Giancarlo Fisichella assured Force India has not entered the elite Formula One league just to make the numbers as the veteran Italian came an impressive ninth in the afternoon practice session to ahead of Sunday's Australian Grand Prix at the Albert Park here.
A three-time F1 winner, Fisichella braved sweltering heat here today to post timings that brought cheers to the Force India camp, which is hoping to produce something extraordinary tomorrow to book its place among the cars that line up the grid on Sunday.
Meanwhile, the fierce rivalry between world champion Kimi Raikkonen of Ferrari and McLaren's Lewis Hamilton continued here too with Raikkonen topping the timesheet at 1 minute 26.461 seconds during first 90-minute session, while the British teen clocked 1:26.559.
In the relatively comfortable morning session, Fisichella gave enough evidence that Force India has it to emerge as a serious mid-field outfit when he timed 1m 29.230s to finish 12th, ahead of the likes of David Coulthard's Red Bull (1m 29.301s), Sebastien Bourdais' Toro Rosso (1m 29.363s), Rubens Barrichello's Honda (1m 29.533s) and Nick Heidfeld's BMW Sauber (1m 29.561s).
Compatriot Adrian Sutil finished 17th at 1m 30.155s.
In the second session, Fisichella impressed again and bettered his morning session to clock 1m 28.469s to finish ninth on the same Albert Park circuit where he had won the 2005 Grand Prix, then as a Renault driver.
Fellow Force India driver Sutil too improved his pace and timed 1:29.161 even though he remained at the same 17th place.
Team's admittedly hands-on owner Vijay Mallya was upbeat with the result and did not rule out picking up a point in the season opener.
"I'm nervously optimistic. In know the entire world is watching us. We have made remarkable progress in the last four months (since he took over the team) and today's results make me cautiously optimistic that the side would soon move up in the mid-field," he said.
Asked if there was any realistic possibility of securing a point in the season opener on Sunday, Mallya said, "Well, tomorrow is going to be the key and I'm keeping my fingers crossed. See, I have seen Michael Schumacher conk off in the final lap and I know anything can happen," he said.
Team's test driver Vitantonio Liuzzi too took heart from the results and said, "The target would be to get into the second qualification tomorrow, even though it's not going to be easy. The car is looking good and we have really improved since the winter. We are quite upbeat," he said.