Fisichella gets dream drive with Ferrari
LONDON (Reuters) - Italian Giancarlo Fisichella said he was in 'seventh heaven' on Thursday after landing a dream drive with Formula One champions Ferrari.
Ferrari said the 36-year-old Force India driver would replace struggling compatriot Luca Badoer for the last five races of the season and then take over as their official reserve in 2010.
"I'm in seventh heaven... I still can't believe it that the dream of my life comes true," the Roman, who will make his Ferrari race debut at his home grand prix next week, told the team's website (www.ferrari.com).
"This is the best thing that can happen to an Italian driver, to drive a red car in front of our fans."
Fisichella, who had his first meetings at Maranello on Thursday, has longed to drive for Ferrari ever since he first tested for them at the team's private Fiorano track in September 1995.
Since then he has started 226 grands prix for Minardi, Jordan, Benetton, Sauber, Renault and Force India with three victories.
Desperate to impress Ferrari in their hour of need, the Italian had the race of his life in Belgium last weekend with second place from pole position for Force India -- a team without a point in their previous 29 races.
Force India owner Vijay Mallya said they fully understood Fisichella's position.
"For any Italian driver, a Ferrari race seat is a long-held dream and for Giancarlo it was no exception. No one should stand in the way of this," he said.
Badoer struggled in two races as a stand-in for Brazilian Felipe Massa, who suffered serious injuries when he was hit on the head by debris in Hungarian Grand Prix qualifying in July and has been ruled out until 2010.
The test driver, making a comeback after almost a decade away from grand prix racing, qualified last in Valencia and Belgium and was also the last finisher in both races.
Mallya, whose team used Ferrari engines last year before switching to Mercedes units, said there had been no financial settlement with Ferrari over the driver.
"This agreement has been made in good faith and for the good of Giancarlo and the sport in general," he said.
"A competitive Italian driver in a Ferrari for Monza is a positive story for Formula One, which can only help raise the sport's profile in these difficult times."
The last Italian driver to win at Monza was Ludovico Scarfiotti with Ferrari in 1966.
"Giancarlo has shown, throughout his long career, that he is fast and competitive and we are therefore proud to be able to run an Italian driver in our home race," said Ferrari team boss Stefano Domenicali.
"We chose Giancarlo, because we think that he can make a significant contribution in terms of points during the finale of this uncertain season," added Domenicali, whose team are fighting McLaren for third place overall.
Fisichella, whose replacement at Force India has yet to be confirmed, thanked Mallya.
"I hope in my turn I have helped Force India grow up and be on the right path to achieve their own ambitions. They are now a very competitive team and I wish them all the very best."
(Editing by Ed Osmond and Justin Palmer)
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