Also known has Fisi and Fisico, Giancarlo Fisichella started competing in karts in 1992 in the Italian Formula Three series. In 1993, he came runner-up, and in 1994 Giancarlo took the title, winning famous races like Monaco and Macau. Unlike most Formula One drivers though, Giancarlo took a break in his open-wheel career to compete in the International Touring Car Championship, driving an Alfa Romeo in 1995. However, the Roman soon returned to single seater racing when in 1996, he joined the Minardi team for part of the season. Although Fisi only raced the first 8 Grands Prix (Minardi needed a driver who brought funding to the squad), his car control and talent caught the eye of Jordan team owner, Eddie Jordan.
In 1997, Giancarlo competed alongside the younger brother of Michael Schumacher – Ralf – who was also in his debut season. The season saw Giancarlo take a podium in Canada, and he almost won the German Grand Prix, being denied by Gerhard Berger and a puncture. In Belgium, Fisichella finished second behind Michael Schumacher in an inspired drive in torrential conditions.
Giancarlo’s superb first full season made Benetton hire the Italian for 1998, but while everything looked promising for Fisichella, the team were entering a lull in performance, and the car just wasn’t as competitive as he had hoped. Giancarlo did manage a couple of podiums, and he took his maiden pole in a wet Austria. The season finished with only 16 points to his name, but Giancarlo remained with the team.
1999 proved to be no better, and despite a few more podiums, it seemed Benetton were in a rut and couldn’t keep pace of a much improved Ferrari and improving McLaren. Giancarlo only scored 13 points that year, but still remained through to the new millennium with Benetton. But 2000 proved to be just the same old story of an uncompetitive car that was difficult to drive. A few ‘flash-in-the-pan’ performances marked Fisichella out among other drivers, but sadly they were overlooked by general inconsistencies and poor reliability. A lack of offers from other teams meant he had little choice but to stay with Benetton for another year. However, things were starting to look better for Benetton, as 2001 saw a turning point for the team.
Renault had purchased Benetton in 2001, and although the team remained as Benetton for another year, the French manufacturer started to rebuild the squad. A new team mate was drafted in for 2001 after Giancarlo had beaten his previous partner, Alex Wurz. A young Briton called Jenson Button joined the team after an excellent debut with Williams the year previous. But a now traditional poor second half performance from the Anglo-Italian squad meant few points and Giancarlo’s worse season since starting with Minardi in 1996. Although things in the background of the team were starting to improve, and Giancarlo drove a fantastic race in Spa to take a podium, the Italian was replaced by Jarno Trulli, and Fisichella returned to Jordan.
2002 was a dreadful year. Although Jordan had been steadily improving since 1997, winning their first race in 1998 and claiming more in 1999, 2002 saw the team struggle with the car. Yet again, Giancarlo found himself joining a team at the wrong time. However, Giancarlo stayed for another year at Jordan, and despite having an equally poor car as before, Fisichella actually claimed his maiden win. The 2003 Brazilian Grand Prix was staged under wet conditions, and towards the end of the race, an accident caused several drivers to retire. Initially, Kimi Raikkonen was awarded the victory, but replays of the footage later showed that Giancarlo was leading the race two laps prior to the accident that stopped the event. As per the rule book, Giancarlo was declared the winner and the two drivers swapped trophies later in the week at a test session.
However, taking his first victory wasn’t enough for Giancarlo, who knew that the car was only getting worse, and in 2004 he moved to another mid-field team – Sauber. At the time, Sauber were enjoying customer engines from Ferrari, and Giancarlo was hoping to use this chance as a step up into the Scuderia. The move to Ferrari never meterialised, but Giancarlo’s motivation improved as he regularly scored a point or two in the races. He comfortably outclassed his team mate – now Ferrari driver Felipe Massa – and strong drives all year made the returning Renault boss – Flavio Briatore – sign the Italian to the now fully changed Renault team.
2005 saw Giancarlo take victory in the very first race of the season. It was Giancarlo’s first time on top of the podium, and the first real Grand Prix win. However, despite starting the season well, Giancarlo never repeated his early success as mechanical failure dogged his car for the remainder of the season. And to make matters worse, his team mate – Fernando Alonso – was storming his way to the drivers title, with stunning performances and excellent reliability. For the first time in his career, Giancarlo was comfortably beaten by a team mate. Although 2005 proved to be Fisichella’s best season to date, his stock plummeted and questions were asked as to why he wasn’t appearing to perform. Rumours circulated that Alonso was enjoying better equipment and resources, but nothing came to light. In the final meeting in Japan, Fisichella was leading when Kimi Raikkonen breezed past on the final lap to take the win. However, Renault stood by Giancarlo and he remained with the team for 2006.
With 2005 in the past, Giancarlo billed 2006 as the year where he would win. And the opening race in Bahrain indeed saw Fisichella take victory. However, Giancarlo’s season again descended into obscurity, being out-raced by Fernando Alonso who eventually took the Championship. Giancarlo drove some good races, and played the rear-gunner role well, enabling his team mate to secure his second drivers championship.
Facing the loss of Fernando Alonso to McLaren at the end of 2006, Renault retained Giancarlo for another year, but the message was clear: “You have to win”. Unfortunately for all involved, the R27 was a considerable let down in performance, and although Fisichella managed to scrape into the points on a few occasions, he was clearly struggling with the car. And with a new team mate Heikki Kovalainen, the team didn’t do well in comparison to previous years. A paltry 21 points was all Fisichella could manage, compared with his 2006 haul of 72. Heikki Kovalainen proved to be a good team mate to Giancarlo, and towards the end of the year the pair appeared to be close to equal in terms of performances.
However, with the possibility of Fernando Alonso returning to the team, Fisichella was allowed to test for other teams, and in Jerez in December, the Roman driver tried his hand at the renamed Spyker team, Force India, alongside Toyota refugee Ralf Schumacher. Shortly after Christmas, Giancarlo was announced and would partner Adrian Sutil at Force India.