In a conversation, the ex-Formula One test driver takes time out to discuss F1, IndyCar, Formula E, WTCR, his successes and struggles, and much more with Sports Pundit.
Alongside, the former GP2 (F2) race winner also addressed the challenges the Portimao circuit may present to Formula One ahead of the series debut in the Portuguese race track.
Currently racing at the WTCR driving an Alfa Romeo Giulietta TCR for Romeo Ferraris, the Italian take us on his journey throughout the most competitive racing series in the world, so let’s close the visor and get onboard a passionate and revealing journey from the driver’s seat.
HOW IT ALL BEGAN
Motorsport runs in the veins of Luca Filippi who’s father was a rally driver; the Italian started racing when he was a kid and describes the sport as part of his family heritage.
“I have fantastic memories of rally races when my dad was racing, and I was going there with my family. I loved it,” he reminisces with joy.
“I started racing go-kart, as a game, in the beginning, then slowly, it became more of a sport, and eventually a profession, when I started racing cars. It is something that has been part of my life forever.”
In 2006, the Piedmont native debuted in Formula 2 [known as GP2 at that time], although the 2011 campaign would prove to be his most successful, as he achieved three victories during the season, to end up as the series Vice-Champion.
A year earlier, the Italian had become the most experienced GP2 driver in the serie’s history, having taken part in over 100 races with different teams. He competed in the series between 2006 and 2012.
A journey that gave him an invaluable insight into the sport and showed his development as a professional racing driver.
“I remember that day, it was the 100th race, we were in Nurburgring, I was starting from second, and I won the main race event.
“The other drivers were very fast [Romain] Grosjean, Jules Bianchi, [Giedo] van der Garde, it was a very interesting battle, a good way to demonstrate why I was still there.
At that time, I thought I had unfinished business, and my last season in GP2  was really good.
WHY EXPERIENCE DOES MATTER
“In GP2, Formula 2 now, you also need some experienced drivers, so then, the rookies can measure themselves against a more experienced driver, which is what you will always find in every category you go, especially in Formula One.
“When you get there, you have to fight against drivers that are there for ten or even twenty years, so you have to face that sort of challenge.”
SHARING THE DREAM
Once his journey in Formula 2 came to an end, Filippi continued to look for new challenges.
A Formula One deal is what could have come next, but with only twenty seats - most already taken, the pinnacle of motorsport finds too many young drivers standing in line for a shot.
We showcased the example of 2019 FIA Formula 2 champion, Nyck de Vries.
When he couldn’t find a seat in Formula One, he moved on to continue his racing career in Formula E, driving for the Mercedes-Benz EQ FE Team during the 2019-2020 season.
In addition, he signed a deal to compete in the FIA World Endurance Championship with the team Racing Team Nederland in the LMP2 class.
“It is not something new that some very talented drivers won’t have a shot or a proper shot in Formula One.
“When you get at the top of this business, it is tight, and it is not only about abilities, but also other financial aspects, or where you come from, these sorts of things, but it is part of the game, we cannot blame the system, it is what it is,” he said.
The Italian stands to outline the positive side of athletes having other racing series to keep competing at the highest level.
“Actually, we are very lucky on our side of motorsport because circuit racing provides many other options.
“Even if we cannot make it to Formula One, we still have other options, like IndyCar, Formula E, or GT, in several ways, starting from the prototypes and going down to GT3. There are many opportunities and incredible teams available.”
He also shared his thoughts on the young Dutch driver, “Nyck de Vries is doing great in Formula E; I think he was really lucky and did well to take that seat when he got the chance.”
And further explains: “There are other branches of motorsport that are not as lucky as we are; for example, in rally, when you get to the top, there are only, like eight, nine maximum professional drivers in the world, and it is almost impossible to get up there, so you just end up not becoming a real professional [driver], able to work doing what you love, while in our side of motorsport we have many opportunities with many manufacturers involved in several different championships.”
RIGHT PLACE, WRONG TIME?
The 35-year-old talked about his own experience in Formula One when he was installed as Honda’s test driver, between 2007 to 2008, and a full-time seat insisted, to elude him.
“Formula One has been really close to me; I was a Honda test driver in 2007/2008, and at the time, I thought it [F1] was going to happen for me. But as it is happening now, Honda retired from Formula One, it was unfortunate, and it became difficult.
“Then, I had my IndyCar shot, and I was so happy, I felt I had done everything I could. I tested a Formula One car and raced in IndyCar; I am really happy about this.”
When asked about the Japanese manufacturer leaving Formula One by the end of 2021, he remarked: “Honda retiring is a shame, it is a difficult time, and the budgets involving a Formula One program are huge.
“But I’m sure that my friend [Stefano] Domenicali will do his best to try to make it more attractive for the manufacturers, and I am sure he will.”
With Honda giving a farewell to the FIA Formula One World Championship, Red Bull Racing and sister team Scuderia AlphaTauri will need to find a new power unit supplier from 2022 onwards.
“Regarding Red Bull, it is hard to say, maybe they could keep using the Honda power units, doing some extra development, or going back to Renault, hard to say,” he concluded.
The Italian build up his career in motorsport, making a name for himself competing in a wide range of categories.
Before becoming a test driver for Honda in 2008, he also tested for the Super Aguri F1 team, where Takuma Sato was racing full time.
FROM FORMULA ONE TO INDYCAR
Filippi kindly shared his impressions on the 43-year-old, who is a two-time Indianapolis 500 winner.
“First of all, he is an amazing guy, really nice, very polite and kind; he is a great guy to be with and talk to.
“In Formula One testing, I was faster than him, not by a lot, but a little bit, so it was good,” he recalls.
“He [Sato] always did a fantastic job in IndyCar; he is now a two-time champion in the Indy 500, which is pretty unique.
“He has always been great at Indy, and in general, sometimes he has some highs and lows, but he is a very good racing driver.”
In 2013, the Italian made his IndyCar debut at Mid Ohio with the team Barracuda Honda, a series he raced in until 2016.
During that time, he added 23 IndyCar race starts to his name.
Among the teams he drove for are Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, Ed Carpenter Racing [CFH Racing in 2015], and Dale Coyne Racing.
“IndyCar is the most challenging car I have driven, 700 horsepower [depending on turbo boost pressure used at track], very good downforce because the floor is huge, so are the wings, it is fast in the corners, a muscle car.
“The car is really heavy, there is no power steering; so fun to drive, I loved it. Also, the circuits, especially the street circuits, are fantastic. It’s a cool category I wish I’ve done more in IndyCar.”
FROM HIS POINT OF VIEW
Filippi looks back at his career beginnings and how it has unfolded since then, to the present time, remarking on some key aspects.
“My career its been fantastic; what I like about my racing career is the highs and the lows because it is normal, but every time I have a difficult time, I have always been able to fight back and do well again.
“I wish I have had another shot in IndyCar because I think I deserve it; after my 2015 season with Carpenter, I had a podium, and I was really fast, competing at the same level as [Josef] Newgarden.
“I feel I should have had a proper shot in that series, this is something that annoys me, to be honest, but it is what it is.
“I had an IndyCar podium in my life [Toronto], and that is not for everyone, but I wish I have had a proper shot.”
Josef Newgarden, 28, is the defending champion of the IndyCar Series.
In 2020, he started his fourth season driving for Team Penske; together, they have achieved two IndyCar championships, the first being in 2017, a debut season with the team for the American driver.
FORMULA E - A TASTE OF THE FUTURE
The single-seater driver, who is an experienced competitor, always up for a new challenge, joined the grid of the ABB FIA Formula E championship, the first all-electric racing series, for the 2017/2018 season with the Chinese team NIO Formula E.
There were some driver changes during the fourth season of the fully-electric championship, among them, Luca Filippi.
His season got cut short when he had to give up his race seat in favor of reserve driver Ma Qinghua at the Paris E-Prix.
With his straight-talking style, the driver assessed his short time in the series: “I enjoyed Formula E, sometimes we were very competitive, we had some opportunities that for different reasons we couldn’t put it together.”
When questioned about whether he would be open to a comeback if he had a proposal in place, he commented: “If I had another opportunity, I will evaluate it and probably take it because it is a really nice championship.”
SWITCHING TO SPORTS CARS
Team Mulsanne driver and teammate to Jean-Karl Vernay, the Italian talked us through his debut WTCR race weekend in Zolder, Belgium, and the challenges behind the wheel of the Alfa Romeo Giulietta TCR for Romeo Ferraris.
“It is a new challenge for me but really interesting, it’s an FIA World Cup, very professional, and the level is really high; it is not easy to compete because our team is independent, and most of the other teams are, let’s say, factory-supported, but we are a good group of people, really passionate.
“For the first race, I went there without enough preparation as everything came a little bit in the last minute, which was still great to happen, and for these races , I feel we are more prepared even if I’ve never raced in Slovakia. I am very happy to be part of this team.”
The WTCR features a 2020 compacted calendar due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
We conducted this interview before the three races in Slovakia took place.
This weekend, teams and drivers will meet again for another intensive racing weekend with three more races at Hungaroring.
“In this championship, the biggest challenge is the front-wheel-drive. Sometimes it feels different and strange to me.
“The behavior of the car is very different, and I feel some of my skills, developed over the years, sometimes I’m not able to make the most out of them, especially the use of the downforce and the use of the power, but I am getting used to it.”
French driver Yann Ehrlacher is the current championship leader driving for the Sweden team Lynk & Co Cyan Racing.
“The reserve grid format is fun, especially when you have a double race weekend; for Formula One, I don’t know,” says the Italian who then wonders, “why not?
“It would be interesting to see how it works, perhaps to have one race like that, maybe with a doubleheader on the same track, and see how it is like, as a test.”
His knowledge of the sport has also proven to be of interest from the other side of the camera, sharing his views on Formula One as a tv commentator, managing to align his racing calendar and media commitments in harmony.
“I like it, I’ve been commentating for Sky Sports for years on Formula One between my GP2 and IndyCar times, and now I do it for Mediaset, the Italian tv in Formula E.”
FORMULA ONE DEBUT IN PORTIMAO
In over a week, Formula One will make his return to Portugal, racing for the first time at a circuit Filippi know well, the Algarve International Circuit (AIA), in Portimao.
“Portimao is an interesting track, a bit unique, due to the big elevation changes, which are really big.
“I think for Formula One, it will be very challenging; they have to be very precise because compared to the speed those cars will do, the run-off areas are not that big for today ‘s Formula One cars, going at full speed with that downforce. I believe it will be very challenging and definitely not easy.
“The asphalt used to be very slippery, now, they are putting a new surface down, so I’m curious to see how it will be.
“It is going to be an interesting weekend, especially in free practice, when nobody knows what to expect.”
AGE IS JUST A NUMBER
Proud father of two daughters, Filippi won the Italian F3000 championship driving for Fisichella Motorsport at the age of 20.
By now (35), he could have chosen to hang his boots at any time; however, he continues to be competitive at a physically and technical level.
“Now, the athletes can be competitive at 40 years; this is something we see in other sports as well.
“Roger Federer, 39, in tennis still at the top of his game, obviously Valentino [Rossi], 41, in Moto GP, [Fernando] Alonso, 39, and [Kimi] Raikkonen, 40, in motorsports, or Federica Pellegrini, 32, in swimming, there are plenty of examples.
“First of all, I believe that is because our generation is a healthier generation of athletes.
“We have been training since we are kids, I think our bodies prepare to stay fit, maybe even if we are a little bit older and so far, we have great examples, of let’s say, older drivers, that are still doing a great job. Scott Dixon, 40, in IndyCar is another example.
“The approach changes because you are a little bit less crazy, a little bit less brave, not because you are afraid but more conscious, filling the gap with experience.
“You become a little bit of a different driver, not necessarily worse or slower, just a little bit different.”
SP: How does Luca Filippi prefer to spend his free time?
LC: My free time goes 100% to my kids; I have two daughters.When they are in school, and I have to go training, if I can, I go-karting. That is still my love, it is fun, and I do it as much as I can. I also have other hobbies like beach volleyball or tennis, but definitely, go-karting is fun or skiing.
Image courtesy of Luca Filippi’s Media team