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Giancarlo Fisichella

Newly-signed Ferrari driver Giancarlo Fisichella (ITA). Maranello, Italy, September 3, 2009 © Ferrari Giancarlo Fisichella (ITA) Renault. Formula One Testing, Barcelona, Spain, Day One, Monday 12 February 2007. World © Hartley/Sutton Giancarlo Fisichella (ITA) Renault R27.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Sepang, Malaysia, Saturday, 7 April 2007 Giancarlo Fisichella (ITA) Force India F1 VJM01 
Formula One Testing, Silverstone, England, Day Two, Wednesday, 25 June 2008 Newly-signed Ferrari driver Giancarlo Fisichella (ITA) tries the F60 for size. Maranello, Italy, September 3, 2009 © Ferrari

Born in Rome in 1973, it was clear from an early age that Fisichella had a gift for racing. As a youth he moved steadily up through the Italian karting ranks, before narrowly missing out on two European titles and a world championship. By the end of his teens he was ready for a greater challenge, and swapped karts for the Italian Formula Three series in 1992.

Blessed with instinctive skill behind the wheel, the move quickly bore fruit. He scored a maiden win at Imola during his debut season, finished championship runner-up in his second and went on to secure the title in his third. With his success snowballing, it was no surprise when Formula One teams began to take notice.

Minardi were the first, signing Fisichella as a tester in 1995. He kept racing, for Alfa Romeo in the International Touring Car Championship - a commitment he kept up in ’96, when he also enjoyed a testing spell with Ferrari and, most importantly, eight Grand Prix outings for Minardi. The car may not have been the greatest, but he made enough of an impression to land a more competitive seat with Jordan for ’97.

After a difficult start to his first Jordan campaign, Fisichella came back fighting and as the season progressed, team mate Ralf Schumacher found himself increasingly overshadowed. Podiums in Canada and Belgium helped Fisichella to a 20-point haul and eighth in the championship - three places above Schumacher. Not surprisingly, manager Flavio Briatore quickly concluded he could make best use of his young driver’s talents and Fisichella found himself transferred to former champions Benetton for the ’98 season.

Benetton, however, had lost some of their sparkle since the Michael Schumacher heydays of the mid ‘90s and over the next four seasons, Fisichella’s best championship result was sixth. His contract up, for 2002 he headed back to Jordan, where over the next two seasons he would experience very mixed fortunes. He lost count of his race retirements, but did at least score his maiden Formula One victory - albeit somewhat fortuitously - in the chaotic, rain-swept 2003 Brazilian Grand Prix, where his tarnished talent was allowed to shine through once more.

The win got his name back in the headlines and gave his career a much-needed shot in the arm. A positive 2004 season with Sauber kept him in the spotlight, and when he was recalled by the fast-improving Renault (formerly Benetton) team for ’05, it looked like a second shot at the big time beckoned. But if Fisichella thought he would have a chance of the championship, he was sadly mistaken. Though he won the opening race and enjoyed an upswing in performance, he was ill-equipped to match the speed and consistency of Fernando Alonso, his younger, less-experienced team mate. Out-performed at every turn, Fisichella could only watch from the sidelines as Alonso went on to take the drivers’ crown that year and the next.

When the Spaniard moved on for 2007, Fisichella should have been in a position to respond and fight for his first drivers' title. However, that season's Renault was no match for the Ferraris and McLarens and by the end of the year Fisichella found himself outgunned not just by them, but also by rookie team mate Heikki Kovalainen, with his Formula One future looking far from certain as a result.

But with well over a decade of F1 experience under his belt, Fisichella was still an attractive proposition and in early 2008 Force India signed him to a race seat, alongside Adrian Sutil. A last hurrah? Perhaps, but one which the Italian was keen to make the most of. It didn't quite happen in his first season with the team, but with Mercedes power and McLaren know-how arriving for 2009, the team went from strength to strenghth.

The breakthrough came at August's Belgian Grand Prix, where Fisichella gave the team their first pole, points and podium, finishing less than a second behind race winner Kimi Raikkonen, the man he would become team mate to for the next round after a surprise switch to Ferrari to replace the injured Felipe Massa. With a reserve driver role at Maranello secured for 2010, Fisichella looks set to take the retirement all Italian drivers dream of - with the Scuderia.

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