No-one can have failed to have spotted the irony. Giancarlo Fisichella has realised his childhood dream. Like any Italian driver, the opportunity to drive for Ferrari at all — never mind at Monza — is a real dream come true for Fisichella. But as with Luca Badoer, that dream has not quite gone to plan.
At least Badoer did not have a former team for him to compare. But Fisichella must have particularly mixed feelings as he struggles in his Ferrari while his former team Force India threatens to have the very fastest car in the pack.
A strong Force India showing at Monza was always on the cards. On the back of an excellent performance at Spa-Francorchamps, where Fisichella got pole position and finished 2nd, it was clear that Force India’s car was handy in a low downforce environment.
Force India were particularly bullish in the run-up to this race too. Knowing they may have had an advantage for Spa and Monza, Force India booked one of the few straight-line tests that are allowed per year for this week in order to maximise their advantage. It also gave their new race driver, Vitantonio Liuzzi, a chance to familiarise himself with the car (albeit not on a racetrack).
Liuzzi will probably be driving the very same car that Fisichella excelled in at Spa. It is little surprise that he has hit the ground running, qualifying a solid 7th for his first race since 2007. I have long felt that Liuzzi wasn’t given a proper chance in F1, and it delights me to see that he may now get a prolonged spell at a stable team. There have been strong rumours for a while that Liuzzi had a 2010 race contract with Force India in the bag already.
Meanwhile, Fisichella’s former team mate Adrian Sutil has his tail up, and appears to be adapting well to becoming Force India’s de facto team leader. He was probably fast enough to get pole position today but a mistake on his quick lap put paid to that notion. Nonetheless, Sutil must fancy his chances for a great result in the race, despite the fact that he is surrounded by kers-equipped cars on the grid.
Meanwhile, Fisichella, having chosen to move to Ferrari, is struggling to adapt to his new car and qualified 14th on the grid. He must be scratching his head a bit over the fact that his old car is seven places in front, and his former team mate is a massive 12 places in front. Fisichella says he is far from unhappy, and even takes pride from the fact that he helped develop that Force India to become a front-runner.
You certainly can’t blame him for deciding to move to Ferrari. Which would he prefer — a good result, or the chance to say he’s driven for Ferrari. He has three career wins already. Balancing the chance of getting a fourth victory in a Force India, or getting a moderate result for Ferrari, you can see even then why he might prefer the latter option.
What his performance so far this weekend shows you don’t have to have been out of racing for ten years to struggle to get to grips with the Ferrari F60. Yes, Badoer’s performances were not great, but I felt very sorry for him being expected to perform straight away in a car that is said to be difficult to drive.
Giancarlo Fisichella’s performance has not been quite as bad as Badoer’s. But given that he is fully race-fresh and fit, you would expect that. Fisichella will probably have expected to do better than this. It has been a slightly lacklustre weekend. He was 20th in both Friday Practice 2 and Saturday Practice. On Saturday he further underlined his difficulties by crashing at the Parabolica. Indeed, I found myself wondering what oh-so-hilarious nicknames the journalists might like to come up with now that a different Ferrari is struggling at the back.
Following Badoer’s struggles in Valencia, Ted Kravitz revealed that the F60 may be a particularly tricky car to master. The driver is required to do lots of hands-on switch-flicking and knob-twisting throughout the lap.
This is also Fisichella’s explanation for why switching to a Ferrari has not brought an immediate improvement in his pace as a driver.
It’s a different car so there is different reaction going into the corners. You work much more with the steering wheel and the switches compared to Force India. With Force India I was just concentrating on the driving, here I am quite busy.
As for his crash during Saturday Practice, that is said to be due to Fisichella adapting to the behaviour of the car under braking while it is harvesting its energy for kers. Kers was another worry that Fisichella did not have to deal with at Force India, but it is fundamental to the performance of the F60.
These insights about the Ferrari F60 remind me of the received wisdom about Ducati’s MotoGP bike. There are many parallels between Ferrari and Ducati, and this appears to be another one. The Ducati has long been famous for making previously-good riders look poor. Only Casey Stoner appears able to extract the full potential from it, while other Ducati riders tend to struggle to find any pace at all. The suggestion is that the Ducati is a very difficult bike to ride and that only Stoner has tamed it. Perhaps Felipe Massa had a similar magic with the Ferrari. (In yet another parallel, both Stoner and Massa are currently not racing in order to convalesce.)
The experience of watching drivers attempt to get to grips with a tricky car under the intense spotlight of a race weekend, rather than the relative privacy of a test session, has at least put a few myths to bed. Certainly, the idea that results are more down to the car than the driver was given a boost when Jenson Button seemed unable to stop winning at the beginning of this season. But it was dealt a blow when Luca Badoer stepped into the Ferrari, and finished last in Belgium when his team mate won.
Now we see Fisichella with his hands full and we are presented with a yet more complex picture. A driver needs to grow into his car. He needs to learn how to drive it and gain in confidence with it. It is also true that a car needs to suit a particular driver’s style. Arguably Badoer wasn’t given enough time to adapt, and Fisichella will need more leeway too. Here’s hoping the tifosi have patience with him if he is unable to score a good result during the race.