Pascal Wehrlein has released three photos showing his recovery from neck and back injuries in the winter, calling it “history” after making a successful return to Formula 1 in Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix.
Wehrlein suffered three broken vertebra in an accident at the Race of Champions in January, forcing him to miss the opening two races of the new season.
After regaining fitness, Wehrlein returned with Sauber in Bahrain last weekend, enjoying an impressive charge to 11th in the race that saw him narrowly miss out on a debut point for the Swiss team.
Despite facing criticism from some corners for deciding to miss the races in Australia and China, Wehrlein hit back by releasing three pictures of his recovery, showing the extent of his injury that required him to remain in a brace.
“I am very satisfied with how the weekend went, being in P13 in qualifying and now finishing the race in P11,” Wehrlein said.
“It was a tough race, as we decided to only make one pit stop. The result is the maximum that we could have achieved today.
“It is obviously a pity that we have missed this point by only one position. Nevertheless, I am already looking forward to the next grand prix.”
SAKHIR, Bahrain (AP) Sauber driver Pascal Wehrlein has hit back at critics who questioned why he missed the first two races in Formula One.
Wehrlein will finally make his debut for Sauber at the Bahrain Grand Prix this weekend, after Italian Antonio Giovinazzi replaced him at the season-opening Australian GP and then the China GP last weekend.
The 22-year-old German injured his back in a crash at the Race of Champions in Miami in January, sustaining hairline cracks in vertebrae and compressing some of his intervertebral discs.
But there was confusion surrounding the initial driver switch in Australia because Wehrlein competed in the first two practice sessions at Melbourne, leading to speculation.
“I don’t care too much what the others say. They didn’t know my situation,” Wehrlein said on Thursday at the Bahrain GP.
“If you don’t know what injury someone had, you shouldn’t criticize him. It’s quite simple. If it was just some muscle pain or anything else, do you think Sauber would accept me to not drive?”
Wehrlein is confident he will be fit enough to race on Sunday.
“I’ll be fine in the car. No pain, that’s the most important thing,” he said. “The track is also quite flat, not many bumps.”
Wehrlein impressed at times last year with Manor Racing during his F1 debut season, finishing 10th at the Austrian GP for the team’s only point.
Sauber F1 Team has confirmed Pascal Wehrlein will return to race action at this weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix, thus giving rise to the “third time’s a charm” line that he’ll finally make his team race debut at the third race of the season.
Wehrlein took himself out of action for the Australian Grand Prix after the Friday practice sessions, feeling his fitness wasn’t up to completing a full race distance.
The team then ruled him out in advance for the Chinese Grand Prix and potentially Bahrain, although Wehrlein said at the time he was hopeful of returning in Bahrain.
Ferrari reserve driver Antonio Giovinazzi filled in well at Melbourne but had a ragged weekend in Shanghai with two accidents, one in qualifying and one early in the race to bring out a Safety Car.
This will see the German driver back in action for what should, we think, finally, be in the second Sauber for the first time for a full weekend in 2017 following his Race of Champions crash and subsequent back injury sustained in January.
The Bahrain Grand Prix is live this weekend across CNBC, NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.
Pascal Wehrlein is working “flat out” to return to full fitness and make his first start of the 2017 Formula 1 season, according to Sauber team chief Monisha Kaltenborn.
Wehrlein was forced to miss the first pre-season test in Barcelona due to an injury sustained in a crash at the Race of Champions in January, but returned for the second week of running.
Wehrlein took part in practice for the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, only to find that his back and neck injuries were still causing trouble, forcing him to pull out of the race weekend.
The German was not entered for this weekend’s race in China, and it is unclear whether he will be fit enough to return for the Bahrain Grand Prix next Sunday.
“From a medical perspective he was declared fine to race, already at the tests. The rest is a question of his fitness to the extent that he wants to be able to deliver 100 per cent during the entire race,” Kaltenborn explained.
“We’ve heard also now in between from doctors and all that, it is very challenging for the drivers. We heard that from the drivers themselves. He’s working flat out on his fitness.”
Kaltenborn was unable to put a firm timeframe on when Wehrlein would return, but stressed that the second Sauber seat was his despite stand-in Antonio Giovinazzi putting in some impressive displays.
“It is very difficult to say, because the body is not that logical or analytical in its development, on what day it’s going to be there, but his target and our target is to have him as soon as possible in the car, ideally at the next race,” Kaltenborn said.
“But if not, it will the next one. But clear is that he is our second driver and that’s not going to change.”
Italian Antonio Giovinazzi will continue in Sauber F1 Team’s second car for this weekend’s Chinese Grand Prix and possibly the Bahrain Grand Prix next week as well, as Pascal Wehrlein remains sidelined while he tries to get his physicality back in shape.
The team release said: “Pascal Wehrlein will again be replaced by Antonio Giovinazzi to ensure that the German will be back in the cockpit of the Sauber C36-Ferrari, in best physical shape, at the earliest possible opportunity – either the Bahrain Grand Prix or the Russian Grand Prix.”
Giovinazzi was called up to action on the Friday night of the Australian Grand Prix weekend after Wehrlein determined his fitness wasn’t on par to complete a full race distance at Albert Park. However, Giovinazzi didn’t actually see the team’s text to him until Saturday morning. He made his race weekend debut in FP3 and progressed quickly with learning the track and nearly outqualifying teammate Marcus Ericsson.
In the race, he brought the car home to a 12th place finish.
Today’s confirmation for China and with the short turnaround time to Bahrain will ensure Sauber has a plan either way.
“For me the most important is that I can train intensively to ensure a 100 percent performance from my side as soon as possible,” Wehrlein said in the team’s advance.
“I will then be well-prepared for my first complete Grand Prix weekend for the Sauber F1 Team. Hopefully this can be in Bahrain but, if not, then we will take the time it needs until Russia to make sure I am completely ready.”
Interestingly, this news came after Mercedes-Benz motorsport chief Toto Wolff said he was impressed by Wehrlein’s maturity to rule himself out of action for Melbourne.
Coverage of the Chinese Grand Prix weekend on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app online begins Thursday night.