The deal between Sauber and Ferrari and its sister company Alfa Romeo gives Ferrari the right to nominate one driver for Sauber, with a deadline of October 15 for a final decision.
In 2018 that seat has been taken by Charles Leclerc, and his fellow Ferrari protege Giovinazzi – who started two races for Sauber last year – had been expected to slot in when Leclerc was promoted to the works team.
The unexpected announcement of Kimi Raikkonen at Sauber was seen by many as ending Giovinazzi’s chances.
However, the Raikkonen deal is independent of the existing arrangement with Maranello, so Ferrari still has the option to nominate the other Sauber driver – with Giovinazzi the only realistic candidate.
The problem for Ferrari is that Giovinazzi is highly-respected as a simulator driver. With Daniil Kvyat looking set to give up his Ferrari role to go back to Toro Rosso next year, the team will be reluctant to lose Giovinazzi as well.
While he would still be part of the ‘Ferrari family’, Giovinazzi would not have time to undertake extensive duties for the factory team – especially given that much of the work takes place on grand prix weekends.
Giovinazzi is understandably keen to get back to racing, and being retained by Ferrari for another year of sim work would probably have limited appeal. So it remains to be seen whether he would be willing to stay on in his current Ferrari role for a further year.
Either way it would appear that Ferrari may have to look for a new sim and test driver with recent F1 experience.
One obvious complication for the Sauber management is that Ericsson is backed by the same investors who own the team, and if Giovinazzi is nominated, the Swede would be out of a drive.
Insiders have always insisted the big picture of a “team project” would ultimately take precedence over the “driver project”, so Ericsson’s position is by no means guaranteed.
As Giovinazzi is the only realistic Sauber option on Ferrari’s books, if it decides it does not want him to race for Sauber it will effectively relinquish its claim on that seat for 2019.
But even if Ferrari does not place Giovinazzi at Sauber, Ericsson could still face competition for his seat from Stoffel Vandoorne.
The outgoing McLaren driver has close links with team principal Fred Vasseur, his GP2 boss in 2014 and ’15, while his manager Alessandro Alunni Bravi is a director of Sauber.