Sauber boss Monisha Kaltenborn has paid tribute to super sub Antonio Giovinazzi, describing the Italian’s surprise Formula 1 debut at last weekend’s Australian Grand Prix as “very impressive”.
And Italian sports paper La Gazetta Dello Sport reports that the 23 year old will drive again in China, although this has not been announced.
Giovinazzi, who is Ferrari’s official reserve driver for the 2017 season, would be allowed to continue in that role in rookie tests, as long as he has not completed more than two Grands Prix. But this is a real career boost for the talented youngster.
He was called up to replace Pascal Wehrlein for the race in Melbourne after the German driver felt he would not able to compete at a satisfactory level during the grand prix after his winter training regime was interrupted by the back injury he suffered at the Race of Champions event in January.
Despite only having FP3 to prepare for qualifying, Giovinazzi was ahead of teammate Marcus Ericsson before the final run in Q1 and only 0.2s away from making it through to Q2, which he may have done had he not made a mistake at the penultimate corner on his final flying lap. In the race, he started 16th and eventually finished 12th in the attritional event at Albert Park.
Giovinazzi started on the soft tyres as part of Sauber’s plan to split its drivers’ strategies, as Marcus Ericsson started on the supersofts. The team hoped this would lead to one of its cars holding several rivals behind it due to the difficulties of overtaking at Albert Park, which would allow the sister car to move up as those cars came in earlier.
Ericsson’s race was ruined by a first lap clash with Haas F1’s Kevin Magnussen and ultimately ended by a hydraulic problem, while Giovinazzi lamented taking it easy on his tyres, which was the approach he was used too after finishing as runner-up in GP2 in 2016.
He said: “I was taking it easier in the beginning of the run, because in GP2 with super-soft it was possible to only do seven or eight laps and then you need to box.
“I took it really easy, just to understand the tyres and understand the car.”
But Kaltenborn was delighted with the 23-year-old’s performance and highlighted his lack of preparation before qualifying as reason to be impressed with his result.
Speaking to Autosport, she said: “It definitely surprised us because it’s his first race. Yes he’s been testing, done things like the Pirelli test for Ferrari, but that’s not the kind of testing that other people have been doing. It’s not like this level of motorsport, so it was very impressive.
“He’s had one free practice, one hour, and did a very good qualifying and the race was not an easy one because he had flat-spotted his tyres and the car was not easy to drive. He showed the potential the car has despite all these difficulties.”
Wehrlein planning to race in China
Wehrlein, who been set to take part in his race with Sauber after leaving the now-defunct Manor team over the winter, is planning to drive in the next event, the Chinese Grand Prix on 9 April.
The 22-year-old explained that he would focus on training hard at home in Europe after returning from Australia, but could not say for certain that he would start the race in Shanghai.
He said: “I’ve been in the car for four days now [including testing] and I’ve been feeling better every day. Next week I will continue to improve.
“I’m going to train hard in Europe next week, and I’ll be back in the car in China on Friday. Then we’ll see.”
One hit wonders
If Wehrlein does make a full return to the cockpit of his C36 in China and Giovinazzi does not start another F1 race in his career, then the Italian will join the ranks of the166 drivers who have just a single grand prix start on their record.
In recent years, drivers that have joined that list include Stéphane Sarrazin, who made one race appearance for Minardi in 1999, and Markus Winkelhock, who famously led the only F1 race he started in his F1 career at the rain-hit European Grand Prix in 2007.
The most recent driver to make a one-off F1 appearance was World Endurance Championship star André Lotterer, who started the 2014 Belgian Grand Prix for Caterham, but retired on the first lap due to an electrical issue.
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