Pascal Wehrlein will sit out this weekend’s Chinese Grand Prix and may not return until the Russian Grand Prix at Sochi as he attenpts to make up for lost ground brought about by his Race of Chanpions crash over the winter. Although he has clearly made a brave decision in stepping aside due to a lack of fitness, he has been harshly treated by some in the press.
His display of selflessness in stepping aside to allow Antonio Giovanazzi to drive his Sauber has been met with a mixture of praise and criticism although the decision clearly makes sense to the team and its sponsors for whom every world championship point could mean the crucial difference between survival and demise.
Safety is paramount in Formula One and thankfully as time has progressed, the sport has done its part in minimising potential risk to those who risk their lives every other weekend in the hunt for glory. Sadly, as we are all aware, there are exceptions to the rule and tragic accidents can occur. On the whole, however, much is done to keep drivers safe on-track and such incidents are uncommon.
So why then, would one of these immensely brave warriors be called into battle ill prepared and ill-equipped not only to perform at the highest level but also to keep himself and his competitors safe? Now more than ever we are being told how the new regulations have required new levels of fitness and physical capabilities. Over the winter, social media was awash with selfies and clips of drivers training infinitely more intensely than before. These men are not at the peak of physical fitness for a laugh – the sport demands it. Surely if you don’t consider yourself up to the task physically, that would undermine safety measures.
If he gets in that car physically unable to cope with the pressures placed upon him, who gets the blame when he can’t keep it on the road? If he says he is not physically ready, then it is utterly ludicrous to criticise the man. Try running a marathon without any training. Again this would be inexplicable as the physical demands would be unsafe.l and this is similar.
Formula One is a sport defined by fine margins. One millisecond or one point can determine your future and at no point would it be wise to put your chances of success at risk. We saw last season how close the scrap was between Sauber and Manor – the former prevailed but at the expense of Manor’s place on the grid. If your best chance of securing championship points are prior to a relentless arms race getting fully underway, why would you turn up with an unfit driver unable to capitalise? The situation is complex but as always there is a bigger picture. It’s obvious that super-sub Giovanazzi can do the job so if Wehrlein is injured then this just makes sense.
Points mean prizes.
Having been a part of the aforementioned Manor Racing team, Wehrlein understands the unforgiving nature of F1 more than most.
He will know that the talented Giovanazzi’s performances could well put pressure on his own drive in the future and his decision not to take to the track will have been taken with a heavy heart. A Formula One driver’s will to race and win burns so bright and he will be deeply disappointed that he can’t race in Shanghai but he has to feel ready. If he drove, put in a below-par performance or even binned it into the barriers, the vultures would soon be circling, criticising the decision as ill-informed.
He is in the unenviable position. Located between a rock and a hard place, Wehrlein’s decision would have centred around his and the team’s aspirations. Although it is impossible to fully understand the situation from the outside, it looks as if he has admirably put his own aspirations to one side.
Not only has he taken a decision that minimises the risk to his fellow drivers, but also one that is magnanimous and mature. He could have knowingly risked Sauber’s chances of snatching a point in the season’s early exchanges but instead selflessly put the needs of his team before his own.
He also took the decision in the knowledge that some within the press would inexplicably lambast him for the decision but he did so anyway.
Who knows what the coming weeks have in store for Wehrlein, Giovanazzi and Sauber? The sport more often than not throws a curveball or more information on the situation could arise. True, Wehrlein’s rise appears to be slowing in comparison to Giovanazzi’s but again it’s too early to be drawing conclusions.
For now, the young German should be commended for going down this path in the face of risk and criticism. Well done Pascal, here’s to a successful training programme and to your return at Sochi. Good luck to Giovanazzi in China too. The Italian clearly has a bright future ahead of him.