Giancarlo Fisichella: Portrait of a quiet, talented driver
Most F1 drivers are known for being responsible for at least, one or two special moves that mark them as being.
When it comes to Sebastian Vettel, it could be a triumvirate of epic rivalries he's had, first with Mark Webber at Red Bull, then with Fernando Alonso at Ferrari, and finally with Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes.
You think of Felipe Massa and you think of his successful run at his home track, Interlagos, the home of the Brazilian Grand Prix.
You also reckon Massa's heartbreaking 2008 Brazilian GP drive that marks something about his F1 journey. Alonso is remembered for his amazing statistical aggregation at the pinnacle of the sport, along with being the man who achieved two distinct feats with charisma; first for standing up to Michael Schumacher in a Ferrari, and second for being something of a 'knight' for Ferrari during its tectonic battle with Vettel at Red Bull.
Raikkonen, as seen recently, may perhaps always be remembered for the sensational 'Leave me alone' drive at Abu Dhabi in 2012 and for entering the annals of the sport for recording the fastest lap in the history of the sport at Monza (Italian GP 2018).
But what about Giancarlo Fisichella?
Well, perhaps it may not be incorrect to state that for a driver who was among the modern sport's finest examples of being a great teammate, Fisichella's presence in landmark F1 moments came at the cost of him losing two certain Grands Prix.
Let's rewind the clocks back to Suzuka, the home of the Japanese Grand Prix, in 2005. Who was leading the race?
It wasn't Fernando Alonso of Renault. It wasn't Jenson Button. Nor was it Kimi Raikkonen of McLaren.
How on earth did Raikkonen manage to mount that awesome recovery, having begun from far at the back of the grid to pass Giancarlo Fisichella, the race leader. That became one of modern Formula 1's epic Grand Prix winning moments?
Let's recollect another epic racing moment
The 2009 F1 season was far from ideal for Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen, who'd won the world championship with the team two seasons ago and one who was driving in his final year for the Scuderia before came the sudden exit in the wake of Alonso's hiring.
We are at Spa-Francorchamps, a track besotted with the feistiness of Grand Prix grandeur and one that's nestled in the midst of the Ardennes at Belgium.
In the qualifying, Giancarlo Fisichella, then, 37, not the youngest on the track, manages to secure Force India's maiden pole.
In so doing, he also fetches his first pole position for the then Vijay Mallya-owned team.
During the 44-lap contest, Fisi, as he's popularly called, holds on brilliantly to the track position in what's already become an action-packed contest right from the start.
At Les Combes, newbie Grosjean and Button come together and reduce the contest to be intervened by the safety car. Meanwhile, Hamilton, backing off from seeing the collision backs off only to allow Jamie Alguersuari to run into the back of his McLaren. Consequently, both run into the barriers and race-retire.
Meanwhile, with the pressure mounting on the race-leader, the man in a Force India, the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen is not going to back out.
Soon enough, the Force India will have the Ferrari sitting right on its rear, Raikkonen on Fisichella's tail having cut down the gap to just a second.
Later on, the most commanding moment of the 2009 Belgian Grand Prix would come at the back of Fisichella and Raikkonen's action-packed contest.
Kimi Raikkonen would dive down the inside of the Italian at the run to Eau Rouge in the run down to Les Combes to execute a fast-paced move which would hand him the lead of the race.
From there on, Fisichella would play second fiddle to a contest that seemed, at one point in time, his to control.
For a driver who had everything in his craft- pace, commitment and the right approach to competing in Formula 1, Giancarlo Fisichella, the F1 driver compels one to introspect whether his attacking instincts, rather the lack of any, caused him to endure what eventually reads like a modest Grand Prix racing career?
If you were to visit Fisichella's stats, then you'd be amazed to note the number of Grands Prix he's entered.
Take a guess?
Here's what might surprise you. Having competed in 231 overall races, Fisi recorded 230 race starts. From these, he'd manage only 3 wins and would collect 19 podiums.
What fascinates one about the mild-mannered Fisichella has more to do with what he could've achieved than what he eventually managed.
Ever thought about the experience the Italian driver holds in the top-echelons of motor-racing?
In his career that began in 1996 and came to an end with the 2009 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix- an out and out Vettel triumph- Fisichella drove a total of 11499 laps.
He also recorded 2 fastest laps and throughout his run in those sepia-tinted days of Formula 1 that were all about the V6s and the V8s, he found himself routinely outperformed by more aggressive teammates, namely Fernando Alonso in Renault and later, Kimi Raikkonen, in Ferrari.
Yet, there were some fitting moments that Fisichella observed showing a lot of promise and an utterly uncomplicated approach.
If there's something like a grand moment for the former Grand Prix driver, then it would have to be the 2005 Australian Grand Prix. This was to be a contest that Fisichella won ahead of big names on the grid, such as Fernando Alonso, his teammate (at Renault), Juan Pablo Montoya (McLaren-Mercedes), and Kimi Raikkonen (of Ferrari).
In so doing, Fisi, who secured the pole, won his maiden race and finished comfortably over 5 seconds of second-placed Rubens Barrichello of Ferrari.
But even in that moment of triumph, a defining one at that since Fisi reigned supreme right at the season-opener of a terrific year that would be about Alonso vs Schumacher, with Kimi playing his part, one wondered as to what all might he have accomplished being 32 already (back then)?
Perhaps one cannot be wrong to quote that a lot of what Fisichella had to offer came in the form of diverse motor-racing stints, in the form of his 'endurance racing career.'
After having been a part of 2 constructor's championship triumphs, Fisi found his true calling- if it must be said- in playing a part in Intercontinental Le Mans Cup, Le Mans 24 hours, Petit Le Mans, and 24 hours Daytona events.
Thus far, that Fisichella has obtained two 24 hour Le Mans wins, one 24 hour Daytona podium, along with being part of 1 FIAWEC Constructor's championship defines his versatility as a driver and passion for getting behind a car and going quick.
And must it also be said that what one often doesn't credit the Italian for is his intensity and commitment to solidify Force India. What was once an inexperienced marquee in a sport where it was competing against teams that weren't merely entities, but legacies in the form of a Ferrari and Mercedes.
But do we give Fisichella credit for all this? What should his legacy be, if at all the term could be used for being an inspiration for other Italian drivers who made it to F1 through sheer hard work and grit, and managed to hold on to a few rose-tinted moments fighting against the very best in the world?
Was Fisichella a reminder that the sport also regards stable, committed teammates who won't be remembered for driving the best races but for stabilizing teams or should Fisichella be remembered for all that he could've accomplished had he, for instance, tried his luck in outings such as WEC? That at 46, he's about as fit as a Raikkonen, still driving committedly in F1, should probably entice him in Formula Electric.
Shouldn't it, Fisi? Happy 46th!