As he prepares to embark upon his 14th campaign in the top flight, Giancarlo Fisichella has insisted that he 'still loves' his job as a Formula 1 driver - and is 'very confident' about the 'exciting opportunity' that Force India has in 2009 with the advent of Mercedes engines and McLaren technology.

Both Fisichella and Force India failed to trouble the scorers at all last season, with the veteran Italian managing just one appearance in Q2 in qualifying - somewhat appropriately in front of his home fans at Monza - and a best finish of tenth place in the Spanish Grand Prix in April to show for his efforts.

There were paddock whispers over the winter off-season that the 36-year-old may be replaced in 2009 by either DTM front-runner and young Mercedes-Benz prot?g? Paul di Resta, or else McLaren test driver Pedro de la Rosa - but Fisichella is adamant that he has no thoughts about stopping, and is as fired-up to succeed as he has ever been.

"I still love this job," he asserted. "I like driving F1 cars and I am passionate about motorsport. I am very confident in this new car and with the new partnership with McLaren and Mercedes. It is a very exciting opportunity for the team, and that in itself is enough to keep me motivated."

Whilst acknowledging the disadvantage of the new VJM02 - launched at Jerez in Spain at the weekend - being 'quite late relative to the others', due to the necessity of accommodating the Mercedes powerplant and McLaren gearbox and KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems) package in place of the Ferrari engine the VJM01 ran with in 2008, Fisichella nevertheless remains optimistic of taking a leap up the grid with Force India this year.

Having suggested that a podium may even be on the cards [see separate story - click here], the Roman also affirmed that he is eagerly anticipating the challenge that will be presented by both KERS and the return to slick tyres, though he dismissed suggestions that drivers with his level of experience and who have raced on slicks in F1 before would have a head start over those who have not.

"I drove with them back in 1997 and they were completely different compounds used with completely different cars and engines," reasoned the three-time grand prix-winner. "In the twelve years since then the cars and the tyres have evolved so much that you can't really compare the two periods. I don't think there will be much of an advantage having driven on them before."