Italian Giancarlo Fisichella did his utmost to impress Ferrari with a jaw-dropping pole position for Force India at the Belgian Grand Prix on Saturday. With compatriot Luca Badoer spinning out and qualifying last for the second race in a row as stand-in for Ferrari's injured Brazilian Felipe Massa, Fisichella saw his chance and grabbed it with both hands in a qualifying session that almost defied belief.
Force India have yet to score a point in 29 starts and never before had they come remotely close to pole position. Fisichella was delighted for the Mercedes-powered team but could not hide what was really on his mind.
The next race after Belgium is Monza, Ferrari and Fisichella's home race, and the odds appear stacked against 38-year-old Badoer being retained. “It's always a dream for all the drivers in Formula One and even the other categories to drive for Ferrari, especially for an Italian driver like me. And so far it is still a dream,” Fisichella said.
“Considering the result of today, I need to think about that and if they are going to call me. But I'm just concentrating on Force India, the season and the race tomorrow and then we'll see.
Fisichella had made a seemingly inauspicious start to the day when he hit a rabbit in practice, damaging his front wing. The Italian turned that into a positive, however. “Engineers told me in England that when you do something with a rabbit it brings you luck.”
Unraveling the Fisichella spa miracle
The leap up the qualifying ranks appears to be due to significant aerodynamic changes.
New front and rear wings have been added by Force India in Belgium while a new diffuser (section of the underbody) and deflectors on the front outside of the side pod adorned the car in the previous race at Valencia. But then Valencia is a more mechanical grip circuit than Spa-Francorchamps and the improved aero came into play in Belgium.
The middle portion of the Spa circuit consists of very quick corners, which require good downforce – direct fallout of good aerodynamics. That’s just where Giancarlo Fisichella made time proving that the upgrades worked.
Also, only one other car had a lighter fuel load than Fisichella in the entire qualifying.
At 648 kgs, Fisichella’s car is far lighter than Jarno Trulli (656.5) and Nick Heidfeld (655). That confirms that the Force India driver went in with a light fuel load which translates into him having roughly three laps lesser than Trulli and Heidfeld before he pits.
As such, Fisichella needs to be the first car into turn 1 or his strategy of running ahead of the pack in the beginning of the race comes to naught. Just how the aero components help him nurse his soft option tyres is another crucial ask. That will be the real test for the aero changes.
The other car with a light fuel load is that of Rubens Barrichello (644.5 kg). The Brawn driver will be gunning for the lead from the word go as he too will be forced to pit early. Qualifying fourth he is on the second row and will be a potent threat at the start.
The other car to look out for is Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari. At sixth on the grid, he has a car weighing 655 kg but has the x-factor of KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System) to boost his start. His is the only car in the top-10 with extra power on tap.