In the past 12 odd months, no other driver’s career has seen the ups and downs as Pascal Wehrlein.
With a robust junior single seater track record coupled with an even more impressive stint at DTM which includes the title of the youngest Champion, Pascal Wehrlein made an entry into the world of F1 having the backing of the Silver Arrows.
With a last minute deal with the perennial backmarkers Manor, Wehrlein was able to make his debut. With Manor running the Mercedes engine and access to Mercedes’s wind tunnel
courtesy Wehrlein’s deal, they were not merely making up the numbers and was a potent contender in a number of races allowing Wehrlein to show his talent.
In the potent Manor, he punched above its weight on various Sundays. He struggled on Saturdays but made it up on race day fighting nearer to the points justifying his talent and Mercedes’s faith in him. For Pascal, the high point in his career came when he took his “Rocket on straights” Manor to the points finish in Austria.
Immediately being branded as a future superstar with a future Mercedes works drive reckoning in a few years, things were going pretty straightforward for the German, until another Mercedes young driver Ocon arrived mid-way through the season. With competition, Wehrlein’s reputation took a little hit.
But the major downward spiral came when the Force India drive opened up and the team chose the Frenchman over the German despite the former’s inexperience compared to the latter’s proven mettle.
Speculation immediately started making rounds about the German’s alleged attitude problems when Force India said they chose Ocon because he would have integrated with the team better.
Words prevailed that Pascal has an attitude problem that shadows him from his days in DTM. The Austin FP2 fiasco where he binned his car into the gravel and got into an argument with his race engineer over the issue of turning the engine off, which was aired for the whole world to listen to, didn’t help his cause either.
However, Ocon’s promotion did serve a silver lining for Pascal as Rosberg walked away leaving him to be the heir apparent to the most coveted seat on the grid. But as months rolled by, it became clear that Mercedes were ready to go the distance to get Valtteri onboard rather than place an inexperienced guy. The seat eventually went to the Finn and Wehrlein went to Sauber, which still can be validly said to be a promotion.
Things boiled down or so it seemed until he, determined to show his worth to the world, drove the RoC car too much in anger and ended upside down hurting his neck and vertebra.
Away from him, different situations did start cooking up when Ferrari showed so much interest in the GP2 runner-up Italian Antonio Giovinazzi that they took him under their wings and designated him a reserve driver. And why not, the last Italian to be a part of the grid was Jarno Trulli in 2011 and the last Italian to race in red overalls was Giancarlo Fisichella in 2009. But not only Ferrari, even Sauber were intrigued by the talent of the Italian and immediately started pestering Ferrari to let him be their Reserve driver.
Pascal’s accident and the winter testing all lined up close and that served as a reason to let Gio accumulate mileage and the team data.
But Pascal returned to the car for second testing, after being cleared by the FIA doctors and he continued right until an hour before the Australian FP3 when he made an announcement that he was not fit enough to go the distance on Sunday.
The repeat that followed for the Chinese GP with further anticipation of missing even Bahrain led many to speculate that Wehrlein maybe is caught the storm of Ferrari’s ambition to return to the front of the grid. The Italian Stable is leaving no stone unturned in their pursuit and have even abandoned age-old approach and practices that had became so synonymous with the oldest team on the grid and that includes going so far as placing a young inexperienced blood in the other car.
With the writing on the wall clear for Kimi, perhaps Ferrari is eager to test out their latest signing in the customer team Sauber and looking at the relationship between the two and Sauber’s financial woes, it doesn’t take a genius to put 2 and 2 together.
This bad luck combined with Wehrlein’s attitude problem could mean he could end up as a journeyman drifting in the midfield and the dream of the coveted Mercedes drive may never come to fruition.
I, for one hope that the explanation behind all of this is a genuine medical reason and that he comes back, keep his head low and cool and silence the critics with his driving on track.