Antonio Giovinazzi is very much in line for a seat on the grid next season, with Haas & Sauber both very real options. But could he go one step further and jump straight into a seat at Ferrari?
Current Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen has just become a father for the second time and his contract expires at the end of this year. His performances are still good, but it may well signal the end of his second stint at the Scuderia. While there are plenty of talented suitors for the coveted seat, Sergio Perez & Carlos Sainz chief among them, there is a strong argument being made for current Ferrari reserve driver Antonio Giovinazzi.
Giovinazzi was made Ferrari third driver at the end of an impressive GP2 campaign in 2016. However, he got an unexpected call to replace injured Pascal Wehrlein at Sauber for the beginning of the 2017 F1 season. He quickly earned the title of ‘super-sub’ after a very strong race performance in Australia, despite having a limited amount of testing, and even less time in the car during practice. He stayed on for the second race in China but unfortunately crashed in both qualifying and the race on the same corner.
While his errors in China did undo some of his brilliant work, he still left a lasting impression on the F1 grid. This month it has been announced that Giovinazzi will be handed seven practice session slots for Haas F1 at upcoming race events. If Ferrari had a a hand in this, it’s big news. Teams such as Ferrari would not usually go to the effort or indeed meet the potential financial cost of finding seat time for a young driver unless they had an ulterior motive.
There is also another key factor heavily supporting Giovinazzi’s cause. Italian Heritage. For a team like Ferrari, patriotism is everything, the atmosphere every year at Monza is testament to that. An Italian driver racing for Ferrari would be simply be huge. It could be argued that Ferrari are in need of an Italian driver too, as their last Italians were Giancarlo Fisichella and Luca Badoer in 2009, who were temporary stand-ins for the sidelined Felipe Massa. Before that? Nicola Larini in 1994. Their last Italian F1 Champion? Alberto Ascari – way back in 1953.
Antonio Giovinazzi in GP2 (2016)
In 2016, Giovinazzi showed the F1 paddock his racing pedigree with a brilliant GP2 campaign, finishing 2nd in the standings behind Pierre Gasly.
Giovinazzi had a poor start to say the least. At the season opener in Spain, driving for new team Prema Racing, he finished a lowly 18th place. In the sprint race that followed he suffered a high speed crash on the back straight (video below).
Round 2 in Monaco also resulted in zero points, as he finished 11th & 18th in both races. After such a disappointing start it is difficult to imagine that he would eventually challenge for the championship, finishing just eight points behind champion Pierre Gasly.
It doesn’t take fancy analysis to pinpoint the turnaround. Round 3, Baku, Azerbaijan. In what was truly a bonkers GP2 weekend, Giovinazzi negotiated the multiple crashes, incidents, safety cars and the chaotic Matsushitsa-style safety car restarts to win both races in extraordinary fashion. He joined the illustrious list of Nico Rosberg, Lewis Hamilton, Nelson Piquet Jnr, Nico Hulkenberg & Davide Valsecchi as GP2 double race winners.
Giovinazzi went on to win races in Belgium, Italy & Malaysia, whilst also securing podiums in the UK, Hungary and Italy (completing a double podium for his home race weekend).
The Italian took the championship battle to the last round of the season, but ultimately lost out to Prema teammate Pierre Gasly. Considering Gasly had already had a full season of GP2 racing under his belt prior to 2016, coupled with his backing from Red Bull Racing, the advantage was certainly in the Frenchmen’s favour from the outset. Nevertheless, Giovinazzi impressed many in the F1 paddock, demonstrating supreme speed, brilliant race craft and the ability to battle it out at the front. Check out this move on Sergey Sirotkin in Malaysia!
Falling into place at Ferrari?
If Raikkonen does indeed leave Ferrari, then one of the most iconic seats in racing will be available. Aside from ‘box office’ moves by any of the big names, it is likely to be an opportunity for a ‘midfield’ runner. Ex-ferrari academy driver Sergio Perez has been linked with the move for a while, but he is also being courted by Renault F1. Likewise, the ever impressive Carlos Sainz would be an option, but Red Bull may block the move, or similarly, he too could be an option for Renault. Outside of F1, Ferrari academy driver Charles Leclerc could well win the GP3 & GP2 championships, but could still find himself behind Giovinazzi in the Ferrari pecking order. All things considered, Giovinazzi is becoming a real option for the Scuderia.
So what does 2018 hold for Giovinazzi? Haas? Sauber? Ferrari? Someone else? Or will he make the grade at all? Start a discussion on Twitter or add a comment below.
How will he perform in F1? GP2 has a habit of promoting good F1 drivers, but many of those who make the step also fall away after a season or two. Check out my piece on GP2 as a feeder series: Analysis: GP2 as the main feeder series to Formula 1 and weigh up his chances against historical records. Based on recent performances, it is likely he will find himself on the successful side of history in years to come.