As expected, Giancarlo Fisichella will form half of this year's inaugural Force India F1 driver line-up, the Italian having finally been confirmed at a special press conference in India today [Thursday] - alongside new test and reserve pilot Tonio Liuzzi.

The pair will partner Adrian Sutil, who was retained on a long-term deal stretching back to the team's days as Midland F1. The German raced impressively in his rookie season with the renamed Spyker team in 2007, and was held to his contract despite interest from others higher up the grid.

Fisichella was among a seven-strong testing contingent fielded by Force India at the end of 2007, and impressed the team with his strong contribution during a four-day session at Jerez. With new co-owner Vijay Mallya wanting an experienced driver, not only to bring Sutil along, but also to provide the technical feedback to the engineers and designers that he felt was lacking last season, the 34-year old Roman has received an early birthday present with the extension of his F1 career. He brings a dozen years of F1 experience to the team following stints at Minardi, Force India predecessor Jordan, Benetton, Sauber and, most recently, Renault, taking three wins and three poles in that time.

"At the test in Jerez, I was very impressed with the team's professionalism and commitment to move forward, and I hope that my experience will help them achieve these goals," he said of the deal, "Contrary to what people may think, this was not my only opportunity, but it was the best one. With new owners and a competitive budget, I really think we can shake things up next year. I feel motivated and ready to help Force India get points on a regular basis."

Mallya was also impressed with Liuzzi's feedback over the two days of running that he completed in November and December, and plumped for the younger Italian ahead of rivals Christian Klien and Roldan Rodriguez, despite some quarters suggesting the Spaniard was favourite to get the role.

"The Force India F1 team is a serious project and we wanted to make a statement to this effect with our driver line-up," Mallya insisted, "Money is not the issue now, but we need drivers who will push the team and give us direction. The race line-up of Giancarlo Fisichella and Adrian Sutil is a very good one, balancing both speed and experience, and Tonio will provide the team with solid support in his testing programme. I think we have a very strong driver line-up for 2008."

Having, like Sutil, been linked with a possible shot at the Williams vacancy that ultimately went to Kazuki Nakajima, Liuzzi has had to settle for a backroom role in order to maintain his presence in F1. However, with Fisichella's career likely to come to a close in the next couple of years, the former F3000 and world karting champion could be ideally placed to succeed his countryman.

"I am very pleased to be able to help Force India in their testing and development programme this year," the 27-year old insisted, "With increased resources, there will be much more input and emphasis into the team's testing, and the test driver's role will be crucial to helping progress. I know I can play a big part in the team as it grows, which is a good opportunity for me going forward."

Sutil, meanwhile, confirmed that there had been interest in his services from other teams over the winter, but insisted that he is happy to remain with Silverstone-based Force India for his second season in the top flight.

"There was interest from other teams, but the opportunity to stay with a growing team that has strong ambitions is very positive for me at this stage in my career," he reasoned, "I am very excited about the opportunity to work with Giancarlo, as he is very experienced and has driven for a world championship-winning team, which can only help both myself and Force India learn and move forward."

 

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