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Fisichella gives Force India a lift

Force India owner Vijay Mallya hailed Giancarlo Fisichella on Friday after the Italian driver broke into the top 10 in practice for Sunday's season-opening Australian Grand Prix.

"We said that Force India would make steady progress and I think we demonstrated it today," the Indian billionaire, who bought the Spyker team last October and renamed it, told Reuters.

"A lot of work has gone in during the winter and the tests that we did over the winter period have taught us a lot," he added.

Fisichella, 35, lapped ninth fastest in the afternoon session at Albert Park after ending the morning with the 12th best time. German teammate Adrian Sutil was 17th.

"Giancarlo Fisichella has been a tremendous addition to the team, his feedback has certainly helped the engineers accelerate the development of the car and the set-up," said Mallya of the Italian, who won with Renault in Melbourne in 2005.

"So overall the package is looking much, much better and it's showing in the timings.

"How much further we can go is a matter of time...but over the course of the year I'm still confident that we will make improvement," added the Indian. "We are going the right way and I'm delighted about it."

Spyker scored just one point last year while predecessors Midland drew a complete blank in 2006 after buying the Silverstone-based team founded by Irish entrepreneur Eddie Jordan.

Ferrari-powered Force India recruited Fisichella, a race winner with Jordan in 2003, for his experience late last year and have been assured a far bigger budget by Mallya.

The Indian said before the start of the season that he hoped the team could reach the second phase of qualifying and Friday's showing suggested that was no wild dream.

"I had set a target of Q2 during the mid-season of 2008. If we can get it done in the first race, nothing would make me happier," he said.

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