DECEMBER 16, 2007

Fisichella signed for Force India?

There has yet to be any official indication but the French website is reporting that Giancarlo Fisichella has been signed to drive for the Force India F1 team in 2008. The 34-year-old Italian was dropped by Renault after a disappointing 2007 season. The Roman has been in F1 since he joined Minardi in 1996. He moved to Jordan the following year and then signed for Benetton in 1998. The next four years produced inconsistent results including several races which might have been won without mistakes being made. Fisichella moved back to Jordan for 2002 and 2003 and fluked a win in Brazil after he ended up ahead of his rivals when the race was stopped during a pit stop sequence. His only other points finish that year was seventh place at Indianapolis. Fisichella moved to Sauber in 2004 and did well against Felipe Massa and this convinced Renault to take him back again in 2005 as team-mate to Fernando Alonso. A win in Melbourne proved to be the high point for Fisichella but he rarely matched Alonso after that. The 2006 season was a similar story with a victory in Malaysia although he did finish fourth in the World Drivers' Championship. In 2007 he became the Renault lead driver and in the early races, Fisichella scored better results as Kovalainen struggled to find his feet. By the end of the season, however, Kovalainen had clearly gained the advantage. Bernie Ecclestone recently said that it was time for Fisichella to retire.

Force India F1 has some sensible and experienced people in the team but some of the new management brought in by owner Vijay Mallya do not seem to know much about the sport and it may be that Fisichella's higher profile has swayed their opinion. Fisichella's chief rival for the drive is Tonio Liuzzi, who seemed to offer rather more in terms of potential and ambition. The fact that Liuzzi may end up without a drive in F1 is absurd in that he was as good as the much-vaunted Sebastian Vettel in the second half of the season when the two were together at Scuderia Toro Rosso.

The danger for the team is that an older driver can end up doing only as much as is necessary to stay ahead of their team-mates rather than forcing the pace. Adrian Sutil is the man unproven. He showed well against Christijan Albers at the start of this year but when Sakon Yamamoto arrived, Sutil did not do as well against the Japanese driver as he ought to have done. This had a significant effect on the level of interest in Sutil from the top teams.

The big question at the moment is whether the story is correct. The website is owned and operated by the company NTNZ, a web firm that was started by Nicolas Todt, son of Ferrari's Jean Todt. Ferrari is, of course, the engine supplier of the Force India F1 team.

This connection may not explain how the website sourced the story - and reported it with such confidence - but it is interesting nonetheless.