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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.

Valtteri Bottas takes pole position for season-opening Austrian GP

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SPIELBERG, Austria — Valtteri Bottas upstaged Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton to take pole position Saturday for the Formula One Austrian GP.

The Finnish driver edged out the world champion by 0.012 seconds to claim the top spot for the season opener at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg. He clenched his fist as he climbed out of his car and shared a hug with Hamilton.

“It’s something special when you push the car to the limit,” said Bottas, who is chasing an eighth career win. “Feels so good. It’s very impressive (from the team).”

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was third, and Lando Norris gave McLaren a boost by finishing fourth. Verstappen has won the past two years here, including 2019 when he started third behind Hamilton and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.

“It’s going to be interesting quite a bit warmer tomorrow and hopefully this will play to our advantage,” Verstappen said. “Today, Mercedes was on a different level, unfortunately. Last year we were also a little bit off in qualifying so I expect we will be a bit better in the race.”

Bottas had the leading time when drivers embarked on their final laps and beat his own mark before sliding off the track into the gravel.

Hamilton was chasing a record-extending 89th career pole. He was ahead but then dropped off slightly as Bottas secured a 12th career pole.

“Great job by Valtteri. It’s a great start to the season,” Hamilton said. “We show year on year that we continue to be the best team. We’re open-minded … constantly learning from each other and pushing the boundaries.”

Ferrari struggled for speed, with Leclerc nearly one second behind in seventh and Sebastian Vettel failing to make it into the third and final part of qualifying, known as Q3. He starts the race from 11th on the grid.

Vettel is leaving Ferrari at the end of the season with his future in F1 uncertain.

Earlier, Hamilton posted the fastest time in morning practice. The 35-year-old British driver was also quickest in both sessions on Friday.

Midway through third practice, F1 newcomer Nicholas Latifi misjudged the exit of a turn and spun his Williams car into a protective tire wall.