Giancarlo Fisichella was one of the standout drivers in the mid-2000’s, getting his name up there and putting himself into battles with the greats like Michael Schumacher, Fernando Alonso and Kimi Räikkönen.
After making his Formula One debut at Albert Park in 1996, he raced in 231 Grands Prix which netted three wins in one of the most iconic eras of open-wheel motorsport.
A change to GT racing after retiring has seen him race for Ferrari across the tin-top board, taking on the Australian GT Championship contenders in a Kaspersky Motorssport sponsored Ferrari GT488 at this weekend’s Australian Grand Prix.
The popular Italian took time to open up on his motorsport career and the current state of play in an exclusive interview with MotorsportM8.
With your knowledge of the car and the track, did you find you could draw from that in your approach to this weekend’s races?
Even though I drove for many years in Formula One, no practice yesterday wasn’t easy because the driving style of the GT car compared to the F1 car is very different. The braking point and trajectory is totally different so I’m sure I can improve for tomorrow’s race and fight to win.
You made your F1 debut here in 1996 which was also the first race in Melbourne. Were you nervous or excited ahead of the race?
I was more nervous than excited. It was like a dream for me. It was one of the best days of my life.
Your first win in Formula One came at the 2003 Brazilian Grand Prix in torrential conditions but you were awarded the win after a few weeks due to a timing or marshalling error. Did that take away from the elation of your first victory?
It was a great day for me because I was still on the podium but we knew we were the winners. There was something wrong with the red flag, they didn’t know I was the winner of the race because of an error with the timing by about 12 seconds. Not being able to celebrate my first victory on top of the podium was a bit unfair and it made me sad at the time. I had a fantastic race in terrible conditions and didn’t make any mistakes.
Your move to Sauber in 2004 didn’t land you a drive with Ferrari but it did catch the attention of Renault who signed you in 2005. How did it feel to win in your first race for the team, from pole, here in Melbourne?
It was great because in winter testing, the car was amazing, we were quicker and the drivability was fantastic. I knew it was possible to do well here. In free practice I went faster, secured pole then won the race. It was good to be so comfortable.
Do you think there were missed opportunities in that year given Fernando went on to win the championship while you had reliability issues?
Given I had lots of mechanical and technical problems, that was bad for me but I couldn’t do anything. When you have those problems, they’re not your fault.
2005 and 2006 were the dominating years for Renault in F1 and you were one of the two important figures in those years. Looking back, are there fond memories of that time at the team?
I was very happy at the time because it was a great team and my aim was to work with a team like that who wanted to win championships.
You gave Force India their first pole and podium at Spa in 2009 when they were still a mid-pack team. Do you rank that highly in your career?
It was impressive. Looking back, it was a small team which was growing up quickly. We didn’t expect with a new package to do that in Spa to be on pole and fight for the victory. It was an amazing day for me and a way to show how quick I was. The week after, Ferrari called me to replace Felipe Massa for the rest of the season.
You were contacted by Ferrari to replace Luca Badoer who was standing in for Felipe Massa after his crash in Hungary, given Luca’s poor performance. What was that time like for you being Italian, making your debut for Ferrari at the Italian Grand Prix at Monza?
It was my dream since I was young so when they called and asked about the possibility to race with them, I was so excited. We found a deal with Force India and I went straight to Ferrari. The car wasn’t easy to drive and wasn’t quick enough. In the last part of the season, even (Kimi) Räikkönen was scoring fifth or sixth so it was a completely different car to the Force India. There wasn’t enough time to build confidence in the car.
Even though you remained on as a Ferrari test driver after that season, your racing career in Formula One came to an end. Are you happy you got to finish your career at Ferrari or would you rather have stayed around for a few more years even if it meant being with a mid pack team?
It was the right decision because after 14 years in Formula One and 231 starts, it was time to stop but still stay with Ferrari. I’m happy about the decision I took and I’m still racing in fantastic championships like the WEC, IMSA and Blancpain.
In GT racing you’ve even won two 24 Hours of Le Mans (2012 and 2014) in the GTE Pro class so how did that compare to Formula One victories?
It’s different. Le Mans is one of the most important races in the world and it’s a different race, sharing the cars and you are completely destroyed at the end. You could compare it to a Formula One win, they’re around the same level of satisfaction.
Does coming back to Albert Park evoke many good memories?
I like the town and the atmosphere, especially from the people. I have great memories like my first win and the 2005 victory.
What do you think of Ferrari’s resurgence in the past year?
Formula One is always difficult especially when Mercedes in the past couple of years has been so strong. Hopefully this year, Ferrari can fight for the victory. Soon we will know!
Images via MotorsportM8