Fisichella left to wonder what might have been 25 Sep 2005
As Fernando Alonso claims his first drivers' championship - with few in the paddock betting against the likelihood of more to follow - this will be a time of reflection for team mate Giancarlo Fisichella.
The Italian veteran entered the 2005 season knowing that this might be his last chance to impress in Formula One. Now he has to face the fact that although he has enjoyed the same chances and the same equipment as the young Spaniard, with just two rounds remaining, he lies a distant fifth in the standings, with just 45 points to Alonsos 117.
The disparity in end-of-season form is made even more startling by the fact that Fisichella enjoyed a brilliant start to 2005. He dominated the first race of the season in Australia, turning pole position into a well-deserved victory that seemed to vindicate Renault's decision to parachute him into the seat previously occupied by Jarno Trulli and (for the last three races of 2004) Jacques Villeneuve. This was, Fisichella's loyal fans reckoned, their man's just reward for the years he spent in the wilderness.
Before the season started Fisi knew that, win or lose, Renault was likely to be his last shot at the Formula One big time. Despite his undoubted talents as a driver, including prodigious car control skills, he had managed to become one of the paddocks older drivers without ever hitting the big time. As one unkind critic succinctly put it, he was in danger of going straight from "could-be" to "never-was" without ever tasting success.
In 2003 he was given the thankless task of trying to get results from a seriously off-the-pace Jordan. His confused, unlikely victory when the sodden Brazilian Grand Prix was red-flagged (ironically after a massive accident involving current team mate Alonso) was the sole bright spot, accounting for 10 of his 12 championship points. And 2004's move to Sauber didn't bring him much better fortune, finishing the season in a lowly 11th place. Fisichella was in no doubt of how important it would be to make a success of his chance with Renault, formerly Benetton - a team he had previously spent four seasons with.
So what went wrong? Fundamentally, the answer has to be Alonso. Fisichella finds himself sharing a team with arguably the most talented of the younger generation of Formula One drivers. As the season has progressed the Spaniard's dominance has became increasingly obvious - he has out-qualified Fisichella 14:3 in the first 17 championship rounds. In the races the difference was even more marked - Alonso has visited the podium 13 times this season and taken five victories. After his win in Australia, Fisichella's best result has been a single third place at Monza.
Alonso's close relationship with his manager (and Renault team boss) Flavio Briatore won't have helped Fisichella's state of mind - although there's no question that the team has supported both drivers fully. And Fisichella's relative lack of luck has also played a part - he seems to have taken more than his fair share of DNFs thanks to a combination of mechanical malady and misfortune. But as the end of the season approaches, most feel Fisichella himself must surely take much of the responsibility for a year of relative under-achievement. He will head into the next world championship knowing that, unless the situation improves dramatically, he may not get another chance to prove his potential.