It’s not been the easiest of offseasons or start to seasons for Pascal Wehrlein, having been passed over for potential seats with Mercedes AMG Petronas and Sahara Force India, and then suffering a still mysterious back injury that lingered into the testing season and ultimately forced him to step aside from the Australian Grand Prix.
That opened the door for Antonio Giovinazzi to make his Formula 1 debut in the Ferrari-powered Sauber F1 Team. The Italian performed a widely hailed job on debut to finish 12th after only having one hour of free practice to learn the Albert Park circuit in Melbourne and nearly beating Marcus Ericsson in qualifying.
You’d figure Wehrlein’s stock has not gone up in the last few months as a result, but Mercedes-Benz motorsport chief Toto Wolff has actually hailed how Wehrlein has handled his adversity with a respectable amount of maturity.
“I feel for Pascal, because he has had all the bad luck,” Wolff said heading into this weekend’s Chinese Grand Prix.
“I’m impressed with the maturity he has shown to inform Sauber that he wouldn’t be able to perform at the level required in Melbourne. That took courage and selflessness, which I know earned him a lot of credit within the team.”
Wehrlein hasn’t yet been confirmed to return at Shanghai – Giovinazzi would continue in the seat if Wehrlein reaffirms he’s not up to it – but Wolff is optimistic that Wehrlein will regain his early 2016 season form whenever he returns.
“Now, he needs to build up his fitness and come back strong. I have no doubt that when he’s back in the car, he’ll prove he’s still the same Pascal.”
While Wolff was overly sensitive towards Wehrlein, he was effusive in praise of Wehrlein’s Manor teammate of a year ago, Esteban Ocon. Ocon made one of the rare overtaking moves during the race, with he and Nico Hulkenberg dispatching of Fernando Alonso in one fell swoop going into Turn 1, and that was enough to deliver the Frenchman his first career point.
“Our young drivers have also impressed me in different ways,” Wolff explained. “Seeing Esteban not only fighting with top drivers like Alonso and Hülkenberg but coming out as the winner to take his first F1 point in Melbourne made me proud.”