Fisichella to reach motorsport milestone in Monaco
As is often the case, there are different interpretations of what counts as a start. His total does not include the 2005 US GP, when in common with the other Michelin runners he withdrew on the formation lap, and nor does it include France 2002, when he had a major crash in practice and did not take part in qualifying.
To mark the event, Giancarlo will start the Monaco race in a new set of Alpinestars overalls and a helmet commissioned from Arai bearing a '200' logo.
Giancarlo's first Formula One start came with Minardi in Australia back in March 1996. The start was, to a certain extent, unexpected: shortly before the race he was a test driver and the then 23-year-old had not expected to make the trip down under to Melbourne.
'It was interesting what happened,' he recalls. 'Ten days before the Australian GP I was test driver for Minardi, and was also driving in the international touring car championship and the DTM for Alfa Romeo. Giancarlo Minardi called me and said 'Giancarlo get ready, you are coming to Australia. Bring your helmet and bring your overalls.' I said, 'Ah that's nice, I'm happy to come and see Australia and see the first race.' He replied, 'No no, it's not to see the first race, you're going to do it!' I couldn't believe it and asked if he was joking.'
The Italian team owner was indeed not joking, as Giancarlo remembers him stating: 'No, you're going to do it, you're going to be one of the 20 drivers on the grid on Sunday.'
'I was really shocked,' Giancarlo explains, 'because 10 days before the race I really didn't expect to race in Australia, but the team had had a problem with a Japanese driver who didn't pay. It was bad for him, but I was really, really happy!'
Despite his limited testing program, Giancarlo qualified in 16th and put in a very respectable debut performance, although he ultimately did not finish the race. 'It was fantastic. The whole weekend was a bit of a shock for me, but one of the biggest things I remember was when I was at the drivers' briefing,' Giancarlo recalls. 'I was surrounded by Michael Schumacher, Gerhard Berger, and Jean Alesi, all my heroes... I was thinking I am one of them, I am here with them. It was really nice, a great period for me.
'I qualified 16th, which was good, and I was quicker than my team mate, Pedro Lamy. Before this race I had done just two tests in Fiorano, I had no experience at all. Then in the race I was in a good position, but I had a problem with the hydraulic pressure. I thought it was a good debut though, better than I expected considering my lack of preparation!'
Giancarlo ran only eight races that season before money pressures forced the team to take drivers who could bring significant amounts of funding.
'They were a few seconds slower than me, but everyone knew why I wasn't there any more. It was nice to be an F1 driver, but I was quite confident that I would be back in F1 in the future. In fact a few months later I signed a contract with Benetton, with Flavio Briatore. He told me that they liked me, but for next year they already had Berger and Alesi, so they didn't have space for me. He did however want to see me somewhere in F1 to get experience, so they found a compromise with Eddie Jordan. This is how I came to drive for Jordan in 1997.'
Alongside fellow new boy Ralf Schumacher, Giancarlo soon showed his pace, but a potential first podium was lost in Argentina: 'I was second and Ralf was third, and in the hairpin he pushed me out, and lost the possibility to get on the podium. So it was very disappointing.'
Third in Canada, the seventh race of the year, made up for it, but then Giancarlo lost the chance of a sensational maiden win in Hockenheim.
'I was second in the grid, I was the leader of the race, ahead of Gerhard Berger so I was really, really competitive. Unfortunately I had a puncture, and I couldn't finish the race.'
However, he really made his mark with second in a soaking wet Belgian GP at Spa, behind only World Championship challenger Michael Schumacher. At the end of the season he moved to Benetton, as had been previously agreed with Jordan when the Anglo-Irish team had signed him at the start of the year.
Giancarlo has mixed feelings about the '98 season: 'It was good, but it wasn't as I expected. Sometimes we were quite competitive, sometimes we were in the middle of the grid. In fact it was like that for a few years, 1999, 2000 and 2001. In 1998 I had a second in Monaco and a few other podiums. Austria that year was a big day. Qualifying was in wet conditions, and pole was a great result.'
Giancarlo stayed with Benetton for the 1999 season, which brought some promising results. At the Nurburgring in 1999 he led the race, however again lost the chance to score his first win when he went off the road: 'I was really quick with the grooved tires in a damp situation, then I lost the headrest, and I lost control of the car and spun in the quick chicane. It was an opportunity to win easily, for sure.'
He continued to score podiums the following year in 2000, but the year after a radical Renault engine design proved troublesome.
'At the beginning of the season we were fighting with Minardi! Then we made a big step forward in the middle of the year. I was third in Belgium, it was a great race, and we were getting better and better through the season.' He finished the championship in 6th position and stayed with Benetton for one more season before deciding to return to Jordan in 2002 for what turned out to be a two-year stay. It was a largely frustrating time: 'Unfortunately it was the wrong moment! The team was going down at that period, and we were struggling with the budget. It was a difficult season, apart from 2003 in Brazil, which was both an amazing and a difficult race.'
This amazing race proved to be the scene of Giancarlo's first, and long overdue, victory. At a wet Interlagos the Italian drove a sensational race, staying on the track when others crashed, and eventually crossing the line in front. Unfortunately a safety car period just before the end of the race led to a miscalculation by the timekeepers that meant initially the win was awarded to Kimi Raikkonen. Later the FIA rectified the situation, and Giancarlo received his trophy in a ceremony at the next race in Imola.
'I drove very well. We were a bit lucky, but I'd done everything perfectly. When I crossed the line my engineer was happy, he told me you are the winner, so I was really, really pleased about that. I don't know why, but by mistake they gave me the second place. So I couldn't celebrate my first victory on the top of the podium in Brazil. It was quite bad, really disappointing.'
For 2004 Giancarlo went to Sauber. His plan was to show what he could do, and bounce back into a front running team. The strategy worked perfectly.
'Sauber was a midfield team, but sometimes we were quite solid, quite competitive. I scored points quite often, I was usually quicker than Felipe Massa, so it was a good season. I did a few races where people could see my speed and in the middle of the season I was in contact with Williams and Renault. Flavio gave me a good offer, a two-year contract with Renault. It was a good moment, because in 2005 and 2006 we were competitive, and we won two World Championships.'
After his three years away the renamed former Benetton team was very different, but Giancarlo started in perfect fashion by winning first time out in Australia. After that it became more difficult, as Fernando Alonso was well established in the camp.
'I was comfortable, but not as much as I used to be, with the electronics, with the traction control. Fernando was usually quicker than me, but sometimes I was quicker than him.'
Giancarlo was stronger in 2006, and won from pole in Malaysia. He finished fourth in the World Championship, but ultimately he was disappointed: 'I had a good feeling straight away, but again problems with the car, mechanical, technical, same as 2005.'
'Unfortunately the car wasn't as quick as the previous year, the downforce of the car was completely wrong, the speed compared with McLaren and Ferrari was not good enough. So it was very disappointing, and it was a tough season. Monaco was the only good one, fourth in qualifying, fourth in the race.'
At the end of the year Giancarlo signed for Force India. He has already demonstrated that he is as fast as ever, and his huge level of experience is helping the team to progress.
'It was a good but difficult decision. I was moving from a top team to a new team, which in the last couple of seasons had been on the last rows. But so far we have done a fantastic job. We have made a big step forward, and I am really enjoying it. It's really encouraging. We've still got a lot of work to do, but we are getting closer.'
At the age of 35, and now in his 13th season, Giancarlo is as motivated as ever.
'I don't think I've changed much, but I hope I am a better driver than when I started. I've learned quite a lot, how to manage the race, how to manage the qualifying session, and to put more attention on testing and talking with the engineers and mechanics.
'I still feel young, I still feel happy to work in F1, to be an F1 driver. The only problem is travelling around the world all the time! But apart from that, I still enjoy F1. I wouldn't still be here if I didn't.'
* The 2008 Monaco GP will be Giancarlo Fisichella's 200th Grand Prix start. That total does not include France 2002, where he did not take part in qualifying after a heavy practice crash, or USA 2005, where in common with the other Michelin runners he withdrew at the end of the formation lap.
* Giancarlo made his Grand Prix debut with Minardi in the Australian GP on March 10 1996, at the age of 23. It was also the first start for Jacques Villeneuve, Michael Schumacher's maiden outing for Ferrari, and the first race in Melbourne.
* Giancarlo's 50th race was Austria 1999, and his 100th was Europe 2002. His 150th should have been USA 2005, but was in fact France a fortnight later.
* When Giancarlo signed for Force India it was the sixth time he had changed teams. However, in effect he has only driven for four teams, as he had twice previously driven for the team under its Jordan name, and also has two spells with Benetton/Renault. His other teams were Minardi and Sauber.
* Adrian Sutil is the 11th team mate Giancarlo has had during his F1 career. The others were Pedro Lamy, Ralf Schumacher, Alex Wurz, Jenson Button, Takuma Sato, Ralph Firman, Felipe Massa, Zsolt Baumgartner, Fernando Alonso and Heikki Kovalainen.
* Until he was partnered with Alonso at Renault in 2005 Giancarlo had finished ahead of his team mate in the World Championship in every full season he had completed, except his first season at Benetton in 1998, when he was one point behind Wurz. In 2001 he beat Button by 8/2, and in 2004 he beat Massa by 22/12.
* Giancarlo has won three Grands Prix. The first victory was with Jordan in a wet Brazilian race in 2003. Unfortunately due to an error by the timekeepers he was only awarded second place on the day. After the mistake was acknowledged he was given his trophy at the next race at Imola. It remains the only official prize-giving ceremony that did not take place on the day of the race.
* Giancarlo has been on pole three times. Prior to Australia 2005 and Malaysia 2006 he had achieved his first in damp conditions with Benetton in Austria in 1998. In total he has started from the front row on 10 occasions.
* Giancarlo has twice set the fastest lap, in Spain in both 1997 and 2005.
* Giancarlo's best World Championship finish was fourth with Renault in 2006, when he also scored a career best 72 points. He was fifth in 2006, and sixth in 2000. He has never finished lower than 12th.
* Giancarlo scored his first points when he finished fourth in Imola in 1997. He has finished in the points 72 times, and has scored a career total of 267 points.
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