Alfa Romeo still has a seat available for 2020, but Antonio Giovinazzi is beginning to show why he deserves another year with the team.
Giovinazzi spent 2018 on the sidelines, working as a development driver for Ferrari, but got promoted to a race seat after Charles Leclerc departed Alfa Romeo for Ferrari at the end of the year.
After an impressive junior category career, Giovinazzi arrived in the paddock with the promise of plenty of potential, but things didn’t start off so well for the 25-year-old, as he failed to score a point in the first eight races.
By the time Giovinazzi eventually scored his first points of the season, in the Austrian Grand Prix, his team-mate Kimi Raikkonen had already racked up five top ten finishes with a best result of seventh in Bahrain and France.
It would be easy to argue that Raikkonen is simply a faster and more experienced driver than Giovinazzi in order to explain away the difference in performance between the pair, but it is not that straightforward.
After Giovinazzi scored his first point in Austria, he suffered a retirement in Britain before a disappointing 18th place finish in Hungary.
This was then followed by a retirement at Spa, after the Italian crashed whilst in a points scoring position, but he turned things around to score points in Italy and Singapore.
Not only that, but he has out-qualified Raikkonen in the last two Grand Prix and has finished ahead of him in two of the last three races.
Although Raikkonen is the elder statesman of F1, he is still no slouch and so Giovinazzi’s increase in performance suggests he does have the potential to be a decent F1 driver, and while he had a tricky start to his season, it was the first time Giovinazzi had raced in nearly a year, after spending 2018 in the simulator at Maranello.
In fact, he was so good in his role as a simulator driver that Ferrari were reluctant to let the Italian join Alfa Romeo for 2019, and Sebastian Vettel credited his win in Canada in 2018 to the development work Giovinazzi did in the factory that weekend.
It has taken time for him to get back to grips with racing life, having missed out on competitive action for a season, but now Giovinazzi is finding his feet, he is starting to show promise.
He would have been kicking himself for the accident at Spa, having put in a strong performance to rise from eighth from 18th on the grid, only to spin at Poulon and crash into the barriers with two laps remaining, and with Alfa desperate for all the points they can get in a tight midfield battle, that crash would not have gone down well, but it is easy to forget that this is still the 25-year-old’s first full season in F1.
Mistakes will happen and crashes will be had, but it is how you respond to those incidents that determines your future, especially so early on in your F1 career, and Giovinazzi has shown he has the mental strength to cope with the pressure of his employers.
He bounced back from Spa to finish ninth in his home race at the Italian Grand Prix next time out, in a strong drive, demonstrating his resilience, and it earned the praise of his Team Principal, Frederic Vasseur.
Speaking to Autosport in September, Vasseur said: “It was important to score points, and Antonio did a good race after a good quali.
“It’s never easy on the psychological side to manage this kind of situation. But I think honestly he did a strong performance in quali, he was there in free practice, and he did a strong race.
“Honestly the reaction he had was a good one, it’s never easy to be in this situation, and to react like this. He showed that he had the shoulders to do it.”
Alfa Romeo has struggled in recent races compared to their rivals, and so Giovinazzi hasn’t been able to challenge for regular points, but his focus shouldn’t necessarily be on a top ten finish.
He needs to ensure that over the remaining five races he either matches or out-performs Raikkonen, and if he can do that, he will no doubt secure himself a second season at Alfa.
The current driver market could also work in Giovinazzi’s favour. Nico Hulkenberg is the highest profile free-agent for next 2020, but his salary demands could make him too expensive for Alfa.
But more importantly, Ferrari get a say on who gets the second seat at Alfa, with the option to include one of their Academy drivers, but at this stage there is no stand-out candidate who could make the jump.
Mick Schumacher is the biggest name in the Ferrari Academy but he has had a difficult season in F2, while fellow rival Callum Illott has also failed to make an impact.
Alfa have Marcus Ericsson sat on the sidelines and he would be capable of returning to the team, but again, he has failed to impress in Indycar this year and he never set the world alight during his first stint in F1.
And so, Giovinazzi could be Alfa’s best bet.
He is still learning, and clearly is improving, so another year at the team would suit all parties, whilst allowing Giovinazzi to prove once and for all if he has the required skill-set to make it in F1 for the long term.
If he can get a second year at the team and start to fulfil his potential then it could set his career up, but if he doesn’t, it could be the last time we see an Italian on the grid for some time.