Fisichella and Trulli - Italy expects 07 Sep 2004
Both race winners in the past, but what of the future?
This weekend's Italian Grand Prix at Monza will be the home race for Giancarlo Fisichella and Jarno Trulli, two men linked by more than just their shared nationality. Their career paths have run very close to each other over the years and, of course, next season Fisichella is set to take Trulli's highly-prized seat at Renault.
For Fisichella, this is a remarkable reversal of fortune. His return to Renault marks a vindication for the man who many in the paddock believe to be one of the most naturally talented drivers to have competed in Formula One racing. With an ultra-smooth technique tempered by a strong racing instinct, Fisichella made his Grand Prix debut as long ago as 1996, with Minardi the same team that would give Trulli his first Formula One outing a year later before moving to Jordan in 1997 and then Benetton the following year.
Great things were expected of the young Italian, and he put in several strong performances including back-to-back second places at the Monaco and Canadian Grands Prix in 1998, and another strong drive to second at Montreal the following year. But the championship-threatening form that he had been expected to produce by his fans just wasn't there - or could not rise above the Benetton's lack of pace. Even the arrival of Renault power in 2001 could not make much of a difference, Fisichella managing no better than a third at Spa, and 11th in the championship overall.
It was going to get worse before it got better. Fisichella moved to Jordan for 2002, effectively swapping seats with Trulli, and found himself trapped in a car that was woefully off the pace. Few expected his career to recover from the blow, though he did take a remarkable victory in the 2003 Brazilian Grand Prix after the race was red flagged. Yet with his move to Sauber for 2004, Fisichella has proved that he still has what it takes, keeping his much-hyped team mate Felipe Massa honest and doing enough to be invited back to Renault next season, replacing Trulli, who scored his first Grand Prix victory with the team earlier this year. The Roman will know this could well be his last chance with a top flight team and is certain to try and make the most of what has recently proved to be a very strong package.
Trulli's career shadowed Fisichella's for a while, the pair sharing several former teams. After his debut with Minardi, he moved from there to Prost and then to Jordan. Trulli proved himself a talented driver and a committed racer, although with a less-than-brilliant finishing record, but lower-grid teams meant he had few chances to prove his true potential. Signing for Renault in 2002 proved to be an inspired move, Trulli developing alongside the team and becoming a familiar sight at the sharp end of the pack. Team mate (and friend) Alonso had the best of it in 2003, including a victory at that year's Hungarian Grand Prix. But this season it was Trulli's turn, and he drove to a brilliant win at the Monaco Grand Prix.
But with his decision to leave Renault at the end of the season already confirmed, Trulli's future looks less certain, although an announcement concerning a 2005 drive is expected imminently. One thing is certain, however. When Trulli handed over his Jordan seat to Fisichella for 2002, he probably felt he was getting the better end of the deal. This time, with Renault in such strong form, he may not be so sure.