty in 2011. On top of having an impressive turn of speed, he also possesses an understanding of the mechanics of a modern Formula One car. This was reflected within Team Lotus and they allowed Luiz to replace the Norfolk based outfit’s out of favour Italian veteran, Jarno Trulli for Friday practice duties in front of his home crowd in São Paulo. Again, he impressed. “In Brazil everybody (Team Lotus) was very pleased with my work inside and outside the car and with feedback”. And rightly they should have been pleased, considering that Razia finished just over a second off of the team’s main driver, Heikki Kovalainen in a car – which if you listen to Trulli – was difficult to drive due to its vague and unresponsive power steering.
Why then, did the vacant seat go to Renault refugee Vitaly Petrov and not Luiz after the Italian vacated the team in February this year after the first pre-season test in Jérez? On paper, it would have made sense to put a driver who knows the team into Trulli’s seat. He sits back in his chair and looks thoughtful again, a seeming trait of the young driver which I notice as our conversation develops; “Well” he laments “I was very close to a deal with Caterham last year but because of money I couldn’t and finally Petrov got the place. It was close by *this* much to getting it…” He uses the international sign for a tiny margin and laughs, a small give away that he is still young.
After we conclude the interview, I drink a can of Red Bull in the team’s workshop and chat with Deborah, the Arden Team’s administrator who has organized all of this. In the background, Luiz jokes with his mechanics and engineers as they go through multiple pit-stop practices before heading to Valencia the following Wednesday. He seems full of confidence and every inch the race driver who is ready to step up to the highest level of world motorsport.
If then, the 23 year old Brazilian missed out on an F1 2012 seat with a team that is regarded by the F1 community as “the best of the newcomers” due to Petrov’s bank balance being bigger, then surely he has done enough to fulfil his plan of getting into F1 next year on merit alone, not including the increased backing he would bring should he claim the GP2 title this year. Given that he lays second in the GP2 championship, Arden’s connections to Red Bull, his previous F1 experience and an attitude as cool as the trousers he was wearing, would you really want to count against Luiz Razia entering F1 and lifting his country from the F1 blues it seems to have fallen into?
Well, I don’t know about you, but I’ve made my mind up…
- George East