Though understandably overshadowed by the dramatic title fight, Giancarlo Fisichella produced one of the undoubted starring performances of the Brazilian Grand Prix at Interlagos at the weekend – at one point even threatening to challenge Kimi Raikkonen.
The experienced Italian was having an uneventful race – the last of the season, and therefore Force India's last chance to break its unenviable points duck in 2008 – until a bold decision to pit early for slick tyres on the still damp track surface on only lap two paid off richly, as he found himself in fifth position once all the front-runners had belatedly followed suit.
Not just that, but from there the 35-year-old Roman set about harrying the Ferrari of 2007 Formula 1 World Champion Raikkonen for fourth, and though he would slip slowly down the order after Lewis Hamilton had forced his way past, his pace remained more than respectable – his fastest lap just two tenths of a second adrift of that of the Red Bull Racing of Mark Webber – until a clutch problem unfortunately caused him to plummet down the order to 18th and last place in the final reckoning.
“It was an exciting race,” Fisichella acknowledged, “with so many things happening. It was a good decision to go to the dry tyres after the safety car came out, and then it was looking very good.
“This part of the race was fantastic, even though it was very difficult through the first part of the circuit. Turns one and two were particularly bad – almost undriveable – but the rest of the circuit wasn't too bad as there was a dry line. The lap times were getting much better, then for a while I was in the first three and keeping a good pace.
“Unfortunately in the first pit-stop I had a problem with the clutch and dropped right back. In both stops there was no clutch and I lost a lot. In the rain at the end we tried to gamble with the extreme tyres as there was nothing to lose. Despite the result, though, it was an incredible start to the race and we can be pleased with the performance.”
The Silverstone-based minnows' managing director Dr Vijay Mallya and chief technical officer Mike Gascoyne were similarly full of praise for Fisichella's São Paulo showing – one that ended the season in positive fashion, even if the hoped-for points once again failed to materialise – and full of congratulations for the sport's new youngest-ever title-winner.
“First and foremost congratulations to Lewis Hamilton for winning his first world championship in such difficult conditions,” stated Gascoyne. “For us, it was a disappointing end. Giancarlo drove a fantastic race after he made the call to stop and go onto dry tyres.
“It was very wet on the main straight and through sector one – so we were taking a risk – but it was the right call and he drove a very, very competitive first stint. We would have scored points, which would have been an apt result for what has been a difficult season.