Carlos Sainz’s arrival at Ferrari for the 2021 Formula 1 season alongside Charles Leclerc leaves uncertainty lingering over its prospects of the future. 

Ferrari took just 48 hours to announce Sainz as Sebastian Vettel’s replacement with the four-time world champion departing the Scuderia when his contract expires at the end of the year. 

The Spaniard will move from McLaren on a two-year deal to become Leclerc’s new teammate at Ferrari, which now has its ideal line-up firmed up. 

With Leclerc putting pen to paper on a new five-year deal which runs until the end of 2024 over the winter, it means there is no official opening at Ferrari until 2023 at the very earliest. 

That has direct repercussions on Ferrari’s up-and-coming prospects hoping to one day land a seat at Maranello. 

Ferrari’s overlooked candidate 

As the highest placed junior, Antonio Giovinazzi should be the first in line for a Ferrari seat should one open up again. 

Giovinazzi was overlooked in the race to be named as Vettel’s successor, with Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto admitting the 2021 seat came too soon for the Italian. 

Having replaced the Ferrari-bound Leclerc to make his full-time F1 debut with Alfa Romeo for 2019, Giovinazzi finished 17th in the championship with 14 points. 

A career-best result was earned with an impressive drive to fifth place in Brazil but the season proved a tough learning curve for Giovinazzi alongside the experienced Kimi Raikkonen

Raikkonen amassed nearly three times the amount of points Giovinazzi scored across the 21-round season during which he faced question marks over his future at the Swiss squad particularly during an lacklustre opening third.

Giovinazzi bounced back strongly from his lowest point of the season - crashing out of the points on the final lap at Spa-Francorchamps - to register back-to-back top 10 finishes on home soil at Monza and in Singapore, while his qualifying performances improved considerably. Coupled with a marked improvement on his performances relative to Raikkonen in a car losing ground in the development race, Giovinazzi’s retention ultimately came as little surprise.

However, this will be a critical campaign for Giovinazzi. Ferrari will be expecting to see a significant step forward from the 26-year-old when the 2020 season finally gets going following the delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Antonio is a boy whom I respect a lot,” Binotto said during a recent interview with Sky Sport Italia.

“Last year he made his first season in Formula 1, switching to Ferrari after a year I think it requires too much responsibility.

“He has to keep his shoulders [high], we count on his growth and we will help him. He is part of our plans, but he still has to experience [more] in F1.”

Giovinazzi should not find his position at Alfa come under threat if Raikkonen decides to call time on his F1 career when his contract runs out at the end of the campaign, but there is no concrete reason as yet to suggest the Finn won’t race on beyond the age of 41. 

Although Binotto has stressed that Giovinazzi remains part of Ferrari’s future plans, that does not mean he can afford to relax, given there are a number of rising stars breathing down his neck…

Ferrari’s rising quintet of stars

Ferrari is set to field five of its junior drivers in Formula 2 this year, with reigning Formula 3 champion Robert Shwartzman and runner-up Marcus Armstrong joining Mick Schumacher, Callum Ilott and Giuliano Alesi, all of whom will embark on their sophomore seasons in the championship in 2020. 

After slightly underwhelming debut campaigns in F2 - with no Ferrari-affiliated drivers ending 2019 in the top 10 - much more will be expected of the trio, particularly Schumacher, who faces extra scrutiny as the son of seven-time world champion Michael. 

While Ilot claimed the honours of finishing the year as the highest-placed Ferrari junior in 11th, it was Schumacher (12th) who took the only victory out of the three thanks to his triumph in the Hungary sprint race, while Alesi was the third-lowest ranked driver to contest the entire season in 15th. 

None of them showed any signs of being ready to make the immediate transition into F1 in the same manner the likes of former champions Leclerc and George Russell did, making their sophomore campaigns very make-or-break for the trio.

The arrival of the highly-rated Shwartzman and Armstrong to the F2 grid off the back of their successful F3 campaigns adds a further element of intrigue. 

Shwartzman will slot in directly alongside Schumacher at the formidable Prema squad in what represents arguably the most fascinating driver pairing on the grid, given the expectation and attention surrounding Schumacher. The German previously defeated both Shwartzman and Armstrong on his way to winning the 2018 European F3 title, though his counterparts were still rookies at the time.

Armstrong will step away from the Prema fold to join ART Grand Prix, while Ilott and Alesi have also found themselves with competitive seats at UNI-Virtuosi and HWA Racelab respectively. 

A standout, potentially championship-winning season from any of the aforementioned five drivers is likely to result in Ferrari wanting to place at least one of its juniors straight onto the F1 grid in 2021, where the most likely openings can be found at Alfa Romeo or potentially Haas - if the American squad remains in F1. 

With Ferrari understood to have overall sway over one of the two seats at Alfa, the Swiss outfit naturally becomes the most realistic landing spot for any graduate from F2.

Ultimately, the greatest pressure to perform in 2020 will fall on the shoulders of Schumacher, Ilott and Alesi considering they no longer have the security of the ‘rookie’ tag to fall back on. 

Much will be dependent on how Sainz performs. If he flops, there could be an immediate opening for Giovinazzi. But going off the assumption that he and Leclerc both work well together and deliver the desired results, there will be no room at Ferrari’s inn for the foreseeable future. 

There is no immediate rush from Ferrari’s side and it is subsequently well-placed to properly assess each of its starlets over the coming months and years.

 

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