Sidepodcast // All for F1 and F1 for all

On This Day: 11th May 2008 - Fisi completes a collision hat trick // Giancarlo finds history repeating itself year on year

Published by Alianora La Canta

Continuing Sidepodcast's series of entries reminiscing on events that have occurred in seasons past, I offer a curious statistic. Two years ago today, Giancarlo Fisichella was involved in his third consecutive first-corner collision in Turkey. I am not sure if this constitutes a record, but it is a difficult chain of events to explain. Nonetheless, I will try.

2006

Giancarlo and his team-mate, Fernando Alonso started the race from the second row of the grid. Ahead of them were Massa and Schumacher. The Renaults were running without mass dampers for the first time since the FIA had banned them for being a moveable aero device.

Championship tensions were mounting as the grid formed and mounted further as the backmarkers took ages to reach their positions. The Renaults started very well and were by Massa at the first turn. However, there were three cars and space only existed for two.

Massa had the inside line and the momentum, so he wasn't going to give. Alonso was stuck in the middle and couldn't have given if he'd wanted to do so. Fisichella was on the outside and acutely aware of his responsibilities as a support to title aspirations, so he moved aside... onto a waiting kerb. The resulting spin missed Alonso but resulted in Giancarlo facing the traffic, half on the kerb, with nowhere to go.

It was hardly a surprise when Heidfeld collected the Renault's front wing

The outer lane of traffic had counted on the area Fisichella was occupying to make it round the corner, so it was hardly a surprise when Heidfeld collected the Renault's front wing and Monteiro's car was heavily damaged in the ensuing melee. Both retired, while Scott Speed struck Kimi Räikkönen as the McLaren driver was attempting to evade the strife. Both pitted, along with Fisichella, Heidfeld, Ralf Schumacher and Sato. Räikkönen later crashed out due to damage the pit stop hadn't fixed, while Sato had the longest pit stop of the season to result in the car rejoining the circuit - a whopping 23 minute 56.892 seconds!

Alonso eventually finished second. The fact that Fisichella's spin had delayed most of the field probably wasn't a major factor. Somehow, Fisichella himself clawed his way back to 6th and three points.

He had a good idea; pity the application went haywire...

2007

Championship thoughts were far from Giancarlo's mind on arrival in Turkey. The priorities had become trying to improve on Renault's position as the fourth-best team, getting back on terms with Heikki Kovalainen and seeing if it was possible to secure a place at Renault for 2008.

Qualifying had not gone to plan - Giancarlo was 10th and Heikki up in 7th. Clearly the race would need to be something special to impress.

Giancarlo's start was good, as was Jarno Trulli's from next door. They reached the back of the top 8 cluster at the first corner, but were so busy trying to weave their way through them that they hit each other. Trulli's car was damaged and Giancarlo got that familiar spinning feeling.

Like the previous year, Giancarlo's mishap had a major effect on the results of the back half of the field. Many had to take avoiding action. Nobody retired but there were a number of delays, notably for Davidson who dropped from 11th to 14th.

Giancarlo climbed back as far as ninth, but points, let alone beating Heikki, were rendered impossible. In fact this was the point when Heikki overtook Giancarlo in the driver's world championship and never looked back.

2008

Giancarlo was enthusastic to improve on his next visit to Istanbul. So enthusiastic that he started the first practice session before the green light came on in the pitlane. Between that and his Force India VJM01 being slow in the first place, Giancarlo was stuck in 20th and last on the grid. The start was going to be crucial. It was also going to be difficult – by this stage James Allen was practically predicting that Giancarlo was going to be involved in some sort of incident before the first lap was out.

Some way ahead of him, Kazuki Nakajima was looking to score some points after a quiet but consistent start to the season and Sébastian Bourdais wanted to secure his long-term future by adding to the two points he'd obtained in Australia.

Everyone got held for an inordinately long time at the start - nearly 30 seconds rather than the usual 3 to 10 - which may have unsettled certain drivers a bit. Even so, for a moment it looked as if all would be fine. The first half of the grid got round the corner and even the midfield was driving reasonably.

There were three reasons why "driving reasonably" proved insufficient:

  1. Nakajima's start was not very good, leading to Bourdais fancying his chances of passing him round the outside for a moment. He sensibly backed out, but...
  2. Fisichella had made a lightning start from last, bolted past several people who had started on the clean side of the grid, so by the time he reached his braking point, he could see the end of the Nakajima/Bourdais tussle. It distracted him for a moment.
  3. Having passed his proper braking point, Fisichella needed a Plan B quickly. So he attempted to pass Nakajima on the inside while scrubbing off enough speed to make the turn. This might have worked except that other cars were already on the inside and Turn 1 in Turkey can only really accommodate two lines of traffic at a time.

The laws of physics intervened and Fisichella collided with the hapless Nakajima

The laws of physics intervened and Fisichella collided with the hapless Nakajima. In the process Nakajima lost his rear wing and diffuser, but had to retire in his pit garage. As for Giancarlo, he took the unofficial 2008 F1 high jump record, overtook Nakajima by using Kazuki's engine cover as a launch ramp and neatly deposited his VJM01 in a convenient gravel trap. The resulting photographs were memorable, but obtaining a DNF so soon after the race started clearly hurt. He blamed Bourdais initially for the incident, but very few people believed him. Indeed when David Coulthard asked him how the accident could have been "the guy in front's fault", Giancarlo found the idea as funny as David.

Despite breaking the chain of first-corner collision involvements in 2009, Giancarlo only completed four laps before having to retire through brake failure. Even this did not prevent a first-corner incident for other people, indicating that it is the corner rather than the driver that is the primary cause of trouble at the start of Istanbul's races. He summed up his Turkish record in the ensuing press release as "I really enjoy Turkey but I've just had terrible luck at this track!"

F1 doesn't always go round in circles but sometimes it feels like it. Indeed sometimes the circles can be awkwardly tight.