Thursday August 16th, 2001
By Alan Baldwin
Italian Giancarlo Fisichella has become free to leave Benetton but he still hopes to stay on with the Formula One team for a fifth season.
Fisichella's manager Gianpaolo Matteucci told Reuters at the Hungarian Grand Prix that the Renault-owned team had failed to take up a contract option by a midnight deadline on Wednesday.
"Giancarlo is free today from a legal point of view. He can drive for whoever next season," he said. "Now we are waiting for (team boss Flavio) Briatore to clarify the situation and to say what is the best situation for Giancarlo and Renault.
"He would love to stay here because he is working with them for four years now. It is a family now. On the other side, we have to look carefully at his career."
Matteucci said Renault were offering a one-year contract while Jordan, who are also interested in the Italian, had offered three. Arrows, powered by Jaguar's Cosworth engines in 2002, were also interested in Fisichella, who has had a nightmare season at a team struggling with an uncompetitive car.
"The option was the 15th of August, now the option is gone so it's my decision now to make my choice of team," Fisichella added. "But I think I will stay again.
"We are still in discussions with the team. I've got a few options but my target is to stay with the team, and I'm confident to do that."
Jordan's highly-rated Italian Jarno Trulli is a key figure in the negotiations since Briatore also has him under contract and could place him alongside Briton Jenson Button in Fisichella's place. Button, who has been outqualified 10 times in 12 races by Fisichella, is on loan from Williams for another year and is confident of staying.
He said he hoped Fisichella would stay.
"We work together well. There's no reason for change. It is important for a team that there's a good atmosphere and for not too much to change," Button said.
Matteucci said Renault would have the first option on Fisichella because of their close ties but there would be no rushed decision.
"It is a matter to take the right decision. If we need one more week, we will take one more."
He was not surprised that Renault had not renewed Fisichella's contract because he said it was one negotiated years ago with a very high salary agreed for the final year.
"The last one was supposed to have an enormous salary, something unbelievable. When we signed it a lot of years ago it was something so far away so we didn't really reflect about it.
"I understand that Renault has to come down with the salary, that is correct, but this is something that gives us the possibility to say no, we don't want to come with these conditions," he added.
Published at 20:03:04 GMT