Fisichella and Sauber - a new beginning? 29 Oct 2003
Despite a season in which he finally scored his first Grand Prix victory, some people will tell you it's time Giancarlo Fisichella hung up his helmet. Others still talk about him as the most underrated man in the paddock, who never quite got into a good car at the right time.
Among the latter is Peter Sauber, the man who has secured the Italian's signature for 2004. "I have been wanting to do it for three years," said the Swiss team boss. "He is the sort of driver who, when the luck walks by, is able to grab it. He fights well and always gets the best out of a race no matter what his position."
But what can a traditionally mid-table team like Sauber really offer Fisichella at this point in his career? What the Roman surely needs if he is to finally realise his potential is a top-flight drive. Unfortunately the likes of Ron Dennis and Frank Williams have not come knocking, while Flavio Briatore had him but let him go. But what of Ferrari?
The Italian team's seats are full for 2004, but a ride with Ferrari-powered Sauber could be the next best thing. If he's quick there it certainly won't do him any harm. "Obviously it's going to be a difficult season even there," admitted Fisichella, "but if the car is good I can do my best, show my talent, score some points, maybe get on the podium somewhere..."
And if the rumours prove true that Peter Sauber has negotiated a deal with Ferrari effectively to run versions of the F2003-GA as its B team, Fisichella could at last find himself in the pound seats. If he blows away team mate Felipe Massa, whom Ferrari can quantify precisely after all the testing he has done with Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello, you don't need to be Einstein to figure out the potential - especially as Schumacher won't be racing forever and Barrichello may be leaving in 2005.
Fisichella, who openly admits to a frustration at his Formula One career, has never made a secret of his desire to race for Ferrari, or indeed any other top team. "I really want to drive a good car, and I don't know why I can't," he said. "It annoys me. My target is still to drive for one of the top teams. That's my dream."
His deal with Sauber is for two years, but Fisichella knows full well that accommodations can always be reached. And for his part, Peter Sauber realises that he could be sitting on a prime asset - one that could become very attractive to Ferrari over the next 12 months.
In 2001 Sauber gave a practically unknown Finn his Formula One debut. Just two years later Kimi Raikkonen is a star at McLaren, having pushed Michael Schumacher all the way for this season's drivers' championship - a fact not lost on Fisichella: "Mr Sauber told me that even Kimi used to have a three-year contract with him, but after a year he left, so everything could happen..."
(The above is an edited extract from a much longer feature on Giancarlo Fisichella, available exclusively in the November issue of Formula 1 Magazine.)