Fisichella, Sauber struggling early in '04

Updated: April 21, 2004, 7:41 PM ET
By Alan Baldwin | Reuters

Giancarlo Fisichella
LONDON -- Giancarlo Fisichella had a script in mind before the start of the Formula One season and it was not the one he has acted out so far.

The plan was to roll up at Ferrari-powered Sauber, comfortably beat his teammate as he has done regularly in the past and set out his driving credentials for the bigger teams.

Instead the Italian has been outqualified in two of the three races so far by Felipe Massa, the often ragged Brazilian who has also scored Sauber's only point of 2004.

More worryingly from his perspective as the driver merry-go-round starts to pick up speed, Fisichella's name is no longer the one most frequently bandied about when paddock gossips get together.

Williams are looking for one driver, possibly two, but speculation has Australian Mark Webber and Briton Jenson Button leading their shopping list.

Toyota is clearly interested in Ralf Schumacher, having admitted to talks with the German, while Briton David Coulthard, currently with McLaren, is also searching for a new home for next year.

Fisichella, the talk of Formula One this time last year after he won the Brazilian Grand Prix, will want to remind people of his skills sooner rather than later.

Despite being tipped as a team to watch preseason, with a car dubbed the 'Blue Ferrari' due to its close resemblance to the F2003-GA and its customer gearbox and engine, Sauber has not lived up to the expectations so far.

Giancarlo Fisichella
Fisichella has yet to score a point in 2004.

Fisichella qualified 14th in Australia, 12th in Malaysia and 11th in Bahrain. Massa has been 11th, 11th and 13th.

Nick Heidfeld, the German who joined struggling Jordan after being told there was no longer a place for him at the Swiss-based team, has earned more impressive reviews with the performances he has wrung out of his new car.

"Giancarlo was certainly not spoilt by luck in his first two races but I'm convinced that he will get over this and will be able in the future to demonstrate his true skills," said Peter Sauber after Malaysia.

One problem has been the lack of power steering on the Sauber C23, with the heaviness exacerbated by a new Bridgestone front tire brought in at the start of the season.

Sauber, however, made improvements in testing before next week's San Marino Grand Prix at Imola.

That race will be some contrast for Fisichella.

Last year he was able to wave at his home crowd and celebrate becoming Italy's first grand prix winner in 11 years -- albeit after some delay.

"I must be the first F1 driver in history to win his first grand prix on a Friday and receive the trophy a week later," he said after a timing error was corrected and he was declared the belated winner of a chaotic race at Interlagos.

He will not get anything like as much attention next week but Imola, where he scored the first point of his grand prix career in 1997, at least offers a chance of getting back on the fast track.

"People keep saying to me that I have my Ferrari," he told F1 Racing magazine before the start of the season. "But this isn't a Ferrari. It's blue and it's built in Switzerland.

"(Ferrari) is where I want to be. This is where I have to be right now to prove I have the talent to get there."

There are no declared vacancies at Ferrari, with six time world champion Michael Schumacher and Brazilian Rubens Barrichello under contract to 2006. But a good result at the champions' home circuit would do Fisichella no harm.