Updated: Feb 9
In 2018 Charles Leclerc became the first official Ferrari junior driver to make the step up to Formula 1. After only one year of driving for Sauber, he signed a one year contract with Ferrari. Having made the move to the big team, Leclerc was replaced by Ferrari junior Antonio Giovinazzi for the 2019 season.
Written by Morgan Holiday, edited by Janvi Unni
Giovinazzi is currently in his third season with the Alfa Romeo Sauber team, and Ferrari show no signs of wanting to move him up to their team nor any signs of replacing him at Alfa Romeo. His best chance was in 2020, when Ferrari dropped Sebastian Vettel, but they ignored Giovinazzi in favour of McLaren’s Carlos Sainz.
Leclerc currently has a contract in place with Ferrari until 2024, after he signed the longest contract that Ferrari has ever signed with a driver back in 2019. Sainz is signed until 2022, and given his performance thus far, will likely be with the team for some time to come. But those two drivers aren’t even Giovinazzi’s main problem when it comes to a Ferrari seat.
Ferrari junior Mick Schumacher signed a multi-year contract with Haas following an excellent season of Formula 2 where Schumacher was eventually crowned champion. Before the 2021 season started, Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto stated his interest in giving Schumacher a Ferrari seat sometime in the near future.
There is also Callum Ilott and Robert Schwartzman to contend with, both impressive Ferrari juniors who remain in contention for a seat should Ferrari ever choose to promote a fourth junior driver to Formula 1. So where does Giovinazzi stand amongst these drivers, and why, after three seasons with no real results to show for it, is he still in Formula 1?
In the 2016 season of GP2 Giovinazzi finished second to his Prema teammate Pierre Gasly, who won the championship and went on to race with Torro Rosso in 5 Grand Prix in 2017 before signing with them full time in 2018. Giovinazzi also took part in the 2017 Formula 1 season, replacing Pascal Wehrlein at Sauber for the first two rounds of the season, but he didn’t sign for the team as a full time driver until 2019.
Giovinazzi didn’t do much racing in his two years between GP2 and Formula 1, barring his two Formula 1 races and the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2018. Meanwhile, Charles Leclerc was signed to Sauber’s Formula 1 team following his success in Formula 2 in 2017. He excelled in his one season with the Swiss team, achieving ten points finishes to his teammate Marcus Ericsson’s six, and finishing 13th in the standings to Ericsson’s 17th. Leclerc’s success in his first full season in Formula 1 fairly warranted the Ferrari contract he was given, and he was replaced at Sauber by Giovinazzi for the 2019 season.
Giovinazzi was joined at Sauber, now Alfa Romeo, by former World Champion Kimi Räikönnen, so perhaps it’s unfair to compare his relative performance to his teammate in the same way as Leclerc. Whatever the case, Räikönnen outscored Giovinazzi by 29 points in the 2019 season. In Giovinazzi’s best race of the year he finished P5 at the Brazilian Grand Prix, and yet was still outshined by Räikönnen, who finished P4.
The 2020 Formula 1 season saw the fight between the Alfa Romeo teammates equal out somewhat, as both drivers finished with 4 points, with Räikönnen ahead in the standings on countback. Still, it’s not the outstanding performance Ferrari was looking for, which is why they signed Sainz for the 2021 season. It seems unlikely that Giovinazzi will ever be a real contender for a seat at Ferrari, and yet he signed another contract with Alfa Romeo for the 2021 season.
So far in 2021, Räikönnen and Giovinazzi have both scored one point, neither one drastically outperforming the other. While Giovinazzi is a consistent driver who has managed to hold his own against a World Champion teammate and shown the occasional moment of brilliance, it’s unlikely his form will improve to a place where he will be given a long term chance in Formula 1. For now, it seems like it’s only a matter of time until Ferrari or Alfa Romeo give his seat to a more promising rookie.