One of the intriguing stories from 2017 Formula 1 season so far has been Antonio Giovinazzi substituting for Pascal Wehrlein at Sauber. The Italian deserves a full-time seat.
Giovinazzi, the first Italian to race in F1 in over five years has had a very mixed bag during his short F1 career to date. He impressed in Australia, given the very short notice he had to prepare himself for the weekend. China, on the other hand, was a bit of a disaster. Two hefty crashes in two days is not the performance expected from a substitute driver, regardless of experience.
Despite this setback, last year’s GP2 (or Formula 2, or the series formerly known as GP2 or whatever you want to call it) series runner up has already shown the right attitude, speed, and commitment required for F1. He deserves to not be sitting on the side-lines, regardless of whether he is doing that with Ferrari or not.
Inexperience has certainly cost Giovinazzi so far. A lack of preparation (which is understandable) as well has not been ideal. But coming within a few tenths of humiliating the vastly more experienced Marcus Ericsson at Australia, and getting himself into Q2 despite crashing out at China has been mightily impressive. It stands out even more when it is worth remembering that the Sauber, with its 2016 Ferrari power unit, is possibly the slowest package on the grid aside from the ever-disappointing McLaren-Honda car.
But whilst his F1 career has been impressive to date, his campaign in GP2 last year, his only year at that level, was even more impressive. No driver in the Pirelli-shod era has won the championship at the first attempt. No driver has come close to doing so either. Giovinazzi nearly beat Red Bull junior Pierre Gasly, who also had a massive breakthrough in 2016, to the title at the first time of asking with the new Prema team. However Gasly was able to hold his then-team-mate off. Both stood out last year, and arguably both deserve to be on the grid now.
It was perhaps a bit disappointing not to see Giovinazzi on the grid full-time this year. Despite the cull to just 20 cars this year, there are still a few names within the F1 field who simply do not appear good enough or potentially good enough to be at that level, especially with the more demanding machines this year. He was linked with the Sauber seat during the off-season, but that went to Wehrlein.
Something which seemed to work in Giovinazzi’s favour last year was the Pirelli tyre. Getting the tyres in the right operating window has been incredibly difficult in the modern era, and some very good drivers have had this small weakness exposed over the years. That didn’t seem to impair the Italian at all, as his performances last year showed.
It was nice to see Ferrari give a role to Giovinazzi. He will also likely drive for Ferrari in the in-season tests at some point this year, further enhancing his experience levels. It is at least something to do whilst in a reserve role without a full-time race seat elsewhere.
For now, Giovinazzi returns to the side-lines as Wehrlein is set to return at Bahrain this weekend. But the impact shown by the Italian has been immediate, and hopefully will put him on the radar for a proper F1 career for 2018 and onwards.