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Giancarlo Fisichella recalls 2005 Japanese GP defeat "WE CAME SHORT BY JUST ONE LAP!" By: Luis Vasconcelos

It’s one of the most replayed moments of Formula One, a must in every compilation of Formula One’s best overtaking moves: Kimi Raikkonen darts around Giancarlo Fisichella’s Renault as they head down into Turn One, at the start of the last lap of the 2005 Japanese Grand Prix, to claim a famous victory.
Everyone has seen it, everyone has heard the short explanations the Finn gave of that moment, but hardly everyone has heard what the man sitting in the other car felt, losing a race he’d led for such a long time with less than one lap to go.

Giancarlo Fisichella hasn’t changed much since he left Grand Prix racing more than ten years ago.  He still looks way younger than he is, he still has the youthful and shy smile that has been his trademark and he’s still happy to engage in conversation when the subject is racing – even when the memories of a particular moment are not the best, as it is the case with the 2005 Japanese Grand Prix. We caught up with him – having last seen each other in Melbourne, the day before the Australian Grand Prix was cancelled – to check on how he’s doing in these troubled times and ask for his recollections of that famous race.

Q – Hello Giancarlo, thanks for taking time to talk to me, but I guess time is not too much of an issue these days.  What’s the current situation in Rome, how much can you do to resemble a normal life and how much training can you do, in preparation for a return to racing?

GF – Thanks for the call, it’s always nice to have something to do! Here the situation is slowly back to normal, as bars and restaurants are starting to open but, until May 29th we’re still not allowed to go outside our home region, unless you have a good justification to do it.
Personally I had to respect the confinement rules for six weeks, like everybody else, but for the last ten days it has been allowed to go out, so I’ve re-started training on my bike, obviously on my own or with just one friend, maximum.  We can also go jogging in the parks or on the street, so I’ve done a bit of physical training after six weeks indoors.  At the same time, I bought myself a simulator.  So I’m slowly getting into the routine of driving and racing, while waiting for the real thing to come back.

Q – Speaking of racing, the reason you were in Australia, with Barrichello, was to take part in the S5000 races that were part of the Australian Grand Prix weekend. How did that offer come about and how do you enjoy driving those cars?

GF – As you know I only did the two Free Practice Sessions on Thursday, because once we got into the track on Friday we were told the event was cancelled and that was that.  It was through Rubens I heard about that series and got the invitation to do that event.  The cars are fun to drive, old style cars, with a lot of power and not a lot of grip, so it’s good fun.  Now I’m waiting for their season to start and I’m hoping to be invited for a couple of races, as they should be fun and the level of the drivers is quite good.
Q – Moving back 15 years now, talk me though that 2005 Japanese Grand Prix that got away from you.  If I remember correctly, qualifying was done one car at a time, by reverse order of the previous race and you were the last one to run before it started to rain properly, so you were third while your main rivals qualified in the wet and started the race from the back.  At one stage you had a 20s lead but having pitted much earlier than Kimi and Fernando you lost quite a bit of time and the McLaren driver caught you at the end. After being so far in front, did you ever think you could lose that race?

GF – It was a bit of a strange race, because we were fighting cars that we were not used to race with at the start of the race – Ralf Schumacher’s Toyota and Jenson Button’s BAR-Honda – and overtaking wasn’t so easy in those days, so we took a gamble of pitting early to get past them and that worked.
Once they pitted, I was comfortable in the lead but with a comparatively heavy car and with tyres that had to go until the end of the race.  At the time it looked like, from the team’s point of view, as the right thing to do to win the race but we underestimated the amount of tyre degradation and that eventually cost us the race.
But there was another key element for the final result, one we haven’t really talked about since but that, for me, was determinant for helping Kimi get past me: in the last ten laps of the race my engine was seriously down on power as we had lost something like 30 or 40 bhp due to some issues.  That certainly helped Kimi get past me so easily on the straight, at the start of the last lap. I did all I could, I kept the inside line, I had a good exit from the last corner and everything, but he had much better top speed than me, so there was nothing I could do to stop him.  It was a shame, because that was his last chance to pass me, as it was at the start of the last lap and that was, really, the only place he could pass me, as elsewhere in the circuit I could place my car in a way he wouldn’t have been able to get by. It nearly worked for us but, effective, we came short by just one lap!
It was a very disappointing moment for me, I felt really bad about it after the race, but I knew I had done everything I could. I would have really loved winning in Suzuka because, for me, behind Spa-Francorchamps, it’s the best circuit in the world.
Q – One thing I didn’t understand at the time was that for the last five or six laps your race engineer kept telling you to defend the inside going into the chicane when Kimi was still way too far behind you to attack you there. For a few laps you ignored him but he was so insistent you did protect the inside line in the last two laps and that, of course, compromised your exit from the chicane and your speed down the straight. Was that also a factor on the loss of the race?

GF – I knew there was a chance Kimi would try something there but, as you say, for laps he was way too far to attempt anything, so I was keeping the best line but having my eye on the mirrors. In the last two laps, though, he really closed the gap so I went on the middle of the track to make sure he couldn’t go for a late braking move. Only when he came into striking distance did I start to defend but, as you mentioned, the corner exit was not the best from then on. But for me it was the combination of the power loss and having very worn tyres that cost me the race, not defending the position in the chicane.  At the end of the race there was a very big performance gap between our two cars, so there was nothing else I could have done to stay in front in that last lap.
Q – I know your relationship with Japan was not a great one at the start, as you didn’t really like going there, but how do you like Japan these days?

GF – It’s true I wasn’t a big fan of Japan when I started going there to race in Suzuka’s karting track, when I was a teenager but that has changed a lot, I tell you.  At the start I didn’t speak much English and the Japanese didn’t speak much English either, so communication was complicated, getting around was very difficult because the signs were all in Japanese and I didn’t like the food at all – very different from what I was used to at home.
But now my idea of Japan is radically different and I tell you things from the bottom of my heart. Tokyo is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, I love the way everything works so efficiently all over the country and I’ve become a big fan of Japanese food and so has my family, with my wife and our kids we now go at least once a week out to eat in a couple of Japanese restaurants we’ve found in Rome and it’s a real treat because we all love it.
And the people, honestly, they are unique, so well behaved, so civilized, so respectful that it makes for a big contrast from the way we live in Rome.
And their passion for motor racing is so strong, so genuine, that it’s always a pleasure to go racing there. I also have a very strong Fan Club in Japan and I really enjoy meeting them when I can go there. So, while it’s true I didn’t like going to Japan at the start, now I really love going there.