Antonio Giovinazzi was for many the hero of the Australian Grand Prix weekend, where the young Italian impressed in his Formula 1 debut and may well have put himself in line to replace Kimi Raikkonen at Ferrari if the Finn retires at the end of the season.
The GP2 Series runner-up, and recently appointed reserve driver, received a last minute call up by Sauber, on the eve of the race to replace injured Pascal Wehrlien.
He then went on to nearly make it into Q2 during qualifying, after only an hour of running in the one hour morning session, and then 24 hours later finished 12th.
Sauber team chief Monisha Kaltenborn was impressed, “A very impressive performance from Antonio during his first Formula One race. He showed his potential as well as what the car is capable of.”
And so was former Ferrari team principal Cesare Fiorio who declared on RAI radio, “How Antonio performed in Melbourne was exceptional, after-all he only heard he was down to replace the Sauber driver on Saturday morning!”
“I have followed his progress for about five years and he is definitely the best talent we have at the moment [in Italy] and he is clearly ready for Formula 1. Ferrari did well to sign him up as a reserve and I hope they will give him a chance,” said Fiorio.
With 38 year old veteran Raikkonen nearing the end of his F1 career, Fiorio suggests that Ferrari consider promoting Giovinazzi, “[Raikkonen] had an embarrassing 2014 season with Alonso and a bad one in 2015 compared to Vettel, however he did recover last year.
“But by the end of this season he will be a 38 year old driver and I think then it’s time for him to bring his adventure at Ferrari to an end,” added Fiorio.
Problem is Ferrari have never had much luck with Italian drivers in the modern era.
Giuseppe Farina won the first ever F1 world championship for Ferrari and Alberto Ascari did the double in 1952 and 1953, but since then no Italian has won a F1 world title, let alone one driving for Ferrari.
Michele Alboreto in 80 starts for the Scuderia, won three times in the eighties.
More recently, in 2009, Giancarlo Fisichella was drafted in to replace injured Felipe Massa – whose first replacement, Italian, Luca Badoer proved to be a flop – but the well liked ‘Fisi’ had a an underwhelming five races with the team before he called it quits.
Some claim that Italian drivers at Ferrari are jinxed, while others point to the pressure of racing for a team under huge scrutiny, with a massive global fan base which also carries the hope of a nation. In the end all this is perhaps too pressure much for an Italian driver to succeed at Maranello.
With a new era of promoting from within, namely Italian engineers and technicians, perhaps Giovinazzi will be an exception to the rule…
Is Antonio Giovinazzi ready to step up and replace Kimi Raikkonen at Ferrari?