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Fisi faces uphill task at his home race

The decision by Force India to release Giancarlo Fisichella for the last five races of his F1 racing career, has helped the driver dubbed ‘the Italian whippet’ realise his long-held dream - that of racing for the Prancing Horse.

india Updated: Sep 10, 2009 01:11 IST
Steve Slater

The decision by Force India to release Giancarlo Fisichella for the last five races of his F1 racing career, has helped the driver dubbed ‘the Italian whippet’ realise his long-held dream - that of racing for the Prancing Horse.

Next year, Ferrari’s plan is to give the diminutive Roman a permanent testing role, and allow the recuperating Felipe Massa to return to the driving seat. But for now, Fisichella has an opportunity to rewrite history if he can win the Italian Grand Prix.

Although Ferrari have won five of the last 10 Italian Grands Prix at Monza; with the exception of American expat Mario Andretti in 1977, the Italians have to look back to Ludovico Scarfiotti in 1966 to find a home race winner. It is nearly as bad as Englishmen talking about the soccer World Cup!

This is Giancarlo’s big chance and I believe he is capable of stepping up to the plate. He has come close before, most notably in 2005 and 2006 when he finished third and fourth respectively for Renault. In his final drive for Force India, his spirited chasing of Kimi Raikkonen at Spa showed that when the car allows, the spark is still there.

In addition, Monza is a track where KERS, the kinetic energy recovery system, can be deployed to maximum advantage. The Ferraris will use the system with its 90 horsepower boost for up to seven seconds each lap.

Although they may suffer on the fast corners as a result of its 30kg weight penalty, at the race start, engineers believe that the KERS-boosted cars will gain a 15metre advantage over their rivals by the time they reach the first corner.

The bad news for Giancarlo and Kimi is that the KERS system is also being used at Monza by the McLaren and Renault teams. That means six cars, Raikkonen and Fisichella, Hamilton and Kovalainen, Alonso and the rookie Grosjean, might all be hustling into the first chicane up to 20km/h faster than the rest of the pack.

Even if they all manage to come out of the corner with their cars intact, Giancarlo’s challenges still might not be over. I suspect that in straight-line speed, the McLarens might just have the advantage over the Ferraris at Monza. Remember the 2007 race when Alonso and Hamilton trounced the scarlet opposition with a devastating 1-2? It could happen again.

Meanwhile the race could prove another challenge for championship leader Jenson Button. His nearest rival, team-mate Rubens Barrichello is still sixteen points behind him, but there are big doubts now whether he can hang onto his advantage for much longer.

The last few races have seen the man who scored six wins from the first seven races, struggle to show any signs of his early-season pace. In contrast Barrichello looks the stronger driver of the two, with victory in Valencia boosting his championship aspirations.

Jenson’s big problem in recent races is that he has struggled to find an elusive ‘sweet spot’ in the handling of the Brawn BGP001. The latest aerodynamic upgrades on the car simply don’t suit his aggressive style of driving.

He has suffered in particular with rear-end grip in the crucial turn in to slower corners. Barrichello, who brakes earlier and has a more flowing driving style through the corner, better suits the car’s current set-up. So saying you can guarantee that Jenson will be working flat-out with his engineers to get the most out of the car at Monza.

Red Bull Racing drivers Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber, third and fourth in the championship will approach Monza with high hopes of again scoring more points than their Brawn rivals. Vettel’s win at Silverstone and third place in Belgium demonstrates the pace of their cars on high-speed tracks. Webber would have been in the top four in Spa, had he not been given a penalty.

So that makes ten drivers so far, who all have a chance of winning at Monza. That is without mentioning Force India, whose drivers Adrian Sutil and Vitantonio Liuzzi also can’t be ruled out given the cars’ Spa performance, nor Toyota or BMW, who also promise improvements in pace.

In other words, it is simply too close to call. But wouldn’t it be great to see Giancarlo’s dream come true?

Steve Slater is a race commentator on STAR Sports’ coverage of the Formula One.