Giancarlo Fisichella is to join Ferrari for the Italian Grand Prix at Monza in just over a week's time, it has been officially confirmed by Force India F1 – with the announcement ending the will-he, won't-he saga surrounding the likelihood of the Italian taking over from countryman Luca Badoer for his home race and the remainder of the 2009 campaign.
Badoer has occupied the cockpit of the #3 scarlet machine since Felipe Massa was injured in qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix at the Hungaroring back at the end of July, and though the 38-year-old had insisted the drive was his until the Brazilian was well enough to return, paddock sceptics felt otherwise.
A brace of lacklustre showings on his return to top flight competition following a nigh-on ten-year absence in the European Grand Prix in Valencia and Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps last weekend – qualifying and finishing last by some margin on both occasions, whilst team-mate Kimi Raikkonen sped to respectively a podium finish and victory – sounded the death knell for Badoer's continued presence in the car, particularly as the Scuderia
is endeavouring to stave off the advances of a resurgent McLaren-Mercedes to protect its third position in the constructors' standings, meaning points are vital.
With the Formula 1 rumour mill going into overdrive, Fisichella's name was the one most strongly and regularly linked with stepping into the breach, and Force India has now acknowledged that following 'extensive discussions over the past 24 hours', the 36-year-old has been formally released from his contract with the Silverstone-based squad to join Ferrari. He ill thereby become the first Italian to race one of the famous red cars at Monza since Ivan Capelli 17 years ago.
“Giancarlo and his management team approached me yesterday with the proposal from Ferrari,” revealed Force India chairman and team principal Dr. Vijay Mallya, who underlined that there had been no financial aspect to the deal, adding fuel to speculation that the team owned by the Kingfisher Airlines billionaire still owes its Maranello rival for the customer engine supply it received last year. “For any Italian driver, a Ferrari race seat is a long-held dream and for Giancarlo it was no exception. No-one should stand in the way of this.
“Furthermore, the agreement will secure Giancarlo's long-term future with Ferrari and it would be incorrect to jeopardise this, particularly when Giancarlo has made such a vital contribution to Force India.
“We would like to stress that we have not agreed any financial settlement with Ferrari. This agreement has been made in good faith and for the good of Giancarlo and the sport in general. A competitive Italian driver in a Ferrari for Monza is a positive story for Formula 1, which can only help raise the sport's profile in these difficult times.
“We would like to thank Giancarlo for all his help over the past one-and-a-half seasons and for delivering us our first world championship points last weekend. He has been an integral part of the team, and we owe him a great deal for his input behind-the-scenes and performance out on-track. We wish him all the best for the future.
“For Force India, this sport is a team effort and removing one part – even a major one – will not significantly affect our performance. The competitiveness of the team seen in Belgium was a result of hard work in the factory and wind tunnel and we have further developments coming for the final races, so we are confident this momentum can be sustained. We are now looking forward to a strong finish to the season.”