Antonio Giovinazzi made his Formula 1 debut in Melbourne today after being called up by the Sauber F1 team just hours before qualifying on Saturday. The young Italian F2 (formerly GP2) runner-up finished the season opener in 12th – the highest of the rookies.
Sauber driver Pascal Wehrlein declared himself unfit to race on Saturday morning, causing Sauber to bring in Giovinazzi for the weekend to partner Marcus Ericsson at the last minute.
A lack of preparation psychologically might have proven his undoing, but the Italian made a mature drive of it, and took to the C36 very well. Giovinazzi says a lack of experience with low-degradation tyres caused him to take it unnecessarily cautious during the second stint of the Australian GP. This limited his potential.
The Ferrari reserve driver had a solid maiden F1 qualifying session. He was a fraction away from breaking through to Q2, but went too deep into the penultimate corner on his flyer, ruining a lap that looked to be quicker than his much more experienced teammate. He started the Australian Grand Prix 16th on the grid.
Giovinazzi’s 12th place finish today kickstarted a round of applause for the 23-year-old. F2 is often alluded to as having poor driving standards compared to its big brother F1. Today, Giovinazzi’s performance can be seen as good news for the feeder series, as he showed great ability at short notice.
The Italian’s presence on track this weekend was calm, calculated and mature for the most part. During the race, his approach earned him the right to be there, racing alongside the big boys. In all, this makes the future of F2 vastly more positive. If Giovinazzi is capable of a solid debut weekend, it is fully plausible that others on the F2 grid are capable too.
Despite the high praise Giovinazzi received, he was critical of himself – another sign of a good racing driver.
“I was taking it easier in the beginning of the run. In GP2 with supersoft it was possible to only do seven or eight laps and then you need to box. I was supposed to do half the race [in the second stint], so I thought I’d take it easy because I didn’t want to take another pitstop. I took it really easy, just to understand the tyres and understand the car. This was the target for me, just to understand the car more and have the experience from the tyres and the car.”
– Antonio Giovinazzi
In two weeks, Pascal Wehrlein may be fit enough to reclaim his seat at Sauber, demoting Giovinazzi back into his reserve role, but he has done himself a huge favour this weekend, and it might be sooner rather than later that an Italian driver is back on the Formula One grid permanently.