When Formula 1 last featured a Portuguese Grand Prix, Alfa Romeo driver Antonio Giovinazzi was yet to celebrate his third birth anniversary.
When the Martina Franca-born enters his maiden drive at the Portimao-bound Algarve International Circuit, come Sunday, i.e., October 25, he will have two broad objectives in mind:
Which is to not just outperform his 41-year-old teammate but also record another impressive finish inside the points. For truth be told, it’s about time the Italian made up for a string of several lost chances of staking a claim in the 2021 line-up at his current employer.
To his credit, the product of the Ferrari Driver Academy has age and reflexes on his side, the latter of which actually epitomized what might be called- arguably speaking- one of the most underrated efforts at the recently held Eifel Grand Prix 2020 (where he scored a fighting P10 and hence, 1 point).
Valiance At Nurburgring
Much was said about the desperately dangerous Nurburgring, the Green Hell returning to the roster after a gap of 7 long years.
But with attention resting with usual stars out in the front, the midfield wasn’t too far behind in lighting up a truly memorable race.
Antonio Giovinazzi, who began from fourteenth on the grid in the heart of the Eifel mountains, found himself immediately caught up in a web where the twin Alpha Tauris were not just ahead but attacking for grid positions.
To fight with the Russian Torpedo in a visibly stronger machine wasn’t his only challenge. He had to contend with beating Monza’s much-loved winner Pierre Gasly, too, the in-form driver at the Italian stable.
But Antonio Giovinazzi held his nerve. Sticking to the inside of the two faster cars out in front, he all but passed Kvyat in the run down to Turn 1. A brave move, which should’ve paid off but didn’t due to heavy braking as the trio negotiated the sharp right-hander.
Immediately after exiting turn 1 came ‘Tonio’s’ finest moment of the race, the one that warranted greater attention than given.
Despite not powered with a burst of speed, this being a barely quick and rather dreary machine, the lanky driver held to the inside, the racing line, and continued to attack, the plan ultimately paying off as lunged ahead of the two Tauris.
Now Sebastian Vettel, in the Ferrari, was next; a target Antonio Giovinazzi would hunt with utter ease, the Alfa Romeo carrying great traction in the approach to Turn 3, a right-hander. Vettel’s pace little match to Alfa’s Romeo.
Eventually, as Giovinazzi gathered Tenth, not before holding off more powerful cars, he gathered only a second finish inside points this season.
Holding On Despite Lost Chances
To many, this was a guy trying to make do for lost chances, which isn’t hard to deny. But was that all?
You’d reckon, to the observer for whom the sport is not just about mega stars but about a consolidation of the powers that give the FORMULA 1 grid twenty of the world’s fastest men in a racing car, this was a bloke trying to indicate- I’m not done yet.
Frankly, the man whose first entry in Formula 1 was the 2017 Australian Grand Prix, a race in which he began from sixteenth, but finished twelfth (in the process of which he’s beat his then Sauber-teammate Marcus Ericsson), you’d feel Antonio Giovinazzi hasn’t had the greatest 2020.
To his critics, a man who’s the oldest on the grid has beaten him; even more so, a man whose reflexes haven’t quite deserted him despite age and et cetera.
A Reflection Of 2020 Challenges
But then it was then it was the younger of the two Alfa Romeo drivers who scored the first points for the Swiss stable, beating Kimi Raikkonen in the opening round itself (2020 Styrian Grand Prix)
Interestingly, the Kimi versus Antonio fight- a clean tussle minus the scathing stains of a rivalry- has seen the Italian hit back at the Finn where recent races stand.
After his disappointing results at Spa-Francorchamps (DNF), Monza (P16), and FORMULA 1’s first-ever run at Tuscany (DNF, leading to P17), events where whereas Kimi finished higher up, managing to score his first points at the mayhem-making Mugello track, Antonio’s returned to form.
Just that his improvements- P11 in Russia in comparison to Raikkonen’s P14 and the valiant P10 at Eifel GP in comparison to the Finn’s P12- haven’t made the noise they should have or deserved.
But then, Antonio Giovinazzi’s life isn’t a jazz concert with soothing touches and soft melodies with many hovering around that Alfa Romeo 2021 seat. It’s a coveted target for would-be F1 drivers, the likes of which include- Mick Schumacher.
To make the road difficult, just to take stock of the Antonio Giovinazzi-predicament, if you want to call it, paddock grapevine already suggests that Kimi might stay on to ‘mentor’ the next Schumacher.
Should that come true, we could see the promising speedster who’s fighting to live another day, sidelined. Who knows what might happen; Haas are already gambling with the big ‘next,’ Grosjean and Magnussen finding other takers for their seat- the Hulk, after all, isn’t done yet.
Ditto for the vastly underappreciated Sergio Perez.
But what must find some light is the fact that Antonio Giovinazzi’s 2020 season isn’t only about the sterling effort at the season-opener at Austria.
In between losing the mojo to Raikkonen, responsible for putting the Alfa Romeo into Q2 for the first time ever, Spain, after 8 previous failed attempts by the duo- Giovinazzi’s dealt with no song, but more drama thanks to being powered by an underpowered car.
His is a machine that in 2020, is effectively, a backmarker, which, a world of a difference from the 2019 package that helped the mild-mannered bloke attain his best-ever F1 result: the P5 at Interlagos, Brazilian GP.
Blame it on the Ferrari engine or the lack of one that none could’ve imagined would come from a place as esteemed as Maranello.
The Fight Despite The 2020 Car
But the Alfa Romeo C39, at times, seems like a C-class, not in reference to one of Mercedes’ most liked sedan model but a FORMULA 1 car that actually seems as though it could be beaten by the conventional luxury sedan.
Yet, it’s also the car with which Antonio Giovinazzi is persisting with, never with an angry grunt but with customary simplicity. Remember the move on Grosjean- not exactly a mild warrior on the grid- at Sochi?
Remember those reflexes at Mugello before the red-flag, where he only just avoided running into Sebastian Vettel (toward the back of the grid) showing supreme caution, despite being contacted by Gasly in an unexpected opening lap skirmish?
The Long-Haired Dude Who Should Carry On?
The man who scored his first points in FORMULA 1 in 2019, at Austria, where a P10 saw more smiles in the Alfa paddock than any epic Kimi one-liner, has seen better days in the past.
A not so recent past where he would become the only Alfa Romeo driver to lead a Grand Prix all season in 2019 where under bright Singapore lights, he soldiered on, finishing eventually on tenth.
Sadly though, the fan can only do as much as voice opinion on social media or take sides in friendly discussions where passions and banter run high. One can’t afford the luxury to have the man hold onto a FORMULA 1 drive (2021).
For that, the powers that be shall play the judge. But before the verdict is delivered on the grey-eyed youngster, let a thing be known.
That drivers significantly experienced than Antonio are sitting below Italy’s only current F1 racer, including a troika that have driven for McLaren, Ferrari, and Lotus.