CLARK AND NASIR ARE OVER THE MOON WITH THE SPECIAL INTERVIEW OF FERNANDO ALONSO’S FORMER TEAM MATE… GIANCARLO FISICHELLA FROM THE DAYTONA 24 HOURS RACE LAST WEEKEND.
In 1996, he made the move to Formula One, making his debut for the Minardi team, after being the official test driver the previous season. However he did not complete the full season since Minardi required a driver who could bring funding to the team, and replaced Fisichella with Giovanni Lavaggi.
For 1997 he made the move to Eddie Jordan’s eponymous team, where he drove alongside former F1 champion Michael Schumacher’s brother Ralf, himself a former Formula Nippon champion. Fisichella gained his first podium finish at the 1997 Canadian Grand Prix, and went on to finish higher in the points standings than his team-mate. At Hockenheim a victory looked to be within reach for Fisichella, but a puncture and the performance of an on-form Gerhard Berger denied him the win. Fisichella was able to show his talent again at the rain-soaked Belgian Grand Prix in which he finished a commendable second behind Michael Schumacher. Following this race, the Benetton team signed him for 1998.
The timing of his move to Benetton move was unfortunate. Following Renault’s withdrawal from Formula One, Benetton would contest the 1998 season without “works” (factory-supplied) engines, instead using rebranded development versions of 1997 Renault engines. Despite not having the latest engines, Fisichella still managed second places at Montreal and Monaco, even being in contention for a victory in Canada until gearbox problems slowed him down. In Austria, Fisichella scored his first pole position, although an on-track clash with Jean Alesi during the race cost him any chance of a good result. He was then able to add only two more points to his total in the second half of the year as Benetton lost ground on their competition.
1999 proved to be a similarly inconsistent season for Giancarlo Fisichella. He did score some points finishes, including second at Montreal, and again came close to a victory in the European Grand Prix, until he spun off whilst in the lead. This would prove to be his best chance of a victory for the next few seasons.
Fisichella’s season was to follow a similar pattern in 2000. He again gained some surprise podium finishes early in the year, but Benetton’s now unfortunately traditional poor second half of the season meant that he failed to score any more points. Since joining Benetton, Fisichella had comprehensively outperformed his Austrian team-mate Alexander Wurz, who would then leave the team to make way for British rookie Jenson Button in 2001. Renault had purchased the Benetton team by the start of the 2001 season, but their investment was too late to enable much progress with Benetton’s uncompetitive 2001 car, and as a result, Fisichella was battling for much of the season with teams such as Minardi and Prost. However, the efforts of technical director Mike Gascoyne and his staff did result in improvements over the year, culminating in a 4-5 finish at the German Grand Prix and a third-place finish for Fisichella at the Belgian race. Despite Fisichella gaining the team’s best results that season and consistently outperforming Button, he was not retained by the team, so he rejoined Jordan for 2002.
Fisichella managed to score just seven points in 2002, comfortably outpacing new teammate Takuma Sato, although the Jordan-Honda car of that year was never truly competitive. After Honda withdrew their engine supply, Jordan switched to Ford engines for the 2003 season, but the team were still unable to compete with the top teams on the grid. Despite this lack of performance, Fisichella won his first race at the Brazilian Grand Prix.
Battling with McLaren’s Kimi Räikkönen amidst heavy rain and numerous crashes, Fisichella took the race lead on lap 54, soon before the race was red-flagged. However, he was demoted to second place on the podium, because (per regulations) Räikkönen was the race leader two laps prior to the red flag. Several days later, though, the FIA determined that Fisichella had already begun his 56th lap before the red flag, meaning that he, and not Räikkönen, had been leading the race two laps before its premature end, awarding the Italian his first F1 victory. Fisichella was the only F1 driver to have won a race without having stood atop the podium. He collected the winner’s trophy at the next race at Imola. Fisichella’s only other points finish of 2003 was to be a seventh place at Indianapolis.
Unhappy at the Jordan team’s performance, Fisichella moved to Sauber in 2004 in the hope of greater results, and of using the team as a way of gaining access to, and a drive for, 2003 World Champions Ferrari, who supplied re-badged engines to the Sauber team. Fisichella drove well all year, comfortably outpacing team mate Felipe Massa for much of the season (scoring 22 championship points vs Massa’s 12).
His strong performances prompted former Benetton-Renault team boss Flavio Briatore to re-sign him for the 2005 season as partner to the young Spanish driver Fernando Alonso. A win at the season opening race at Melbourne signalled the Formula One breakthrough that commentators had been predicting, but it proved to be something of a false dawn. A run of poor luck saw Fisichella fall behind his team mate in the championship standings, and at times the pair were achieving noticeably different lap times with the same equipment. It appeared that Fisichella simply did not have the pace to match Alonso.
The difference in pace between Fisichella and Alonso was noticeable, and while Alonso’s metronomic consistency helped him win the 2005 championship, Fisichella’s general bad luck was to cost him points finishes. He was overtaken and lost the lead on the final lap of the Japanese Grand Prix by McLaren driver Kimi Räikkönen, despite his race engineer urging him to avoid letting Räikkönen past. Nevertheless, his performances alongside Alonso throughout the season enabled Renault to win the World Constructors’ Championship ahead of McLaren and Ferrari, the team that had won that title the previous six seasons.