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Marchionne: Giovinazzi ‘has the potential’ to be a Ferrari F1 driver

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Ferrari chairman and CEO Sergio Marchionne believes that junior driver Antonio Giovinazzi “has the potential” to drive for the Scuderia in Formula 1 one day, but remained coy about putting him in a seat in the near future.

Giovinazzi secured a third driver role with Ferrari for 2017 after finishing second in last year’s GP2 Series, and was subbed in to replace the injured Pascal Wehrlein at Sauber for the opening two rounds of the season.

The Italian put in an impressive display over the Australian Grand Prix weekend on debut, almost reaching Q2, but suffered a crash in qualifying in China.

Along with congratulating lead Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel on his victory in Australia two weeks ago, Marchionne also paid tribute to Giovinazzi in his statement after the race for his debut display.

With Kimi Raikkonen due to be out of contract at the end of the year, Giovinazzi has been linked as a possible outsider for a Ferrari F1 seat in 2018, with the Italian marque having a history for hiring home-grown drivers.

Speaking to reporters ahead of Sunday’s race in China, Marchionne said he didn’t think Giovinazzi would be ready for a seat with Ferrari in 2018, but thinks he has what it takes to race for the team in the future.

“I don’t know about that,” Marchionne said when asked if Giovinazzi would be ready for a Ferrari seat next year.

“I think he certainly has the potential to be a Ferrari driver. Not withstanding what happened yesterday [in qualifying], he’s a great driver.

“He’s got great instincts. We need to see him develop.”

Giovinazzi suffered another crash during Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix, marking a disappointing end to his second weekend in F1.

“I want to apologize again to the team,” Giovinazzi said. “They did a great job to get the car ready for the race. It was a shame that I crashed again today.

“A learning lesson – I just want to forget this weekend quickly.”

While Giovinazzi has not yet been confirmed as replacing Wehrlein for this weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix, it is thought unlikely that the German will have regained full fitness in time for the race, making a third start likely for the Ferrari youngster.

Ferrari teammates Vettel and Raikkonen fastest in rainy final practice at Australian GP

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen went one-two in the final practice session ahead of qualifying at the water-logged Australian Grand Prix on Saturday.

Vettel set a best-lap time of 1 minute, 26.067 seconds, more than 2.4 seconds faster than his teammate in second.

Both Ferrari drivers switched from their intermediate tires to the super-fast, ultra-soft tires for the final few laps of the session, testing conditions on the track after a day-long downpour left it slick and filled with small puddles.

Mercedes drivers Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton did not opt to try out their soft tires, sticking to the intermediates for the entire session. They had the seventh- and eighth-fastest times, after topping the leaderboard in practice in dry conditions on Friday.

The heavy rains subsided by early afternoon, allowing the track to rapidly dry during the third practice session and making conditions safe for drivers to test their soft tires.

Still, only a few drivers completed a timed lap with the softer compounds, with Mercedes, Red Bull and most of the others staying with their intermediates.

Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson had the third-fastest time of the session on ultrasoft tires, followed by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen on intermediates.

Hamilton remains the favorite to capture his fifth straight pole position at the Australian Grand Prix in qualifying later Saturday. He had the fastest laps on ultrasoft tires in the two practice sessions on Friday, though Verstappen was right behind him.

Verstappen and Vettel both slid on the slick track early in the third practice session, but maintained control and completed their runs without incident.

Verstappen’s teammate, Daniel Ricciardo, had the sixth-fastest time of the session. The Australian’s chances of winning his fifth career Grand Prix on his home track in Melbourne took a hit late Friday when he was assessed a three-place grid penalty for Sunday’s race.

The Australian driver was penalized for driving too fast under red-flag conditions during Friday’s second practice session because of debris on the track.