Force India F1 was left ruing the double whammy it had suffered in qualifying for the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, as for the second time in three races in 2009, Giancarlo Fisichella took the chequered flag almost within touching distance of the points following a stellar drive.
Having entered the weekend hopeful of a strong showing in its home outing – with its factory literally just across the road from the circuit entrance – Force India's bid to make it through to Q2 in qualifying was shattered just moments from the end of the opening Q1 phase, when a brake problem pitched Adrian Sutil's VJM02 off the track and into the barriers at high speed in the ultra-fast Becketts complex.
That brought out the red flags, left the young German thankfully uninjured if a lowly 18th on the starting grid and similarly ruined a promising final effort from Fisichella that prevented the experienced Italian from making the cut as he fell short by an agonising seven hundredths of a second.
The Roman would more than atone for that disappointment 24 hours later, however, as he made an impressive start and went on to pull off arguably the move of the race when he took advantage of former team-mate Fernando Alonso and Nick Heidfeld squabbling into Stowe on lap two to dive opportunistically down the inside of both.
From thereon in, the 35-year-old never looked back, pulling inexorably away from the BMW-Renault-McLaren tussle behind him to close in on the top ten, and on an aggressive strategy he even ran as high as third during the pit-stops. Vaulting Timo Glock in his first pit visit, it looked as though points may not be beyond the team, but his Toyota rival got back ahead again when the second round of stops arrived, leaving Fisichella tenth at the close, less than two seconds shy of the final point-scoring position for the second time this year. With the tenth-fastest lap time to his name for good measure, it was without any doubt a true giant-killing performance.
“A top ten finish was our target this weekend,” the three-time grand prix winner-related, “but I had been looking at a top twelve start too, so the red flag in qualifying was a shame and after that we thought the top ten would be difficult. Actually, though, it was a very good race for me and we achieved the maximum we could do. It was fun. I had a good start and then on the first lap I overtook many drivers, and even on the second lap I overtook [Robert] Kubica and the two Renaults, so I was very focussed at the beginning.
“It was very important with my strategy to do that as we didn't have such a great starting position. Perhaps we could have scored points if we'd started higher, as eighth was just in front of me and at the end I was quicker than Kimi [Raikkonen] and Timo. It's a great step forward and I'm really looking forward to the next races now. The team did a fantastic job, so we need to continue this.”
Sutil, by contrast, endured a rather more dispiriting time of things after his qualifying fright, unable to get within a second-and-a-half of his team-mate's pace in FIF1's spare car and on a heavy one-stop strategy that led to him ultimately taking the chequered flag 17th and last-but-one, having begun from the pit-lane following a late fuel pressure issue to-boot. On a positive note, the man from Starnberg did at least enjoy an entertaining scrap along the way with former F3 Euroseries team-mate and reigning F1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton
“We rebuilt the spare car after the crash caused too much damage to my race car,” the 26-year-old explained. “In qualifying I had no brakes going into the complex; I pushed on the pedal but there wasn't anything. I tried to avoid a big accident but it was impossible, so I crashed really hard. Then we had a problem on the formation lap with the fuel pressure. We could fix it and at least start, but it was really disappointing.