Giancarlo Fisichella

It is only natural that Giancarlo Fisichella, the most successful Italian Formula 1 driver of the past 20 years, started his Formula 1 career at Minardi, given Gian Carlo Minardi's impressive talent spotting record. An early starter, Fisichella gained first experience with karts when he was only 8 years old and went from victory to victory in the late 1980s and early 1990s, both at regional and international level. He spent three years in Italian Formula 3, taking the championship in 1994 with a string of victories, including the event at Monaco. Perhaps a bit atypical for a future Formula 1 driver, Fisichella entered touring cars in 1995 instead of making the usual career move into F3000. While Fisichella won no races in his Alfa Romeo in the Opel dominated championships, 1995 was also the year he started as a test driver for Minardi.

Only ten days before the 1996 season opener, Giancarlo Fisichella got a phone call from Faenza and was told to get a plane to Melbourne. He outqualified the more experienced Pedro Lamy in his debut race but was immediately replaced by Brazilian Tarso Marques for the two South American races, as Minardi's budget situation was tight. Returning for the European season, Fisichella mostly stayed ahead of Lamy and had an 8th position at the Canadian Grand Prix as his and the team's best result that year. Starting from Hockenheim it was Giovanni Lavaggi who took over Fisichella's car, but the young Italian had done enough to secure his future in the sport.

In 1997 he moved to Jordan and immediately had a stunning season, with a second spot at Spa as his best achievement. He moved to Benetton the following year, where he scored several podiums over the course of four seasons but was denied a victory. He returned to Jordan, which by then was a less competitive team than it had been in his earlier career, but he nevertheless managed to finally score his maiden victory at the 2003 season's craziest race at Interlagos. The chaos caused by the torrential downpour at that Grand Prix was so large, that he only received his winner's trophy at Imola a few weeks later. He briefly moved to Sauber in a 2004 season without great highlights for the Italian.

The most successful time of his career was when he returned to Benetton, now called Renault, and immediately won the opening race of the 2005 season at Albert Park. The following year, he upped his game further, winning the Malaysian Grand Prix and coming in fourth in the drivers championship. Nevertheless he played second fiddle at Renault to fellow-Minardi graduate Fernando Alonso, who took the title in both of those years. After a disappointing season with Renault in 2007, Fisichella left for Force India, the fourth incarnation of the Jordan team after being called Midland and Spyker in the years after Eddie Jordan sold up in 2005. Fisichella gave the team a podium finish at Spa in 2009. That same year, a young Italian's dream came true when he was allowed to replace injured Felipe Massa at Ferrari. Just as Luca Badoer had experienced earlier that season, however, setting up the car with limited testing was too difficult and Fisichella was unable to score any points for the prancing horses from Maranello. He left the sport that same year, and concentrated on sports cars, winning Le Mans twice in the LMGTE-PRO category and raking in victories in the FIA World Endurance Championship.

Fisichella continued to have a special place in his heart for the Faenza-based team, which had given him his Formula 1 debut. Returning on the same plane from the mayhem that was the Brazilian Grand Prix, which Fisichella had miraculously won, Paul Stoddart asked him a crucial question. Would he have overtaken Minardi driver Jos Verstappen to take victory, if the Dutchman hadn't spun off in the rain. "Try to overtake a Minardi about to win a race?" Fisichella replied, "Are you stupid??".