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Out until Sochi? The curious case of Pascal Wehrlein and F1 super sub Giovinazzi

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Out until Sochi? The curious case of Pascal Wehrlein and F1 super sub Giovinazzi
Apr 4, 2017, 9:53 AM

The accident he suffered in the Race of Champions is turning out to be expensive for Pascal Wehrlein.

The accident he suffered in the Race of Champions is turning out to be expensive for Pascal Wehrlein.

The German needs momentum in his career having been passed over for the Force India and Mercedes seats last year, but the back injury sustained in the extra-curricular ROC event in January has caused him to announce that he will miss the Chinese Grand Prix this weekend and may also have to forfeit Bahrain a week later as he struggles to regain race fitness.

His place will be taken once again by Antonio Giovinazzi, who three times raced at Shanghai in 2012, taking two podiums in a junior single seater event there.

Pascal Wehrlein

"For me the most important is that I can train intensively to ensure a 100 percent performance from my side as soon as possible," said Wehrlein in an announcement on Monday.

"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."

Antonio Giovinazzi

So what's going on here?

It is a strange episode and some observers in Melbourne were less than complimentary about Wehrlein's decision not to race, despite being cleared to do so by FIA doctors.

One former F1 driver called him "Princess Pascal".

Wehrlein took part in Friday practice in Melbourne but then told the team he didn't feel he had been able to do enough training for the new generation of cars, with much higher cornering and braking G forces. It wasn't the injury itself that prevented him from racing, but the fact that he had missed so much training due to injury, he wasn't fit enough to race.

So Antonio Giovinazzi was parachuted in on Saturday morning and did an excellent job. The 23 year old Italian will drive again in Shanghai and then could well make it a hat trick of starts in Bahrain.

Antonio Giovinazzi

That third race will be an important decision as it will make him ineligible to be classed as a young driver in tests; there are some in season tests now permitted, mainly to develop tyres, of four days. Two days are allocated only for drivers who have completed two F1 races or fewer.

On the face of it, Giovinazzi would forfeit his chance to do those tests for Ferrari if he races in Bahrain for Sauber.

Wehlein was selected on merit by Sauber; they had plenty of other drivers with money who applied for the seat, but the management were aware that Wehrlein was available and targetted him, once it became clear that he was not going to get the seat at Mercedes vacated by the world champion Nico Rosberg.

Antonio Giovinazzi

As always with F1, one driver's loss is another's gain. Giovinazzi is a driver in vogue; Mercedes boss Toto Wolff likes him and was on the verge of signing him up last Autumn, but the best he could offer was a DTM programme with some F1 seat time at tests. But his manager Enrico Zanarini, who used to manage Eddie Irvine and Giancarlo Fisicella, managed to secure a Ferrari reserve driver role, which brought him to the Sauber seat, due to their close collaboration.

This is where it starts to get interesting, as Ferrari has not run an Italian driver since Fisichella in 2009 and even then it was a stand-in role.

There was a feeling that they lacked the sang-froid to cope with carrying the prancing horse on their overalls, perhaps the successive managements felt that other nationalities were preferable. The last serious Italian F1 driver to hold a permanent seat was Michele Alboreto from 1984-88, when Enzo Ferrari was still alive.

There is a new wind at Maranello, with chairman Sergio Marchionne feeling emboldened by his dramatic decision to replace James Allison as technical chief with Mattia Binotto last summer. This emphasis on promoting Italian talent has stretched throughout the team and at the moment, Ferrari looks competitive.

Kimi Raikkonen

As well as not signing Italians, Ferrari doesn't tend to sign drivers who don't have several years experience racing in F1. Felipe Massa was sent away to Sauber for three seasons before he got the Ferrari seat alongside Michael Schumacher in 2006.

But Marchionne does things differently from the way they were done in the past.

Around June, when the top driver contracts begin to get discussed, it will be interesting if Giovinazzi has performed strongly in the opening two or three rounds to see whether he gets a look in for Kimi Raikkonen's seat. The Finn was below par in Australia and will need to raise his game in China and Bahrain to get his season going.

A really strong performance from Giovinazzi this weekend may change the dynamics both at Sauber and Ferrari and put some real momentum into his career, while taking the edge off Wehrlein's.

What do you make of this development? Leave your comments below

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Series Formula 1
Teams Sauber