The Belgian Grand Prix is one of Badger’s favourites. In fact, we think it’s fair to say that it’s among the favourite races of most fans and members of the F1 circus, and so, with the long summer break ahead of us, we’re dedicating a fair bit of time to classic Belgian Grand Prix over the coming weeks. So let’s begin with the most recent GP to be held at the Spa-Francochamps circuit, when the shock-filled 2009 season saw yet another upset, this time from Fisi and Force India.

Giancarlo Fisichella has great form at Spa. In 1997- his first visit to the circuit as an F1 driver- he scored a superb second position; in 2001, a year in which his Benetton B201 struggled badly for pace, he somehow managed to drag it to a podium; and, in 2004, he qualified and finished 5th in a Sauber, beating several big guns in the process.

Fisichella on his way to third at the 2001 Belgian Grand Prix, one of a number of top-drawer Spa drives from the Italian. © Reuters/Autosport

But none of that compares to what Fisi did at the Belgian circuit in 2009.

The Force India team arrived at Spa with a record of zero points in 29 grand prix. There’d been the odd flash of promise- usually involving Adrian Sutil- but they’d all ended badly- usually with Sutil getting better aquatinted with a gravel trap.

Now they were at a circuit that their veteran driver Fisichella was a bit of a master at, with a car they knew capable of something special. But what unfolded next would come as a shock even to them.

Fisichella’s weekend began quietly enough, with 11th in first practice and 6th in the second session. Not bad for a Force India, but hardly a statement of intent for pole.

After another quiet result in final practice Fisichella raised paddock eyebrows by setting the quickest time in Q1, narrowly beating countryman Jarno Trulli. Teammate Sutil was 4th, confirming that this was no fluke- the Force India was on song at Spa.

Q2 saw some big guns fall- including both McLarens and title leader Jenson Button- as well as Sutil, who narrowly missed out with the 11th fastest lap. Jarno Trulli was quickest, with Fisichella fourth. Surely Q3 would see one of the more established teams prevail. Perhaps qualifying expert Trulli would snatch pole, or we’d see the BMW of Robert Kubica or the Red Bull of title chaser Sebastian Vettel in P1. All had beaten Fisi in Q2, and the Roman would probably be happy with any position in the top 10, right?

Wrong. Giancarlo turned the form book on its head and delivered a stunning lap of 1m46.308s to seal pole position, the fourth of his career- and without doubt the most surprising.

Afterwards Fisi was understandabley ecstatic. “It feels great, like a dream,” he beamed. But there was still a race to be run- could a team who couldn’t get out of Q1 12 months earlier be about to take victory at one of F1’s most iconic venues?

Fisichella celebrates his shock Spa pole 12 months ago. © LAT/Autosport

Fisichella got away well, as did the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen, who leapt from 6th on the grid to run second as the cars braked in to Les Combes.

Behind them things got rather hairy, as Romain Grosjean (Renault) ran in to the back of Jenson Button, taking both out, whilst Lewis Hamilton attempted to avoid the incident only to be collected by Jaime Alguersuari’s Toro Rosso. All four were eliminated, and the safety car was deployed.

On lap 5 racing resumed, with Raikkonen hard on Fisichella’s heels. The KERS-equipped Finn was significantly quicker through Eau Rouge, and was able to cruise past Fisichella for the lead as they headed towards Les Combes. Perhaps Giancarlo was too cautious, mindful of his team’s past near misses and keen to secure them their first F1 points. Had he been a bit more aggressive he might have fended Raikkonen off- but then he could have found himself saying hello to the barriers. Ultimately, it was probably the right decision.

From here you’d have expected Raikkonen to pull away and win by a country mile. But, in keeping with 2009 traditions, things didn’t pan out the way we thought they would. Fisichella kept the Ferrari in sight through the first stint, then closed to within a second of Raikkonen after they’d made their first pitsop. The Force India continued to occupy a space in Kimi’s mirrors, and a good second stop could have seen Fisi return to the lead.

Fisichella kept the gap to Raikkonen small, but couldn't make an overtaking attempt. © LAT/Autosport

The two stopped on the same lap, but the Ferrari boys got the job done and Raikkonen returned to the track in the lead. Fisichella was still close, but never close enough to make a move. He followed the Ferrari home as runner-up by a shade under a second

So Raikkonen took the victory- Ferrari’s first and last of 2009-  but this weekend was more about the Fisichella-Force India story. They’d been badly managed by previous owners, but 18 months of toil had seen the Silverstone-based outfit turn their fortunes around and take pole and a podium at the legendary Spa. Similarly Fisichella, who’d always promised so much but delivered so little when Renault gave him a title winning car, showed one last time that on his day, at a real driver’s circuit, he could mix it with the best of them.


Fisi celebrates on the podium for the last time as an F1 driver. © LAT/Autosport

Next up we’ll be taking a look at the crazy and controversial 2008 Belgian Grand Prix. Stay tuned.