Giancarlo Fisichella has spent two years in the shadow of Fernando Alonso at Renault, and with the world champion departing for McLaren in 2007 it's now time for Fisichella to raise his game and fight for the title. According to Renault technical director Bob Bell, the Italian is capable of winning the championship but next season may be his last chance.
"If he doesn't find it this year, then I doubt if he ever will," Bell told The Times. "This, I think, really is a make-or-break year for Fisi. All we can do as a team is have confidence in his ability to rise to the challenge. We will give him the best equipment we humanly can and give him all the support we humanly can and see where that takes us."
Fisichella was long considered to be an underrated talent but since his return to Renault, with whom he formerly raced when the team was Benetton, he's had a difficult time. He scored only one victory in 2006 and trailed Alonso in the final drivers' standings by over 60 points. But Bell has confidence in Fisichella's ability to bounce back.
"I wouldn't write the guy off at all," he said. "We will certainly start the season working completely on the assumption that Fisi is as capable of winning the world championship as Fernando or anybody else working at that level." He added: "Fisi is great at coming back. When he has had a bad race, he is good at putting it behind him."
Fisichella will have the highly-rated Heikki Kovalainen, who was previously Renault's test driver, as teammate next year. Also waiting in the wings is Nelson A. Piquet. The son of the former champion is now a Renault tester and is keen to be in a race seat come 2008.
Renault acknowledged that the loss of Alonso will make things tougher but President Alain Dassas is determined that the team will meet the challenge. "Fernando Alonso is a worthy champion who fully deserves his titles," said Dassas. "He has been a member of the Renault family for five years, and we are proud of that."
"I am sure we will remain close in the future -- but we also want to defend our titles! Heikki Kovalainen and Giancarlo Fisichella will bring us a blend of youth and experience. 2007 will be a year of change for Renault and our rivals. It is up to us to get the maximum from it."