3 September 2013
Italian Grand Prix: Six of the Best: Italian Nearlymen
Nannini frequently outpaced his veteran team-mate, but couldn't match the Belgian's consistency. By the end of 1989 though, the Italian was blossoming into a consistent front-runner, finishing the year with a maiden win following Ayrton Senna's disqualification in Japan and a fine second place in Australia.
As number two to Nelson Piquet in 1990, Nannini matched the pace of his three-time champion team-mate, taking a brilliant second in Germany before losing a likely win in Hungary after a collision with Senna. Nannini had already signed an extension to his Benetton contract for 1991, despite interest from Ferrari, but was ultimately lucky to survive after severing his arm in a helicopter crash on the family compound in Siena.
Although surgeons were able to re-attach the limb, Nannini's single-seater racing days were over. The racing bug remained thought, and Nannini made a touring car comeback before retiring to run the family bakery business. Like de Angelis, Nannini may never have had a shot at the world championship, but his career will forever be asterisked with the 'what if' of a racer cut down in his prime.
Although his career ultimately flattered to deceive, Giancarlo Fisichella remains the last Italian to win a grand prix, in Malaysia in 2006, and was regarded as one of F1's hottest prospects in the late 1990s.
Fisichella was a selective specialist, whose career was pockmarked with stunning performances, often at Montreal or Spa, and frequent lulls of anonymity. Some of his early drives, such as the 1997 German and Belgian GPs, and the 1998 and 1999 Candian GPs, marked Fisi as a potential future champion.
From his 1997 debut with Jordan to his first year alongside Fernando Alonso at Renault in 2005, Fisichella outperformed his team-mate in every single season – including such luminaries as Ralf Schumacher, Jenson Button and Felipe Massa.
After years of steadily diminishing returns, victory in the crazy 2003 Brazilian GP for Jordan propelled the Italian back towards the top. A move to the front-running Renault team in 2005 alongside Fernando Alonso seemed a dream ticket for Fisi – especially after winning on his debut for the team in Australia.
However, Alonso annilhated Fisichella during their two seasons together, winning consecutive titles and scoring double Fisi's points across the two campaigns. Fisichella was never the same again, and nor would he ever again taste victory, although he came close with a classic 'rolling back the years' performance for Force India at Spa in 2009.
A passion-driven swansong for Ferrari, replacing the hapless Luca Badoer as Felipe Massa's stand-in, yielded no reward in the unwieldy F60, but Fisichella did fulfill a lifelong dream by racing for the Scuderia.
His career though will be remembered as one of missed opportunities and unfulfilled potential. As Martin Brundle famously surmised, Fisichella 'underperformed in a good car and overperformed in a poor car', ultimately flattering to deceive when handed the opportunity he had seemed destined to grasp.
by Will Saunders
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