Red Bull snatched up Max Verstappen and now Mercedes has countered with Pascal Wehrlein in terms of the “signing new teenaged drivers” sweepstakes.
At the moment, though, Wehrlein’s Formula One appointment is only as Mercedes AMG Petronas reserve driver, and not to a race seat ahead of the 2015 grid.
Wehrlein, a 19-year-old German rising star, has quickly ascended from Formula 3 into DTM. Yesterday, he took his first DTM win at the Lausitzring in wet-dry conditions and became the youngest winner in that series’ history.
His F1 on-track experience is brief. Although he’s had a fair amount of simulator time, Wehrlein had his first F1 test just last week.
He tested Mercedes’ 2012 car, the W03, at Portimao on Thursday and banked 109 laps as part of a team Young Driver Evaluation. Nonetheless, he’s been signed up quickly and will begin his official duties as reserve driver ahead of this weekend’s Singapore Grand Prix, traveling with the team to the event.
“The test was simply the greatest experience I have had so far in motorsport,” Wehrlein said in a team release. “There weren’t any nerves, which surprised me – I just felt ready for it. The feedback from the team and from Toto was very encouraging and I think that I did a good job.”
Added Mercedes-Benz motorsport boss Toto Wolff, “We are delighted to officially welcome Pascal to the team after his successful test last week in Portugal. He has worked hard behind the scenes in our simulator, playing a very important role in pre-race preparations. Aside from Nico and Lewis, he is the driver most familiar with all the procedures of our F1 W05 Hybrid and therefore the right choice for the role of reserve driver.”
Chase Sexton stumbled in San Diego and Eli Tomac had a hard fall in Anaheim 2, but the Monster Energy Supercross numbers for Houston suggest they will continue to be the ones to beat in Houston. To do so, they will have to turn back challenges from another pair of riders who have swept the top five in the first three rounds and another with a worst finish of sixth.
There are reasons to believe Webb and Roczen can keep those streaks alive.
Webb is the only multiple winner at Supercross’ current Houston stadium. His pair of wins came in 2019 and 2021, the same year he won his two 450 championships.
Clinton Fowler points out this week, that Webb has carried that strength into 2023. Webb had a late surge in Anaheim 1, advancing from fifth to second in the final six laps. In San Diego, he set his ninth fastest lap with two to go and his eighth fastest on the final lap. He posted his fastest lap of Anaheim 2 on Lap 12 while the rest of the field did so on Lap 6 on average.
By comparison, Tomac set his 14th fastest lap on the final circuit in route to winning the Main at San Diego while he was trying to keep Webb at bay.
With a sixth at San Diego, Dylan Ferrandis barely missed sweeping the top five in his first three races as did Tomac with a sixth last week at Anaheim 2.
This will be the 46th year Supercross has visited Houston and with 55 races the city is tied for the second-most with Detroit.
Webb won most recently in 2021 in the final race of three held there that year as the series executed a strategy of racing in residencies to limit travel during height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Tomac and Justin Barcia also won in Houston in 2021.
Two privateers have started the season on a high note.
Joshua Cartwright and Joshua Varize have each made the last two Mains. Cartwright finished 18th in San Diego and 21st last week in Anaheim 2 – all while working fulltime as a Business Intelligence Analyst at the University of Texas, Dallas. Varize earned a top-15 (12th) in San Diego and was 21st in Anaheim 2 in his third season on a 450.
The numbers show none of the active 250 Supercross East riders have won in Houston, so no matter who steps on top of the box, there is going to be a fresh face. That is not surprising since most of the top competitors have not raced at this venue yet.
Michael Mosiman has a pair of top-fives there, however. His best finish was a second in the second 2021 race. Garrett Marchbanks scored a top-10 in his rookie season of 2019 in Houston.
In the 250 East division, Hunter Lawrence is one of the favorites to win the title now that Christian Craig has moved to 450s. Last year he had four wins and nine podiums, but failed to set a fast lap in a race.