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Page last updated at 08:37 GMT, Friday, 11 September 2009 09:37 UK

Ferrari put fizz back in Fisichella

Giancarlo Fisichella
Fisichella has completed a "dream" end-of-career move to Ferrari

By Sarah Holt
BBC Sport at Monza

Giancarlo Fisichella is coming to the end of his 14th year in Formula 1, but even this experienced old hand has found his head spinning following the dramatic twist in his fortunes over the last fortnight.

Apparently resigned to playing out the twilight of his career at the wheel of a mid-grid Force India car, the 36-year-old Italian now finds himself in a Ferrari at the Italian Grand Prix this weekend.

"For the last few days, I've been living a dream," Fisichella mused upon his arrival at the legendary Monza track. "And now it's true.

"I was so excited and nervous on my way to the track. It's been my dream since I was young. My family, especially my father Roberto, and my friends are all so proud; I've had a lot of texts and phone calls."

Events have moved quickly for Fisichella.

I'm happy to have a competitive, expert, Italian driver while we wait for Massa to come back

Luca di Montezemolo
Ferrari president

Just 12 days ago, he and Force India stunned F1 with an impressive drive to second place at the Belgian Grand Prix. Four days later Ferrari announced he would drive for th em in place of the recuperating Felipe Massa for the remaining five races of the season.

For Fisichella, who will take on a new role as Ferrari reserve driver in 2010, it was an irresistible chance to end his career with the team that has a place in the heart of every Italian.

For Ferrari, though, the signing may have less to do with emotion than cold-hearted practicality.

Fisichella, strangely, was not the centre of attention as the F1 circus gathered at Monza on Thursday.

That honour fell to Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo, whose chaotic announcement of a five-year sponsorship deal with Spanish bank Santander - which became a McLaren sponsor during Fernando Alonso's brief stint with the team - prompted speculation he would also confirm the double world champion's widely-anticipated move to Ferrari in 2010.

Although everyone in F1 is treating Alonso as a done deal at Ferrari, the team are not willing to confirm it yet. And Montezemolo, wily old politician that he is, deftly steered the conversation back to Fisichella.

Kimi Raikkonen and Giancarlo Fisichella pose for the photographers at Monza
Fisichella (right) becomes Raikkonen's third team-mate this year

"I'm happy to have a competitive, expert, Italian driver while we wait for Massa to come back," he said.

"On Sunday we will have an Italian driver who we strongly wanted - and it shows it is never too late.

"I'm pleased with my drivers and when we take a decision [on 2010] I will inform in the right way."

As it happens, Fisichella's switch to Ferrari may not be entirely unconnected with Alonso's future with the team - in fact it could arguably ease his arrival.

Until they did the deal with Fisichella, Ferrari were caught on the horns of a tricky dilemma.

They needed to accommodate Alonso, but Massa and Kimi Raikkonen were both already under contract for 2010. They wanted to release the Finn to another team but how could they risk doing that when Massa's return was not guaranteed?

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Adding further intrigue, incidentally, BMW Sauber driver Robert Kubica revealed in Monza that Ferrari had also held talks with him about filling in for Massa but that discussions had gone no further.

Ferrari are apparently convinced Massa will be sufficiently recovered from the serious head injuries he sustained at the Hungarian Grand Prix in July to enable him to race next year.

But now Ferrari have the extra reassurance that Fisichella could competently fill in for Massa should there be any complications with the Brazilian's planned return.

Fisichella would provide a competitive but unthreatening foil for Alonso, having already been overshadowed by the Spaniard at Renault during his championship-winning seasons in 2005 and 2006.

While Kubica is searching for a race seat in 2010 following BMW Sauber's decision to quit F1 at the end of the season, Fisichella seems a more straightforward option.

For now, Ferrari need nothing more from him than to help secure third place in the constructors' championship and to put on a show in front of their passionate tifosi (fans).

Fernando Alonso faces the media at Monza
The elephant in the corner - Alonso is poised for a Ferrari seat in 2010

The Scuderia could ill afford to keep faith with Luca Badoer, who replaced Massa in the European and Belgium Grands Prix.

The 38-year-old was rusty after a decade away from competitive racing and qualified last for both races. In Belgium, he was the last to cross the line; one minute 42 seconds behind his race-winning team-mate Raikkonen.

Fisichella, who ran the Finn close in Spa with his racing instinct and raw speed, will be expected to do battle at the sharp end of the field at Monza, where the Ferraris, with the advantage of the power-boost Kers system, are expected to be competitive.

"The target is to score points in every race and to be much closer to Kimi," says Fisichella, who has spent up to three hours every day in the team's simulator at their Maranello headquarters.

"It is my dream to win on Sunday but it is not an easy jump from Force India to being comfortable in the Ferrari.

Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo (left) announces his team's sponsorship deal with Santander bank president Emilio Botin
Ferrari have a new sponsorship deal with Spanish bank Santander

"It is just step-by-step but I'm sure I can be quick and help Ferrari in the championship."

At the start of this topsy-turvy F1 season, Fisichella was widely perceived to be wanly winding down his career at Force India, who were not expected to renew his contract for 2010.

Now, the three-time race winner is focused on adding a footnote of further success with Ferrari and is not ruling out combining his reserve duties with a full-time race seat at another team in 2010.

"If there is a good option to find another seat it would be good," he said. "But only if it suits Ferrari and the president.

"As I said, this is a dream coming true and now my aim is to do a proper job for Ferrari."

If he manages to do that then this simple twist of fate may serve Fisichella and Ferrari very well indeed.



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see also
Italian GP practice as it happened
11 Sep 09 |  Formula 1
Alonso 'surprised' by fix claim
10 Sep 09 |  Formula 1
Button must relax, warns Mansell
10 Sep 09 |  Formula 1
Force India give Liuzzi race seat
07 Sep 09 |  Formula 1
Badoer backs Fisichella to shine
06 Sep 09 |  Formula 1
Fisichella makes Ferrari switch
03 Sep 09 |  Formula 1


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