Right now Mercedes has three junior drivers under its wings. Esteban Ocon who is driving for Force India and thriving. The other is George Russel who just won GP3 and would move on to F2. The third driver and a matter of concern is Pascal Wehrlein.
The young German-Mauritian excelled in junior categories under the tutelage of Mercedes.
Dutifully completing testing duties for both Mercedes and Force India, he continued to rake up experience. In late February 2016 he made it into F1 with the Mercedes powered Manor. He shone on multiple occasions taking the back-marker Manor to places it shouldn’t be on Saturdays. And when he finally scored points in Austria, he was widely tipped as Mercedes’s next star and F1’s budding talent.
All his good name eroded when rumors made their way that the youngster carries an attitude inside the pitlane. Ocon’s arrival and with Force India choosing the relatively unknown Frenchman over the German tattered his reputation.
Sauber are all but ready to further bolster their relationship with Ferrari. This implies arrival of Ferrari backed youngsters into the team. The result of which is that there’s a high chance he can be shown the door at the end of this year.
Pascal Wehrlein is a talented young driver who hasn’t quite received the opportunity to show what he’s capable of and develop into a better driver. But that’s a long-term prospect and currently, his management is tasked with securing the short-term future for him.
So here are the prospects that Mercedes have for Pascal Wehrlein:
When newly appointed team principal Mr. Fredric Vasseur announced that Sauber would forge an even closer tie with Ferrari, the writing became apparent on the wall for Pascal Wehrlein. The guy in the other car i.e Ericsson effectively owns the team and hence in any scenario it was always Pascal who was going to get the boot. But things changed when Mr. Marchione expressed his desire to turn Sauber into effectively a Ferrari B-Team. He has been pushing for both Charles Leclerc and Antonio Giovinazzi to be placed into the car for next year.
But then Mr. Vasseur offered a ray of hope for Wehrlein stating that his priority is having drivers who can score points and that Pascal because of his points scoring runs this year definitely has a chance. Leclerc’s arrival in Sauber next year is all but certain. The shootout is between Antonio Giovinazzi, Pascal Wehrlein and Marcus Ericsson. While Giovinazzi has Ferrari’s backing and a good Australia result to show for, his crash friendly track record in various FP1 outings speaks against him. Ericsson has linkages with Longbow Finance but his career so far has nothing to show for.
So it’s Mercedes task now to convince Sauber to race their protege next year too. An injection of some cash to sweeten the deal may just do it.
Williams is currently on the hunt to fill the second seat alongside Lance Stroll. The shootout is between Di Resta, Kubica and Massa himself. Wehrlein was an outside contender but sponsor Martini’s “at least one 25-year-old driver” requirement has thrown away his hopes. But recently there have been some rumors that there is a way. The reserve driver can fulfil the sponsorship requirement as well. Pascal Wehrlein will be 23 this year and hence fulfils the legal age in all countries on the calendar to consume alcohol. Therefore it won’t be a roadblock in Martini’s advertisements.
So Mercedes can persuade Williams to convince Martini to relax the requirement. In return, Mercedes can offer a discount on the engines. Williams will get a capable and talented driver who has shown he can score points and has a very good experience of 2017 cars and tires.
Under normal circumstances, no one would give credence this option at all. But these aren’t normal circumstances. Toro Rosso’s ace driver Carlos Sainz is off to Renault for 2018. Pierre Gasly is all set to take the Spaniard’s place. And they have Kvyat in the other seat. But rumors are that Red Bull wants to finally drop the Russian completely. Ever since his demotion, Kvyat has shown little ability to turn his speed into real results. Red Bull is probably convinced that Kvyat is a lost cause because of his crash-ridden results and dangerous driving that brought him this close to a race ban. Scoring only 4 points so far in this season compared to Sainz’s 48 shows how lost Kvyat is.
The A team not winning races as regularly as before the V6 era, owner Dietrich Mateschitz is not happy. And his ire has fallen on the sister team too. Toro Rosso has failed to be a good return on investment for Red Bull. Taking the Honda engine was perhaps motivated by such factors as well. But with only one driver scoring points and the other being a complete whitewash did not help Toro Rosso in the constructor’s race this year. What’s worse is that their ace has already moved to rival Renault and replacing him is a rookie. Red Bull have no other junior drivers as well to replace Kvyat.
So Toro Rosso would be benefitted by taking in Pascal Wehrlein as against Kvyat. Some cash injection by Mercedes akin to Sauber will be the cherry on the top.
Mercedes along with a raft of other manufacturers will join the burgeoning Formula E category in 2019-2020 season. Pascal Wehrlein’s career has probably plateaued at Formula 1. So instead of trying so hard, they can send the German to make a career in FE. The next season of Formula E is due to begin in December. 3 seats are still up for grabs therefore, there is, theoretically, an opportunity. Pascal can learn the sport inside out in 2 years time and then lead the charge for Mercedes when the team makes an entry in late 2019. Pascal will feel quite at home as so many ex-F1 drivers are racing in the series. You could even call it an Ex-F1 Driver Championship.
Stoffel Vandoorne did it. Gasly is doing it right now with a legitimate chance to be the Champion this year. Super Formula is increasingly becoming a viable alternative for teams to send their young drivers to for a year until a racing seat becomes available.
Instead of sitting the 2018 season on the sidelines, Mercedes can send Pascal to race in Super Formula for a year to keep him busy while work in the background to help his return in 2019. The driver market will explode in 2018 and therefore an opportunity can open up in 2019. The obvious danger is that he could disappear from other team’s radar altogether.
Before arriving in F1 in 2016, Pascal made quite a name for himself in DTM. He still holds the record for both the youngest winner and youngest champion in DTM. Mercedes has decided to pull out of the DTM by the end of 2018 and switch the resources to Formula E.
Without a drive for next year, Pascal Wehrlein can return to DTM for next year to be Mercedes’s flag bearer for one last time. And if he’s able to repeat his 2014 or perhaps 2015-esque performance, it’ll boost his reputation even higher.
The least Mercedes can do for him is to arrange FP1 duties for the German with their customer teams Force India and Williams. 4-5 FP1 duties with each team will keep the youngster occupied for most of the year while putting in simulator hours back in Mercedes HQ will help the team as well.