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Wehrlein releases photos of injury recovery after F1 comeback in Bahrain

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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.”

F1 Sauber driver Wehrlein hits back at critics over absence

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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.

Antonio Giovinazzi apologizes to Sauber after China qualifying crash

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Antonio Giovinazzi has apologized to his Sauber team after crashing out of Formula 1 qualifying for the Chinese Grand Prix on Saturday in Shanghai.

Giovinazzi made his F1 debut two weeks ago in Australia as a last-minute replacement for Pascal Wehrlein, who continued to struggle for fitness following his Race of Champions crash in January.

The Italian was one of the stand-out performers in Melbourne, almost reaching Q2 and finishing 12th in his first race for Sauber.

Giovinazzi was drafted in to replace Wehrlein again for this weekend’s race in China, and looked set to ease through to Q2 in qualifying before crashing out at the final corner, running wide at exit before careering sideways across the track and into the wall.

The shunt brought out yellow flags and ruined a number of drivers’ late qualifying laps, allowing Giovinazzi to make it through to Q2. While he could take no part in the session, Giovinazzi still qualified 15th.

“For me it was a disappointing ending to qualifying. It was all good until the last corner of my final lap,” Giovinazzi said.

“I was already in Q2 and improving my lap time, but I pushed a bit too much, touched the grass in the exit of the last corner and then lost the rear of the car.

“I apologize to the team for what happened. Tomorrow I will do my best to put in a good performance.”

The Chinese Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 1am ET on Sunday.

Antonio Giovinazzi expecting easier time in second F1 weekend

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Antonio Giovinazzi expects to have an easier ride during his second Formula 1 race weekend after receiving plenty of notice to replace Pascal Wehrlein at Sauber for the Chinese Grand Prix.

2016 GP2 runner-up Giovinazzi was informed just hours before final practice for the Australian Grand Prix that he would be stepping in for Wehrlein at Sauber, with the German driver still lacking fitness following his accident at the Race of Champions in January.

Giovinazzi put in a solid display on debut, almost reaching Q2 and eventually finishing the race 12th despite having less than an hour of practice time in the C36 car prior to the race.

Sauber announced on Monday that Giovinazzi would be returning to the race seat for China, and may also appear in Bahrain next weekend should Wehrlein still be unfit.

“It was a special weekend. It was my first F1 grand prix, a dream came true,” Giovinazzi said, reflecting on his debut.

“Since I was a kid the dream was to arrive in F1 and to drive there was a fantastic experience, fantastic weekend. It was a quite late call on Saturday morning but I really enjoyed everything I did from FP3 to quali to race. So, I will never forget.”

Giovinazzi feels that his second race weekend will be much smoother given he already has one race distance under his belt, as well as getting a full complement of practice running this time around.

“To start from FP1 will be more easy, and also to have the experience from Melbourne will make everything a lot more easy,” Giovinazzi said.

“It will be a different race weekend though. The weather also looks difficult. So, it will be maybe wet and also to have some experience in the wet conditions will be good.

“What I can do is to do my best and hope the result can be good like Melbourne.”

Giovinazzi continues for Sauber in China, possibly Bahrain

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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.