x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Force is with Fisichella

In 29 races so far, the UK-based Force India team have failed to collect a single point but that duck seems destined to be broken at Spa Franchorchamps.

Force India, who have done little more than make up the numbers on Formula One grids for the last two seasons, were celebrating the clinching of an astonishing pole position for the Belgian Grand Prix thanks to a tremendous qualifying performance by Giancarlo Fisichella.

In 29 races so far, the UK-based Force India team have failed to collect a single point but that duck seems destined to be broken at Spa Franchorchamps. Fisichella, 36, the Italian who has been tipped as a potential replacement for the hapless Luca Badoer as substitute Ferrari driver for the injured Felipe Massa, took advantage of a host of big names struggling to make an impact on the Belgian track.

Jenson Button, the world championship leader, failed to make the decisive third session of qualifying. Neither did defending world champion Lewis Hamilton, his English compatriot. It left a stunned crowd watching Fisichella finish just ahead of Toyota's Jarno Trulli in a battle for pole, with Nick Heidfeld's BMW Sauber and the Brawn of Rubens Barichello occupying the second row of the grid. "It's unbelievable," Fisichella said after his fastest lap of 1min 46.308sec. "I expected to be competitive but I didn't expect to be on pole."

Trulli was also surprised by his front-row placing after an indifferent season. "It's a good question that none of us can answer," he said. "We came here and straightaway we looked very strong." Button, whose commanding lead in the drivers' championship has steadily eroded since he won six of the first seven races, will be hoping Fisichella continues his excellent work at Spa and denies his main rivals taking maximum points.

"I'm a little bit worried because something is seriously not right," said Button, who will start from a lowly 14th position in his attempt to end a four-race spell without a podium finish. The Red Bull pair of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber, who are the main threats to Button and Barrichello, will be seeking to reduce their championship arrears from the disappointing starting places of eighth and ninth.

wjohnson@thenational.ae