In 1996, back-of-the-grid minnows, Minardi, signed three drivers to fill two cars. In car one sat Pedro Lamy, a Portuguese driver who, aside from good looks, didn’t contribute much to the team apart from cash. In seat one-point-five sat Giovanni Lavaggi, and in seat two sat Giancarlo Fisichella. My first question is which one is still racing in Formula One? If you said seat two – Fisichella – give yourself a pat on the back. Team owner, Giancarlo Minardi, alternated Fisichella with Lavaggi, one getting the first races of the season, the other getting the latter. But by the final Grand Prix of the year, it was very clear that Giancarlo had a lot of talent, and he was soon snapped up by Eddie Jordan – the man who introduced Michael Schumacher to Formula One, no less.
So impressing in a poor car, and being signed by a man who knew talent when he saw it, Fisichella’s life should have been all roses and chocolates, surely?
Alas, Giancarlo has battled for most of his career with under-performing cars and failing teams. The Jordan was half-decent, but at the competitive time with four top teams, Jordan were left further behind. A deal with a top four team seemed like a lifeline to the Italian, and he duly signed a multi-year contract with the Benetton squad, the same Benetton that powered Michael Schumacher to championship glory in 1994 and ’95. But bad luck struck though, and Fisichella joined at a time when the team was on the decline. The results were few and far between and Fisi’s reputation took a beating.
The Sauber followed, and while it wasn’t all bad, it wasn’t much better than the Jordan was. After his stint in Switzerland, Fisi found himself returning to the Benetton garage and reacquainting himself with friends from the past. In an odd move that seemed a little strange initially, Giancarlo rejoined the Benetton team just as they were being purchased by Anglo-British car manufacturer Renault.
Before we discuss the main crux of this post, one fact needs to be highlighted. While Giancarlo Fisichella suffered from moving to teams just as they were on a downturn in performance, the Italian driver nearly always managed to out-perform every team mate he was partnered with. Fisi got the better of Ralf Schumacher in the Jordan, Alex Wurx and Jenson Button in the Benetton and Felipe Massa in the Sauber. In fact, during his time with these competitors, Fisichella is often attributed with comprehensively thrashing all these drivers. He dominated them all, but it didn’t work in his favour…
A return to Benetton, now controlled by Renault, but the pairing with a hotshot driver on the up (from Minardi, coincidentally) put paid to rest all the hard labouring Giancarlo had endured for so many years. Fernando Alonso completely dominated Fisichella, and with two championship wins in two years, compared with the Italian’s tworace wins left Fisi by the curb. Alonso’s uncompromising pace left Giancarlo behind and once again, he took the brunt of the bad press.
Fernando has left Renault now, defecting to McLaren for the 2007 season. Fisichella remains with Team Reggie though, having had a year added to his contract. In the second seat is a young, hungry whipper-snapper who goes by the name of Heikki Kovalainen. Heikki has tested for Renault for a couple of years and pretty much knows what is what.
If Giancarlo does anything this year, it has to be to beat his team mate. He cannot do any less; otherwise I fear he may be out of a job as Renault’s test driver – Nelson Piquet Jr – is sitting anxiously in the wings. Over the winter Giancarlo has admitted the pressures that sit on his shoulders, and while he has to assume the lead drivers mantle at Renault, he cannot assume he will get to keep it. He has to beat Kovalainen, and if the Renault is up to the task, he has to take a serious shot at the title. While I personally do not believe the Renault is as strong as the Ferrari or McLaren, if Fisi is to survive past 2007, he needs to drive the rear wheels off that R27 and show the world, once again, that on his day, nobody can beat him.
Giancarlo Fisichella: good or bad? Because of the 1996 German Grand Prix, I’ll always say spectacularly well, but this is the one true bias I have with the sport – I am a Fisi fan. But what do you think, is he good, or should he sell pizza to tourists outside the coliseum?
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