Fisichella, Sauber struggling early in '04


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.

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.