Benetton and Fisichella

THE relationship between the Benetton team and Giancarlo Fisichella is cooling rapidly in the wake of Mark Webber's impressive test for the team recently in Estoril. At Indianapolis the team was struggling to be competitive with Alexander Wurz qualifying only 11th and Fisichella down in 15th. This resulted in some outspoken comments from team boss Flavio Briatore.

"The result highlights the difference between our two drivers," he said. "Alex applied his mind to this race and studied everything carefully before arriving at Indianapolis. Giancarlo tried to rely on his talent which is no substitute for hard work. This appears to be a repeat of the situation we found ourselves in in Malaysia last year."

Briatore's comments may be a clumsy attempt to motivate Fisichella to better performances but may simply be frustration that he has recently taken up Fisichella's option for 2001. Contracts have never worried Briatore in the past, notably in 1991 when Benetton unceremoniously dumped Roberto Moreno to make way for Michael Schumacher and in 1994 dumped JJ Lehto to make way for Jos Verstappen.

Webber is expected to be named Benetton test driver for 2001 shortly and if he continues to show the same kind of pace that he did at Estoril, Fisichella is going to have to raise his game if he wants to stay in the team for the whole of next year.

The fact that Briatore was willing to make such public statements suggests that he does not care whether or not he upsets Fisichella, which would seem to suggest that the relationship between the two men is, at best, strained.

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