Ferrari’s scintillating pace, Grosjean’s excellent sixth and Ricciardo’s heartbreak were all big stories in the opening qualifying session of the new era. It was a Saturday with plot points aplenty, yet one of the most fascinating and awe-inspiring tales came in the battle to progress from Q1. Unusual, but stick with me on this one.

Unusual, but stick with me on this one.

2016 GP2 Series runner-up Antonio Giovinazzi has been parachuted into the Sauber seat vacated by Pascal Wehrlein, who following his accident at January’s Race of Champions and subsequent truncation of his winter training programme, is not sufficiently fit to complete a race distance.

Finding out that you are to make your Grand Prix debut on the morning of Qualifying day is hardly ideal. No one told Gio that though.

“First thought was: somebody is making a joke with me. And then finally it dawned on me that this was all true,” Giovinazzi stated in an impromptu Q&A featured on the F1 website.

“Of course, I was a bit nervous because I didn’t know the track, so it was something of a shortcut for me from FP3 straight to qualifying. And I think I put in a good performance. I was just a few tenths off my teammate, so I am really happy how it went today.”

Happy with his performance, he most certainly should be.

Firstly, it’s important to put his 16th place finish into perspective. Giovinazzi only realised that his services would be required at Sauber when he woke up this morning. His only prior experience in the car came in two days of running at the opening pre-season test, where he again deputised for the injured Wehrlein.

As team boss Monisha Kaltenborn acknowledged when speaking to Ted Kravitz on Sky Sports F1, the car Giovinazzi drove in the opening test would have been a world apart from the Melbourne-specification Sauber C36.

Giovinazzi had just one hour of running in FP3 to acclimatise to, not only the car, but to a circuit that he has NEVER driven on before. No mean feat, particularly when the world is watching.

Against the odds, Giovinazzi was on the pace straight away and converted a promising FP3 into a Q1 performance that concluded with a tense duel between himself and Marcus Ericsson, with the victor progressing. Giovinazzi was edged out, but only by a slender margin facilitated by a mistake at Turn 15.

Without that excursion, the first Italian to participate in a Grand Prix since Jarno Trulli’s final outing in 2011 would have been into the second part of qualifying. Given the circumstances, he had no right to qualify better than 20th.

Given the circumstances and timing of his call-up, he had no right to qualify better than 20th, quite frankly!

His swashbuckling driving style and incredible race-craft demonstrated by his sensational 2016 GP2 campaign highlighted his talent. Today, however, a star has been born. In a day of great performances, Giovinazzi’s was the cream of the crop.

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