My greatest race: Giancarlo Fisichella - The 2003 Brazilian GP

By Lawrence BarrettoBBC Sport
Classic F1 - Brazilian Grand Prix 2003 (UK only)

Ask former Jordan, Renault and Ferrari driver Giancarlo Fisichella for his greatest race during a 13-year career and he doesn't need long to think about it.

"It was the 2003 Brazilian Grand Prix," he told BBC Sport. "Why? because it was my first win, it was unexpected and it was very difficult."

Giancarlo Fisichella
Giancarlo Fisichella's moment of joy soon turned to despair when Kimi Raikkonen was declared the winner

Ten years ago, Fisichella seemed destined to become one of the most talented drivers never to win a Formula 1 grand prix until that day at Interlagos, when on his 103rd Formula 1 start, after failing to take the top step with a competitive car at Benetton, the Italian finally claimed victory in a Jordan that spent most of its time at the back of the grid.

It was a race that had everything. From the torrential rain that was so intense it caused a river of water to form at Turn Three and send a number of drivers - including the seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher - spinning off into the barriers, to a huge shunt for Fernando Alonso that saw the Spaniard stagger from his car and slump up against the wall.

And, as if that wasn't enough, the race victory was handed to the wrong driver.

Torrential rain had hit Sao Paulo before the start but following a delay, the race eventually got under way, albeit under the safety car.

Fisichella, who began an impressive eighth on the grid, pitted on lap seven, in a move which dropped his Jordan right to the back of the field as the safety car peeled into the pits and the green flags were waved.

Fernando Alonso
Fernando Alonso had a big crash, hitting the wreckage of Mark Webber's Jaguar at the last corner

It seemed a bizarre decision but there was method to the madness. "It was a key to the win because I took on enough fuel to get me to the end of the race," added Fisichella, who currently races for AF Corse Ferrari in the World Endurance Championship.

Up front, McLaren's David Coulthard was comfortably leading but ever driver's strategy then went out of the window on lap 18 when Ralph Firman's suspension broke on his Jordan under braking into Turn One.

Out of control, Firman flew off the track, narrowly missing team-mate Fisichella but failing to avoid the Toyota of Olivier Panis. That accident again brought out the safety car which saw several drivers head into the pits to take advantage of the slower pace, allowing Fisichella to catch the back of the pack and then make progress up the field.

The conditions remained hazardous, with Turn Three resembling an expensive car park as Ferrari's Schumacher, Williams's Juan Pablo Montoya, Jaguar's Antonio Pizzonia and BAR's Jenson Button all crashed after being caught out by the rivers of water that were flowing across the track.

"They were very difficult conditions and it was hard to keep the car on track," added Fisichella, 40. "Many people ended up going off, but I managed to stay on."

As Rubens Barrichello retired because of a mechanical issue - for what would be the ninth time in his home race - and leader Coulthard pitted, Fisichella suddenly found himself second, behind the McLaren of in form Kimi Raikkonen, who had won the previous race in Malaysia.

Stricken cars at the 2003 Brazilian Grand Prix
The outside of Turn Three resembled an expensive car park as a river of water caught out several drivers

But rather than struggling to keep up with the Finn who was in a far superior car, Fisichella started catching Raikkonen, the Jordan driver finding grip on a drying track where Raikkonen simply couldn't. Within a few laps, the Italian was past, slotting up the inside at left-hander Mergulho to take a remarkable lead.

"I drove well, overtaking lots of cars and then I managed to pass Raikkonen," added Fisichella.

But the race soon took a turn for the worse. As Mark Webber rounded the undulating 150mph final corner, he lost control of his Jaguar. The rear end slid away from him, sending the Australian spinning into the wall.

After bouncing off the Armco several times, the car ricocheted across the track, coming to a stop against the barriers on the opposite side.

Remarkably, Webber was unharmed but there was debris scattered all over the track. Renault's Fernando Alonso, who was just seconds behind Webber, rounded the corner to be presented with debris all over the track. Unable to avoid it, the Spaniard struck a tyre, jamming underneath his front wing and lifting the Renault's front wheels of the ground.

Alonso was a passenger, catapulted into the barriers on the inside of the track and then back across the circuit into the wall on the other side. It was a huge impact.

The race was stopped as the medical team rushed to attend to Alonso, who climbed out of his car before his legs gave way and he slumped against the wall.

The race over, leader Fisichella peeled gloriously into the pit lane, with flames licking out of the Jordan's engine cover. It seemed to be an incredible victory.

"It was a fantastic moment because for one thing, at the time the Jordan was not a winning car and in difficult conditions I managed to win in the end, even if it was unexpected," said Fisichella.

However, there was to be another twist. Fisichella had crossed the line first, but a problem with the timing system showed Kimi Raikkonen as the winner.

When a Formula 1 race is stopped prematurely, the result is based on positions two laps previously. However, the timing system did not show that Fisichella had started the 56th lap before the crash. Instead the computer stated the race was stopped on lap 55 which meant Raikkonen was the winner on countback as he led the race on lap 53.

Eddie Jorda, Giancarlo Fisichella, Kimi Raikkonen, Ron Dennis
Giancarlo Fisichella received his winners' trophy from Kimi Raikkonen at the following race at Imola

Fisichella, and the Jordan team, were distraught. "I felt really upset because I was sure it was our moment," said Fisichella. "Sure, even to finish second at that time was unexpected, but I was convinced I'd won so I had a bitter taste in my mouth."

But a few days later, the revised outcome of the 2003 Brazilian Grand Prix was decided at the FIA's headquarters in Paris. The result was overturned in favour of the Italian when the governing body realised the timing mistake, with Raikkonen handing Fisichella the winners' trophy in a ceremony at the next race, the San Marino Grand Prix at Imola.

"I was already happy," said the Italian. "Then in Imola I got the trophy. We did a sort of exchange of trophies on the track with Raikkonen. It was a nice event but it was still hard not to have got it on the podium.

"Above all it was disappointing that I was unable to celebrate my first win on the podium. Imagine how nice that would have been. But the reality was I had won."

After putting down his winners' trophy, it was as you were at Imola, with Fisichella finishing 15th. The Jordan team would never win another grand prix, but Fisichella would get his moment on the top step of the podium - for Renault two years later.

Formula 1 loves to revisit its memorable moments. And, while Fisichella was denied the chance to celebrate his most important victory in the way he would have always dreamed of doing, he can at least take comfort in being the driver who came out on top - on fire and through a mass of wreckage - in one of the sport's most epic races.

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