Antonio Giovinazzi says he was completely taken by surprise by his last-minute Sauber call-up for the Australian Grand Prix and thought he was on the receiving end of a joke.
The GP2 runner-up and Ferrari third driver was drafted in to drive the C36 in place of the unfit Pascal Wehrlein for final practice and qualifying, with his only previous experience behind the wheel of the Sauber coming during the first Barcelona test, when he again deputised for the German as he recovered from his back injury. Giovinazzi admits he was shocked to receive the "dream" call-up.
"I got the call just this morning," Giovinazzi explained. "I just received a text from Ferrari and my manager. They informed me actually yesterday night but it was too late, I was already in my bed! I found out this morning when I woke up.
"First thing I was thinking it was a joke! But then I realised it was true, so I came here and tried straightaway to work really fast with engineer and with my team. To be honest, to be here I can't believe it. It's a dream come true for me since I was a kid to race in a grand prix."
The Italian impressed in his first experience of the Melbourne circuit and was only out-qualified by teammate Marcus Ericsson by less than 0.2s. Giovinazzi was on course to pull off one of the shocks of qualifying by making it into Q2 when a mistake on his final run ended his chances to progress.
"Coming here I was a little bit nervous because I didn't know the track," the 23-year-old said. "I was straightaway into FP3 and qualy, so it was too much faster, everything. But in the end I think I had a good performance, we had a good performance. I was just a few tenths from my teammate, and a few tenths from Q2, so I'm really happy with that.
"We'll see tomorrow. It will be a long race and from the past in this track, it's always a little bit strange because it's the first race of the year. The weather can change everything, so tomorrow the target is to do a good start, to make no mistakes, to do a good race and then we'll see where we end.
"I think I will be quite prepared tomorrow. It will be a long race. In Barcelona I didn't try also to do many laps as I will do tomorrow, but I will see tomorrow at the end of the race if I'm fit or not!"
On Sunday Giovinazzi will become the first Italian driver to start a grand prix since Jarno Trulli and Vitantonio Liuzzi took part in the 2011 Brazilian Grand Prix.
"I'm really happy for that, and obviously for Italy to have back one Italian driver, it's really important for them. Now I just need to focus and work to try to stay here as long as I can. I think it's really good."