Between taking the chequered flag at Yas Marina in 2016, and lining up on the starting grid in Melbourne last year, Antonio Giovinazzi started just a handful of races.Ferrari. While that virtual kilometre-age was undoubtedly useful, it did leave him short of recent real-world F1 experience when he finally made his full-time grand prix debut.
He therefore faced a steep learning curve when he joined Kimi Raikkonen in Alfa Romeo’s all-new driver line-up 12 months ago.
“I was improving race after race,” said Giovinazzi of his first full season in Formula 1. “It was not easy to come back into the races after two years of stop. So my main target was improving race by race.”
But for a while it seemed Giovinazzi might not make the grade quickly enough to hold onto his place at the team. By the summer break he had scored just one point, though he would have had more had he not been given a post-race penalty for a technical infringement in Germany.
“I had a tough first part of the season,” he admitted. “In the second part I think I learned and I improved and I grew up like a driver. This was one of my main targets.”
Qualifying: Lap time
The lower the lines, the better the driver performed
Alfa Romeo left it late to confirm Giovinazzi would get another chance to drive for them in 2020. His contract extension wasn’t announced until the day after the United States Grand Prix.
Why did they wait so long? “Because Mick Schumacher wasn’t ready yet” is the cynical answer. But the clear trend of improvement in Giovinazzi’s qualifying results shows one of the reasons why Alfa Romeo have decided to stick with him.
With each passing Saturday he got closer to banging in his best possible lap when the opportunity demanded it. And with that, he increasingly took the fight to Raikkonen. But with Alfa Romeo slipping back from their midfield rivals, Giovinazzi’s improvement tended not to be reflected in higher starting positions and, therefore, better race results.
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Race: Start versus finish
A worrying moment for Giovinazzi came at Spa. On course for a solid points haul, he binned the Alfa Romeo halfway around the penultimate lap. But that first race back after the summer break “inspired a big step”, he said. “I think after Monza also my motivation went higher and higher. After the second part of the season, I was quite happy with my performance.”
Giovinazzi bounced back immediately at his home race, taking points for ninth place. Even better followed at the next round, in Singapore, where he became the only driver from outside the front-running teams to lead a race all year, on his way to another points finish.
The best of all came in Brazil, where he followed Raikkonen home in fifth place. “This was the best result for sure,” he said. “I had a few of them [which were] also good like Singapore, like Monza. Also Spa before the crash was a really great race.”
But in Brazil “we put it all together, we had also a little bit more luck, a few of the guys in front stopped so we gained position. So it was overall the best race.” And it was a fitting follow-up to that contract extension.
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Race: Share of points
Race: Results versus other drivers
Looking at his results over the season as a whole, Giovinazzi’s relative weakness compared to his midfield rivals is clear to see. But his improvement in the latter stages of the year are encouraging.
A competitive Alfa Romeo plus the benefit of more recent race experience than he had 12 months ago should provide the ingredients he needs to get on terms with his highly-rated team mate, and prove he deserves a future in F1.
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Race: Reasons for retirements
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7 comments on “‘It was not easy to come back into the races after two years away’”
25th January 2020, 9:37
I followed Giovinazzi’s early-(ish) career & he was impressive in F3 and GP2 (nearly won as a rookie against 3-4 year veteran, Gasly). However, I doubt he has anything to worry about from Mick Schumacher from a speed point of view (look at the relative performance in F2/GP2 year 1). Perhaps the surname will be a problem or the “impression” that Schumacher does better in year 2.
Is Raikkonen a fair benchmark? At the risk of 2+2=5, look at what Leclerc achieved in year 1 at Sauber, his results against Vettel in year 1 at Ferrari, & Vettel vs. Raikkonen: is Giovinazzi’s performance anywhere near Leclerc’s is the real question. Add a few high profile clangers to the story (China 2017, was it?) and there’s work to be done.
p.s. Schumacher’s mistake (if he actually had the chance) is that he didn’t take the Lance Stroll route of jumping F2.
25th January 2020, 13:41
Its not just Schumacher but also Alesi and Leclerc driving for Ferrari driver academy. While in short term(1-2 years) Antonio doesnt have to worry about anything in long term his place as a Ferrari backed driver is under threat based on how well those junior driver perform in lower formulae.
26th January 2020, 0:59
Watch for Schwartzman, perhaps a better option than Mick?
25th January 2020, 11:15
Perhaps I’m in a minority but I didn’t think he was all that impressive. For a guy that’s been floating about F1 for a few years, driven a couple of races for Sauber and been a long time development driver for Ferrari I kinda expected him to be at least on Raikkonen’s pace or better immediatly. Instead he seemed pretty average throughout and made a lot more mistakes than the other considerably less experienced rookies. This year I hope he has a stronger year.
25th January 2020, 12:54
There’s just a handful of Leclercs and Verstappens every decade. Usually two, sometimes four like in the lucky 80’s.
Hard to see Giovinazzi beating them fair and square if he cannot beat 40 y.o. president Kimi. This thing about the learning curve is good for a couple of races only.
Strong enough for the midfield? Hulkenberg-like qualities? Vettel’s replacement if things go wrong this year?
25th January 2020, 14:29
Drivers who tend to bin it in the barriers declare themselves right from the start of their careers, and they usually mean to go on as they have started. Even if they have trouble free stretches, they soon revert to type. I am not aware of any notable exception to this apparent rule: unless you cite Massa, perhaps.
Currently among the drivers this applies only to two:- GIO and GRO.
28th January 2020, 17:57
Andrea de Cesaris comes to mind, though he more usually binned it into other people at the start of his career (but by the end was regularly scoring points in midfield cars back when points only went as far as 6)
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