Giancarlo Fisichella has admitted that should he suffer another point-less season in Formula 1 in 2009 as he did last year, then he will likely be facing the end of his long grand prix career.
Since his debut for Minardi all the way back in 1996, the Italian has made 212 starts in the top flight, yielding three victories – for Renault and Jordan – no fewer than 18 rostrum finishes and 267 points, but tellingly none of those points came in 2008, leaving him to end the campaign with nothing to show for his efforts for the first time since his half-season with Minardi more than a decade earlier.
That is not to say that there were not highlights, however, such as qualifying an inspired twelfth in front of his home fans at Monza in September, and running confidently up in third position in the inaugural Singapore Grand Prix night race just a fortnight later – a feat he replicated in the Interlagos finale.
Whilst both performances were significantly aided by unexpected race situations, nonetheless they proved that, at 36 years of age now, Fisichella still has plenty of desire left in him – and a good turn of pace to boot. He generally enjoyed the upper hand over young team-mate Adrian Sutil over the balance of the campaign, and with McLaren gearbox and KERS technology and Mercedes-Benz engines in the back of the VJM02 in 2009, he knows he should on paper have a far better chance of more regularly competing inside the points.
What's more, with McLaren-Mercedes test driver Pedro de la Rosa and Mercedes DTM protégé Paul di Resta both waiting eagerly in the wings, and Force India F1 chairman and managing director Vijay Mallya under pressure to take on an Indian driver in 2010, the Roman is well aware that he must stake his claim to an extended future at the pinnacle of world motorsport – or else face the prospect of the curtain coming down.
“This is a very important season for me,” he acknowledged in an interview with Italian magazine Autosprint
. “Should I have a season like last year, then that would make it difficult to extend my career.
“Instead, should I find myself with a car that allows me to consistently run among the mid pack, to get in the points and to throw some surprises, then I could think about doing one or two more years in Formula 1.”
Fisichella hinted at the launch of the Silverstone-based squad's new machine last weekend that a return to the podium may not be altogether out of the question over the upcoming months [see separate story – click here
], and he has also underlined that the appointment of former McLaren man Simon Roberts as Force India's CEO is a significant boon.
“At the start I was a bit worried, you know,” 'Fisico' confessed. “By contrast, as soon as I met him, he immediately made me very calm. He's the kind of guy that comes to you, talks to you, stays in the garage [and] looks at the car. You can see he's passionate about it.”