The Race that Was: Belgium 2009
The first half of the 2009 Formula 1 season had been tough for the team from Silverstone. There were no points on the board, and there were as many retirements as there were appearances in the top 10.
The team was quietly optimistic though. A major upgrade package was due after the Summer break, and having shown improvements at the first race back in Valencia, the Belgian Grand Prix at the fearsome Spa-Francorchamps Circuit was to be the real test.
Experience counts for more on the longest track on the calendar, and with Giancarlo Fisichella – who had stood on the podium there twice before – and Adrian Sutil at the helm, the team was in a strong position.
It was difficult to measure the progress that had been made when the cars hit the track for the first time.
The typical Ardennes weather had closed in for the first practice session, and only a few runners managed to set a time on dry tyres. Of those on Wets though, it was Fisi who led the way.
The second session provided a better indication, as Giancarlo secured P6 in dry conditions. His speed showed promise, and in FP3, Adrian proved that it was no fluke, climbing up the order again to P3.
Spirits were high as qualifying came around. In Q1, it was Fisi that laid down the marker for others to try and match. A high-end grid slot was starting to look like areal possibility.
Q2 wasn’t quite so enjoyable. Giancarlo still managed P4, but Adrian failed to make it into the pole position shootout, missing out but just 0.17s.
On a track where the slipstream can make a big difference and team-mates can really work together, Giancarlo would have to do it all by himself in the final part.
To give him a fighting chance of a front-row start, the team put him on an aggressive fuel strategy, running the second-lightest car in the session. It proved to be an inspired decision.
On his penultimate flying lap, Giancarlo set a time of 1:46.308 to go top of the table.
As the clock ticked down, times kept being set, but no one could match it. Giancarlo Fisichella had claimed a sensational pole position few could have predicted before the Summer break.
Despite the achievement, Fisi remained calm and grounded on the grid. “It’s going to be difficult to keep the pace of the others,” he said, “but the dream is to get on the podium.”
As the lights went out he got away from the line well and moved to cover an equally fast-starting Jarno Trulli as they approached the La Source hairpin.
Further back,Kimi Raikkonen – who Fisi had picked out as a potential threat before the race– ran wide at the start to avoid bunching in the pack and found himself in a battle for P2.
With Trulli and Raikkonen fighting, Fisi was able to open up a gap, but as the field made its way through Les Combes the contact started, with Jenson Button, Lewis Hamilton, Romain Grosjean and Jaime Alguersuari crashing out.
With cars and debris stuck on track, Race Control was left with no option but to deploy the safety car. Fisi’s advantage was gone.
On the restart, Raikkonen was on the back of Giancarlo as they threaded through Eau Rouge, and by the time the pair were onto the Kemmel Straight he had pulled alongside.
Giancarlo pulled into Raikkonen’s tow and looked to make a move at the end of the straight, but with the Finn covering the inside line it wasn’t quite enough, and the Ferrari had taken the lead.
An earlier pit stop for Fisi kept him within touching distance in the second stint of the race, and on Lap 27 the pair made their second stops together. It was a high-pressure race of the pit stops, but the Ferrari held the slender advantage.
They ran together for the rest of the race, but Giancarlo was never quite close enough to make a move of the KERS-boosted Ferrari, and after 44 laps of racing less, than a second separated the two.
Giancarlo returned to the podium for the 19th time in his career, and for the first time in the Force India era, not only were there points on the board, but the team from Silverstone got a taste of champagne to go with it.