Italian sources suggest that Antonio Giovinazzi may be close to being announced as Kimi Räikkönen‘s team-mate at the Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team for 2019, in replacement for Marcus Ericsson.
Scuderia Ferrari junior Giovinazzi, who deputised for the injured Pascal Wehrlein in the Australian and Chinese Grands Prix last year, has been Sauber’s third driver in 2018. He partook in both Free Practice 1 sessions in Germany and Hungary, in addition to appearing in the official May and summer tests in Barcelona and Budapest. He is also scheduled to assume Ericsson’s car on Friday morning in Russia.
It is believed that Ferrari are exercising their right to nominate one driver for a Sauber seat, having given the honour to 2017 FIA Formula 2 champion Charles Leclerc for 2018 – where he has gone on to impress and earn a promotion to the senior side, at the expense of Räikkönen.
Previously, Räikkönen’s return to Sauber, 18 years after his first spell with the Hinwil-based team, looked to signal the end of Giovinazzi’s Sauber hopes. Ericsson’s Swedish backers were expected to utilise their stake in the team to keep the 28-year-old in the team for a fifth consecutive season.
However, it is understood that Sauber are no longer open to that idea. Team principal Frédéric Vasseur has been given the final say on the driver line-up for next year and prefers the potential of a Räikkönen-Giovinazzi partnership.
Sources suggest that the 24-year-old will be formally announced “soon”. The news comes on the back of Räikkönen visiting the team’s Swiss factory to undergo a seat fitting for the C38. Vasseur also confirmed that a decision would be made post-Singapore.
“After Singapore we will sit down with all the persons involved in the discussions and we will take a decision quite soon,” he said at the official Thursday press conference in Marina Bay.
“I think it’s also good for the team to have a clear answer but it will be soon. The last two weeks for me have been a bit in a rush on the driver market.”
Ericsson has shown improvements in form over the course of 2018, scoring the team’s first points of the season at the Bahrain Grand Prix back in April, ending a personal run of 49 grands prix without a point. The former Caterham driver has also registered top ten finishes in Austria, Germany and Belgium.
But the exponential rise of Leclerc, sparked by an eye-catching sixth place finish in Azerbaijan has cast a shadow over the Swede’s performance and called his Formula 1 future into question.
Ericsson defended his case after the Belgian round last month, saying that his current form shows that he is worthy of keeping his seat for another year.
“In the last five races I’ve scored points in three of them and double my teammate,” he said.
“I think that’s the sort of statistic that’s important for me to show to Fred that I’m making a difference. I need to continue to score points and make good performances.”
An issue for Ferrari is that the team holds Giovinazzi in very high regard as a simulator driver. His work in the middle of the Canadian Grand Prix weekend proved critical in Ferrari optimising Sebastian Vettel‘s set up after a troublesome Friday, culminating in a dominant win for the German.
With development driver Daniil Kvyat reportedly returning to Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda after a year away, Ferrari are understandably hesitant about letting both of them leave. But, it is believed that Giovinazzi is keen to return to race action. His only competitive appearance of 2018 so far has been at the 24 Hours of Le Mans for AF Corse, Ferrari’s main GT outfit.
If Giovinazzi is confirmed this week, fellow Sauber candidate Stoffel Vandoorne‘s chances of staying in F1 would all but disappear.