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Antonio Giovinazzi apologizes to Sauber after China qualifying crash

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Antonio Giovinazzi has apologized to his Sauber team after crashing out of Formula 1 qualifying for the Chinese Grand Prix on Saturday in Shanghai.

Giovinazzi made his F1 debut two weeks ago in Australia as a last-minute replacement for Pascal Wehrlein, who continued to struggle for fitness following his Race of Champions crash in January.

The Italian was one of the stand-out performers in Melbourne, almost reaching Q2 and finishing 12th in his first race for Sauber.

Giovinazzi was drafted in to replace Wehrlein again for this weekend’s race in China, and looked set to ease through to Q2 in qualifying before crashing out at the final corner, running wide at exit before careering sideways across the track and into the wall.

The shunt brought out yellow flags and ruined a number of drivers’ late qualifying laps, allowing Giovinazzi to make it through to Q2. While he could take no part in the session, Giovinazzi still qualified 15th.

“For me it was a disappointing ending to qualifying. It was all good until the last corner of my final lap,” Giovinazzi said.

“I was already in Q2 and improving my lap time, but I pushed a bit too much, touched the grass in the exit of the last corner and then lost the rear of the car.

“I apologize to the team for what happened. Tomorrow I will do my best to put in a good performance.”

The Chinese Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 1am ET on Sunday.

Teammates James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens earn top-fives at Barber

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For the first time this season, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammates James Hinchcilffe and Robert Wickens earned top-five finishes in the same race at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala.

Hinchcliffe finished third in the Grand Prix of Alabama; Wickens was one spot behind in fourth.

Wickens had one previous podium at Phoenix with his second-place finish. Hinchcliffe’s best result was a fourth in the season-opener in St Petersburg, Fla., so this marked his first podium of the year.

Both drivers needed a little help from the rain.

As precipitation began to fall in the closing stages of the race, Hinchliffe asked his team on a couple of occasions if it was wet enough to pit for rain tires. He was told twice to stay out and was then called into to the pits at the optimal time.

“Solid weekend for us after coming here before – not a great test,” Hinchcliffe said. “Two cars in the top 10 qualifying; two cars, top five in the race. Pretty proud of these boys, everybody on the Arrow car.”

The rain helped Wickens’ race strategy come together.

“I was having to save a lot of fuel in that second stint,” Wickens said. “So once (Scott) Dixon starting getting close to me I was thinking ‘Oh God, I’m going to actually have to give this one up.’ And then the rain came, so the fuel mileage happened naturally. So, yeah, it saved us a bit.”

And while both were pleased with their top-five finishes, drivers are rarely satisfied unless they are standing on the top step of the podium.

Wickens’ top-five finish was hard-fought. After winning the pole at St Petersburg and starting sixth at Phoenix, he failed to advance to the Fast 6 in back-to-back races at Long Beach and Barber – qualifying 10th both times.

“I was a little gutted that we came out in a big bunch of traffic,” Wickens continued. “It made the race fun, but a little frustrating as well because of people off sequence and whatnot. We lost a lot of track position there. Both of us could have been fighting for higher steps on the podium, but we need to do a little better job in qualifying. “