Motor racing: Giovinazzi joins Raikkonen at Sauber to replace Ferrari-bound Leclerc, Ericsson is reserve

Antonio Giovinazzi steers his car during the first free practice session ahead of the German Formula One Grand Prix at the Hockenheimring racing circuit, on July 20, 2018 in Hockenheim, southern Germany.
Antonio Giovinazzi steers his car during the first free practice session ahead of the German Formula One Grand Prix at the Hockenheimring racing circuit, on July 20, 2018 in Hockenheim, southern Germany.PHOTO: AFP

(REUTERS) - Italian Antonio Giovinazzi will race for Sauber next season in a new line-up with former world champion Kimi Raikkonen, the Swiss-based Formula One team said on Tuesday (Sept 25).

Giovinazzi, who had been the reserve driver, made two grand prix starts last year as a replacement for the injured Pascal Wehrlein, who was dropped at the end of that season.

The 24-year-old's confirmation means Sweden's Marcus Ericsson loses his race seat, although he will stay on as reserve and "brand ambassador".

"I am delighted to be joining the Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team. This is a dream come true, and it is a great pleasure to have the chance to race for this team," said Giovinazzi.

"As an Italian, it is a huge honour for me to represent a brand as iconic and successful as Alfa Romeo in our sport...I am very motivated and cannot wait to start working towards achieving great results together."

Giovinazzi will be the first Italian driver to start a Formula One season since 2011, when Jarno Trulli and Vitantonio Liuzzi lined up respectively for the now-defunct Caterham and HRT teams.

Raikkonen's arrival was announced this month in what was seen as a straight swop with 20-year-old Monegasque rookie Charles Leclerc, who took the 38-year-old Finn's place at Ferrari.

However, Sauber said that Giovinazzi, who is also a Ferrari-backed driver, was a direct replacement for Leclerc rather than Ericsson.

Sauber are sponsored by Alfa Romeo but have close ties with Ferrari, using the Italian sports car manufacturer's engines, and have a long tradition of taking the Italian team's young drivers.

Ericsson, 28, has limited options after failing to achieve much in four seasons with Sauber after making his debut with Caterham in 2014.

The Swede, who has enjoyed close ties with Sauber's publicity-shy owners, failed to score a point between September 2015 and April 2018, with a total haul of 15 points from 91 starts. Leclerc has scored 15 already this season.

Ericsson said in a separate team statement that he would have loved to continue "but having a driver like Kimi Räikkönen on board is a great opportunity for the whole team".