It’s rare in Formula 1 that a team gets to enjoy a moment of pure ecstasy, without something coming along to spoil it.
And so it is proving for Force India, which scored a magnificent podium from pole position in yesterday’s Belgian Grand Prix, but today is having a very public internal argument about whether its podium hero Giancarlo Fisichella is moving to Ferrari for the next race.
Fisichella was faster than Kimi Raikkonen in yesterday’s race and it was only because of the KERS on the Ferrari that the race swung away from him. The team could still have won the race if they had managed to fuel Fisi a little longer at the first stop but they fueled him to pit on the same lap as Raikkonen and any chance of jumping the Ferrari was lost.
This morning the team’s commercial director, Ian Phillips, said on BBC Radio 5 that an approach for Fisichella would be made within the next 24 hours and that team boss Vijay Mallya should expect a call.
However the team quickly issued a denial on its website, claiming that Phillips was out of order to make those comments, which “do not reflect the views of the Force India team management since he is not the designated spokesperson for the team nor is he authorised to speak to the media.
“His comments should therefore be ignored.
“We completely deny as baseless, whatever is reportedly attributed to him in reports.”
It should also be noted that Fisichella, his manager and Mallya have all maintained that the notion of him moving to Ferrari is pure speculation up to this point and that no contact has been made.
However yesterday morning on Italy’s RAI TV it was said that Fisichella would be driving at Monza, which given the relationships between the management of the two companies, may have been a preparation of the ground.
Phillips is one of F1’s great characters and one of the pillars on which modern F1 is built. He has been with the Silverstone based team through all its iterations since Eddie Jordan’s earliest days in 1991 and before that was team principal at Leyton House. In a spooky echo of yesterday’s race, Leyton House and Ivan Capelli led and ultimately scored an amazing second place at the French GP of 1990, narrowly losing out to the Ferrari of Alain Prost. That drive later earned Capelli a Ferrari drive!
Phillips has forgotten more about F1 than most people will ever know. He has close ties with Radio 5 as he has commentated on the channel for many years, either as the main colour commentator or more recently, a voice on the Friday afternoon practice sessions.
Ironically he is the member of the Force India team who speaks the most regularly to the media and is in charge of the department of which media relations is part! He is also very close to Fischella’s manager, Enrico Zanarini.
According to Autosport the team still have some payment still owing from its tenure as a Ferrari engine customer. Should they need to negotiate a release for Fisichella this would likely play a make-weight part in any deal.
Meanwhile Force India has made some bullish comments about maintaining this run of form. The team has taken a huge development step lately and with the field being so close it has moved it to the front group. At Monza, where even lower downforce will be used than at Spa, the Force India car is expected to go well. It was very fast in a straight line at Spa and it’s fuel efficient Mercedes engine will also be an advantage.
“You’re going to see us competing right near the front at every race from now on,” said team manager Andy Stevenson. “This was no fluke. Just a fast racing car with quick drivers.”