36 year old Italian Formula 1 driver Giancarlo Fisichella has left his Force India F1 team to drive for Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro for the remainder of the 2009 season. The Silverstone based Force India F1 team announced on Thursday afternoon that they have released Fisichella from his Force India contract effective immediately to allow him to go off to Maranello. Later Ferrari confirmed days of mounting speculation that Fisichella will be replacing the struggling Luca Badoer at Ferrari as stand-in for the injured Felipe Massa.
Felipe Massa is recovering very well after his horrendous accident during the Hungarian Grand Prix Qualifying, but Ferrari say that the Brazilian will not be fit enough to make a comeback until the beginning of the 2010 season. Maranello originally planned to get the legendary Michael Schumacher to come out of his retirement to temporarily replace Massa at Ferrari. However, the seven times World Champion’s comeback had to be called off because of a neck injury he suffered at a motorbike accident earlier in the year. Left with no other options, Ferrari turned to their test and official reserve driver Luca Badoer to take over Massa’s car number 3. Although Badoer had been a Ferrari test driver for more than a decade, he last took part in a competitive race in 1999, and his lack of racing experience was immediately obvious out on the track. The 38 year old Italian trailed home last in both the European and the Belgian Grands Prix, while his team mate Kimi Raikkonen finished 2nd at Valencia and won at Spa-Francorchamps.
Ferrari said after the Belgian Grand Prix that they will be reviewing their choice for Massa’s temporary replacement before the next race. The next round of the World Championship is at Monza, for the Italian Grand Prix. Being Ferrari’s home race, amidst the hundreds of thousands of Tifosi expected to be there cheering for the Italian legends, the Scuderia could not afford a repeat of the poor performance from Badoer. Although Badoer was originally given the chance to race as a reward for the commitment he has shown towards Ferrari, by being a loyal full-time test driver for more than a decade, the cold and hard truth is that he failed to deliver. Ferrari had no other choice but to look for a better alternative ahead of their home race.
Team principal Stefano Domenicali said that before deciding on Fisichella, they thought well about what sort of future the driver might have within Ferrari once Massa is back. It could be seen that Fisichella is reaching the end of his active Formula 1 career, since he still does not have a contract for next year when there are plenty of other young drivers out there looking for a race seat next year as well. In his now former Force India team, Adrian Sutil looks to have a guaranteed drive next year. On top of that, team principal Vijay Maliya seems keen to promote their official reserve driver Vitantonio Luizzi to a full time racing driver next year. So when Ferrari offered Fisichella the chance to race for them in the remaining five races of 2009 and stay on at Maranello as official reserve driver for 2010, the Italian could hardly refuse. Fisichella was also immediately thankful to his former Force India team for allowing him the chance to realise his dream, which is to race in a Ferrari. Being an Italian, racing in a Ferrari at Monza was probably beyond his wildest dreams, but that dream is about to come true for Fisichella in just over a week’s time.
Straight away on Thursday evening, Fisichella left his home town Rome for Maranello to get acquainted with all the Ferrari engineers and personnel. Felipe Massa’s race engineer Rob Smedley will certainly have no problems working with Fisichella, as the two of them worked together in Jordan back in 2003/04 when Fisichella won the 2003 Brazilian Grand Prix to claim his first ever Formula 1 victory. Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali and President Luca di Montezemolo both congratulated Fisichella and said that they are proud to have an Italian driving one of their cars at Monza. They said that they are confident and hopeful that Fisichella will continue to show his great race form and experience with the Scuderia, as it tries to secure 3rd place on the 2009 Constructors’ World Championship. The bosses at Maranello also thanked Luca Badoer for his commitment and hard work, and said that he came in a very difficult time at a very short notice and that he could not manage to show his true potential.
Since Fisichella has been confirmed as official reserve driver for 2010, it naturally means that he will be the test driver as well alongside Marc Gene, Ferrari’s other test driver. That implies that this is probably the end of the road for Badoer with Ferrari. It just goes to show that Formula 1 is not just a racing series, but it is only for the best drivers driving the fastest cars in the world. If someone is not good enough, he has no chance to be here, not even as a test driver. So all I say is that thank you for your services Luca Badoer, and welcome to Ferrari Giancarlo!