A rare milestone beckons Force India driver Giancarlo Fisichella as the Italian is all set to make his 200th Formula One appearance when he hits the track at the Monaco Grand Prix on Sunday.
By the end of this season, Fisichella, who will become the ninth driver to achieve the feat, will move up to overall fifth place in the rankings of all-time starts as in the course of this season he will overtake Jean Alesi, Nelson Piquet Sr, Andrea de Cesaris and Gerhard Berger.
In the run up to his 200th F1 appearance, the Italian driver recollected his debut in Australia in March 1996 and described it as unexpected.
"It was interesting what happened. Ten days before the Australian GP, I was a test driver for Minardi and was also driving in the international touring car championship and the DTM for Alfa Romeo.
"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'," he recalled.
Fisichella said the news came as a pleasant shock.
"I was really shocked 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," he said.
At 35, and now in his 13th season, Fisichella feels 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," he said.
When Fisichella signed for Force India, it was the sixth time he had changed teams. Adrian Sutil is the 11th team mate he 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.
Fisichella has won three Grands Prix so far. The first victory was with Jordan in a wet Brazilian race in 2003. His two other wins were with Renault in Australia in 2005, and in Malaysia the next year. Both were achieved from pole position.
He has scored a total of 18 podium finishes, including six second places and nine third spots. Three of his second places came behind Michael Schumacher (Belgium 1997, Canada 1998, Brazil 2000), two behind Mika Hakkinen (Monaco 1998, Canada 1999), and one behind Kimi Raikkonen (Japan 2005).