Sauber’s last-minute substitute Antonio Giovinazzi turned in one of the performances of Formula 1 qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix on Saturday by claiming 16th on the grid for his maiden grand prix.
Ferrari youngster Giovinazzi was drafted in by Sauber for FP3 and qualifying after Pascal Wehrlein was deemed unfit amid ongoing issues with his back following a crash at the Race of Champions in January that left him with a minor injury.
Giovinazzi was notified on Friday night that he would be replacing Wehrlein for the remainder of the weekend, but did not find out until Saturday morning as he had already gone to bed.
Despite getting less than an hour of track running in which to get to grips with the tricky Albert Park circuit, Giovinazzi starred in qualifying to finish 16th, narrowly missing out on a Q2 berth and ending up just a couple of tenths off experienced teammate Marcus Ericsson.
“That is a special day for me kicking off my first Formula 1 grand prix weekend,” Giovinazzi said after the session.
“I am really happy with my performance today, I was just a few tenths away from Q2.
“It will be a long race tomorrow; a lot can happen here in Melbourne. I will do my best to put in my maximum performance.”
The call from Sauber capped off a rollercoaster five months for Giovinazzi that started with a bitter defeat in the GP2 title race to Red Bull youngster Pierre Gasly at the end of November in Abu Dhabi.
Giovinazzi was then contacted by Ferrari and offered a deal to become its reserve driver for 2017, leading to a private test in its 2015-spec car at Fiorano.
When Wehrlein was declared unfit for the first pre-season test in Barcelona, Giovinazzi was drafted in by Sauber for two days’ worth of running, preparing him for the shock call-up in Melbourne.
Giovinazzi will become the first Italian driver to start a race since Jarno Trulli and Vitantonio Liuzzi on Sunday, the pair making their final F1 appearances at the 2011 Brazilian Grand Prix for Caterham and HRT respectively.