A lifelong fan of the Scuderia, but unable to pursue his dream of becoming a racing driver, David Tonizza's talent in the virtual world nonetheless led him right to where he always wanted: inside Ferrari's Formula 1 team
Sometimes the circuitous path can lead to where you wanted to be in the beginning. Take a young man, a boy even, barely of age, who fell in love with Formula 1: ‘My idol was Michael Schumacher – I really admired his ability to push any car to the limit,’ says David Tonizza, the 2019 F1 Esports Series world champion with the FDA Esports Team. The youngster is set to represent this special virtual Ferrari Driver Academy team again in 2021, alongside two-time world champion Brendon Leigh.
‘I was born in 2002, but when I was four years old I watched the 2000 Japanese Grand Prix,’ he explains. ‘What a race! Schumacher and the team were perfect. They managed to stay on track for two extra laps, in which Michael made the difference, lapping at a qualifying pace and coming out ahead after the pit stops.
‘I think Schumacher’s pairing with Ferrari is the best ever in Formula 1,’ continues Tonizza, whose nickname “Tonzilla” arose after a Formula 1 commentator unintentionally mispronounced his surname throughout his first championship race (which he won, incidentally). ‘It’s because of Schumacher that I got into motorsport and pestered my parents to let me race.’
Race he did, but even karting is not cheap, and after a few years Tonizza had to say goodbye to his dream. Yet a strong passion is hard to stifle. The boy from the ancient city of Viterbo in the centre of Italy started playing motorsport video games – and became increasingly engrossed, to the point of testing himself against others.
That is how Tonizza, at age 15, started out in tournaments. Smaller ones at first, and then some bigger competitions, ultimately leading to him qualifying for the 2019 F1 Esports Pro Draft. Here he was the first overall pick, and was signed by Ferrari, which competes in the F1 Esports Series through the Ferrari Driver Academy (FDA) Esports Team.
Tonizza made his debut in the virtual Formula 1 world championship in 2019 and won the title, proving to be one of the world’s best sim drivers. He also won two races in the 2020 season and in January 2021 was called up by the Scuderia for an important test…
The people in charge of Ferrari’s cutting-edge simulator wanted him at the wheel of their virtual Formula 1 car. Tonizza went from video-gaming to the most realistic and precise software there is, that of the “spider” sim in the secretive heart of the Gestione Sportiva, the Scuderia’s legendary headquarters in Maranello.
The sensations were immediately different. ‘The fundamental change is movement,’ explains Tonizza. ‘I’m used to static simulators, where the only sensations are transmitted to the steering wheel. Everything is different because the whole cockpit moves.’
His disorientation was short-lived. ‘It’s a strange feeling at first – but then it becomes very useful because it conveys a vastly clearer perception of the car’s behaviour and helps you to react more quickly. Driving on the simulator is really incredible. You’re utterly immersed and it’s an extraordinary feeling. And an honour!’
The test Tonizza undertook was designed to assess his responsiveness: ‘The car was adjusted, and I had to figure out what had been changed,’ says Tonizza. ‘We started with modifications that were simple to identify and then became more complex and sophisticated. I hope I made a positive impression on the engineers and that there will be a second opportunity…’
Tonizza subsequently returned to his own world and immediately secured pole position in the Austrian Virtual GP, dominating the race from the first lap to the last in the opening round of the 2021 F1 Esports Series.
For this lifelong fan of the Scuderia, this unique experience with the Formula 1 team may now have helped him become even stronger in the field where he is already a star.