Pascal Wehrlein

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Formula 1 2017 team preview: Sauber

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Rounding out MotorSportsTalk’s team-by-team preview ahead of the new Formula 1 season, we look at Sauber, the minnow team which bounced back from years of instability to find some strength in 2016.

The arrival of new owners Longbow Finance gave Sauber the chance to rebuild and recruit after a number of losses in the preceding years, while Felipe Nasr’s charge to ninth in Brazil offered a boost in prize money as the team jumped above Manor to P10 in the constructors’ championship.

Sauber now heads into 2017 looking to continue its recent gains, with the new faces at Hinwil eager to make an impact. The goal is now to thrive, not survive.

DRIVERS

9. Marcus Ericsson (Sweden)
94. Pascal Wehrlein (Germany)

CAR

Sauber C36

ENGINE

Ferrari 061

TEAM CHIEFS

Monisha Kaltenborn (CEO/team principal)
Jörg Zander (technical director)

MONTMELO, SPAIN – MARCH 08: Pascal Wehrlein of Germany driving the (94) Sauber F1 Team Sauber C36 Ferrari on track during day two of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on March 8, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)

What went right in 2016: Sauber may have only scored two points, but it both survived the year and was able to secure some much-needed financial backing that kept the team in business. The on-track performances were what we’d expect from a backmarker team, filled with a number of highlights. Marcus Ericsson’s performances through the year were of particular note in the latter half of the season, despite the Swede going under the radar.

What went wrong in 2016: Sauber’s struggles still left its drivers unable to compete on-track, particularly in the run-up to the takeover when updates for the car were hard to find. Sauber failed to get anywhere near the midfield runners in the dry, but again, it perhaps could not have been expected to given the circumstances.

What’s changed for 2017: A number of new faces are at Sauber following an extensive recruitment process. Ex-Audi LMP1 technical chief Jörg Zander has joined the team, while former Haas strategist Ruth Buscombe arrived last fall and is a big, big asset on the pit wall. Pascal Wehrlein has also been signed from Manor, replacing Nasr after his backing fell through, but the team will be racing with the 2016-spec Ferrari power unit. That won’t help come the end of the year.

What they’ll look to accomplish in 2017: In all honesty, it’s hard to see Sauber finishing anywhere but last this year. The rest of the field simply has resources that are too deep to give the Swiss team much chance. Early gains can be made in the first few races when the impact of a year-old power unit will be felt less; some points would be good. But really, this is again a year to battle on and continue to fight for a better future.

MONTMELO, SPAIN – FEBRUARY 27: Marcus Ericsson of Sweden driving the (9) Sauber F1 Team Sauber C36 Ferrari on track during day one of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 27, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

MST PREDICTIONS

Luke Smith: Sauber can’t really expect much this year. It’s great that the team is on its feet again, and some of the personnel it has on board gives it strength. But the rest of the pack can simply outspend it. The only team it can get close to this year is Haas, I think, and that’s only if the American team gets things seriously wrong this year. P10 in the constructors’ championship with a couple of points – let’s say picked up by Ericsson early in the year – is the ceiling for Sauber.

Tony DiZinno: It’s hard to think of Sauber as the underdog and last team because they’ve been here 25 years, their reputation is of overachieving and they’ve given so many young drivers their start. Yet with Manor’s absence, it’s Sauber that enters as the 10th place team from 2016, but determined to advance from that this season. Marcus Ericsson has become that dependable, career midfielder as the Swede looks to his fourth season. More pressure is on Pascal Wehrlein, the Mercedes junior passed over by his manufacturer to replace Nico Rosberg and by Force India to replace Nico Hulkenberg. Ericsson may not be as easy a target to beat as Wehrlein might think. A couple points finishes should occur for this team and if they can get to eighth or ninth in the constructor’s points, it’ll have been a much better year.

Kyle Lavigne: With a year-old Ferrari power unit, Sauber should have strong reliability. Whether or not the car has the pace to bring them up the grid is another matter. They languished near the bottom of the time sheets on multiple days of testing, but they didn’t seem to experience reliability problems. That trait could prove very beneficial. As hard as it is to believe, McLaren is likely their closest rival as 2017 begins. And, with McLaren struggling with a car that is both slow and unreliable, Sauber has a chance to leapfrog them, so long as their car keeps going.

Wehrlein feeling ‘well prepared’ for Sauber debut despite winter injury

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Pascal Wehrlein says he feels “ready and well prepared” for his first Formula 1 outing with Sauber in Australia next weekend despite suffering a neck and back injury over the winter break.

Mercedes junior driver Wehrlein made his first F1 start in Australia last year with Manor, spending a full season with the minnow team and scoring just its second top-10 finish in seven years in Austria.

Wehrlein was linked with drives at both Mercedes and Force India for 2017, but ultimately landed at Sauber following Manor’s closure.

Wehrlein was forced to miss half of pre-season testing due to injuries sustained in a roll at the Race of Champions in Miami, but despite having just two days in the new-style 2017 Sauber F1 car, the German feels ready to go in Australia.

“The Australian Grand Prix will be very special for me and also for the Sauber F1 Team,” Wehrlein said.

“It is the beginning of my new role as a Formula One race driver in the Swiss team, and I am sure when those five lights go out it will be a unique moment on the race day.

“During the second week of pre-season testing I had productive days, where I was able to get quite familiar with the Sauber C36-Ferrari procedures.

“After intense physical preparations in the last few weeks I am excited about going to Melbourne, and I feel ready and well-prepared for the challenging season opener.

“It looks promising at the moment for me, but we never know until we get to Melbourne. I have full trust in our teamwork.”

After spending much of 2016 battling with financial troubles, Sauber will be aiming to move up the grid this year following its takeover by Swiss investment firm Longbow Finance.

The team finished 10th in the constructors’ championship last year, beating only Manor, and will now be looking to make up early ground with 2016-spec Ferrari power units.

Wehrlein felt ‘no pain’ upon F1 return from injury with Sauber

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Pascal Wehrlein had no trouble getting back behind the wheel of a Formula 1 car on Tuesday in Barcelona after missing the first pre-season test through injury.

Wehrlein sustained a neck and back injury during an accident in the Race of Champions in January, prompting doctors to advise him to sit out the first pre-season test at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

The German enjoyed his first run-out with new team Sauber on Tuesday, completing 47 laps in total, and said he felt no pain in his back despite the more physical nature of the new F1 cars.

“I’m feeling good, so very happy about today. I jumped into the car and no pain, nothing,” Wehrlein explained, as quoted by Motorsport Week.

“I was pretty happy at lunchtime and was totally fine, no issues. It’s good.

“Of course you feel tired but I don’t have pain, so it’s two separate things. I think it’s good that the back is not making any trouble or pain after a few laps, and that’s a positive about today.”

Despite losing two days’ worth of running last week, Wehrlein is confident he will be back up to speed early in the season.

“I lost two days of testing so of course in the beginning I will lack something,” Wehrlein said.

“But I will catch up quite quickly and after a few races I will be back where I should be.”

Pascal Wehrlein cleared to run at second Barcelona test

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Pascal Wehrlein has been cleared to run at this week’s second Formula 1 preseason test from Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, and thus make his official debut for Sauber F1 Team.

The German was held out of the first test with the lingering effects from his back injury suffered in an accident at the Race of Champions in January in Miami, and Ferrari reserve driver Antonio Giovinazzi filled in.

Wehrlein will test on Tuesday for his first day in the car.

Pascal Wehrlein’s timetable to return ‘still unclear’

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Sauber F1 Team’s new recruit for the year, Pascal Wehrlein, is yet to make his driving debut with the new team and is unclear at the moment when he will.

The German suffered a back injury in an accident at January’s Race of Champions in Miami and was ruled out of action for this week’s first test of the new Formula 1 season at the Circuit de Catalunya-Barcelona, with Ferrari reserve driver Antonio Giovinazzi filling in for him this week.

Wehrlein is still on site in Barcelona this week and updated reporters of his progress, although still doesn’t have a timetable yet for his return.

“I’m feeling okay, no pain, nothing, just something as a precaution, to avoid any more difficult injury than I have at the moment so it’s just something to be safe for the future and that’s it,” Wehrlein told reporters at the test.

“I hope, at the moment it’s still unclear as I will have a check again at the end of this week, I will see some doctors and then let’s see, I hope for sure that they will give me green light and they say everything is fine and you can get back to racing but you never know.”

Wehrlein joined Sebastian Vettel for the RoC Team Germany at the event, and while he didn’t feel the injury was that bad at the time, he said the lingering effects have continued to persist longer than he expected.

“After the crash everything felt fine, I checked that everything was fine with the passenger,” Wehrlein explained. “I said tomorrow I will drive again, (and) was already speaking with Sebastian about the next day and felt completely fine, but after a crash you always go to a doctor and check yourself and they said it’s better you don’t drive tomorrow, then I went to the doctors again in Europe and said I should skip this test.

“Just in the first few days I had a bit of pain, sore everywhere which is normal after a crash, but at the moment I have no pain, feeling fine, doing my training as normal, and I can’t wait to go back into the car.”

It stands to reason Wehrlein would need at least next week’s test at Barcelona, from March 7-10, to get enough running in before the season starts. If he isn’t cleared by doctors, it could open the door for Giovinazzi to make his Grand Prix debut in Melbourne.