Pascal Wehrlein has gone through the ringer in recent weeks. He went from an uncertain future with Formula 1 basement dweller Manor to the high of being considered for the 2nd seat for F1’s top team, Mercedes AMG. Unfortunately for Pascal, the Mercedes drive didn’t materialize, contrary to my predictions. Valtteri Bottas’ experience has made him the choice for the reigning F1 champs. Undeterred, Wehrlein moved on engaging in talks with one of the better 2nd tier teams in Force India. The connection was obvious. Force India uses Mercedes power, Wehrlein is under contract with Mercedes, it just made sense. Unfortunately once again for Pascal, Force India decided to go with another Mercedes young driver in Esteban Ocon.
“Toto (Wolff) called me,” Pascal said. “He said Force India chose Esteban and I will have to understand why that is or what I can improve from my side.”
The news hit Pascal hard. Despite saying all the correct things in interviews you can sense the disappointment in his words.
“I have to deal with it.” Wehrlein said. “I can say something bad now but that will not help me. It has been coming for days and yesterday I got the confirmation and all I can do is wish Esteban all the best. I will now continue to show on the track what I have in me – this is a small step back but no more.”
You can’t really blame him for being disappointed. He went from potentially driving the best car with the best current team to searching for a ride, with the prospect of returning to Manor a very real possibility. To say young Pascal was in his own glass cage of emotion would be the understatement of the still very young 2017.
All of this has now lead the young driver to Sauber. Sauber has been a decent team in the past, when they were very competitive during their days with BMW. Today is a very different story. They are constantly riddled with financial issues and have become a bottom tier team. Mercedes, surprisingly, is the one who penned this deal. In the era of pay-to-play drivers, Mercedes is actually paying Sauber for their seat. Pascal is under contract with Mercedes, so in a very weird version of the motorsport transitive property Wehrlein is now a Sauber Driver. What makes the decision odd is Sauber will use year old Ferrari Power in 2017. Mercedes making the decision to put one of their young drivers in a car that they share nothing with is curious at best.
The question remains how did we get here? How did one of the sport’s better young drivers go from the best of the best to one of the worst teams in F1? Why won’t any of the good teams touch this guy? He’s got talent, and he’s got the backing of Mercedes, yet Wehrlein finds himself resigned to another season driving for a backmarker.
The primary reason seems to be lack of experience. Mercedes is obviously looking to win another championship so a young driver with limited experience is a huge risk for them. But what about Force India? Clearly experience isn’t the issue with them as they opted to go with the less experienced of the 2 Mercedes young drivers in Esteban Ocon. I guess they believe Ocon will provide better results? Honestly that is a head scratching decision. In my opinion, Wehrlein was the far better choice. He had very good results, even scoring points with Manor, a team that rarely comes close to scoring points. Wehrlein routinely out shined his teammates and yet he is the one left wanting. It doesn’t make sense.
Or does it? The reason any team not named Ferrari, Mercedes or Red Bull makes a curious driver decision is because of money. The lesser teams do not have the budget of the big factory teams. They rely on paying drivers to make their numbers in order to complete a F1 season. So either Ocon brought more money in the form of sponsorships (It is very difficult for me to believe Mercedes offered more money for Ocon over Wehrlein) or Force India really thinks Ocon is the better driver.
As you can plainly see there is a lot more to Formula 1 driver selections than simply choosing the fastest driver. It is a web of money, complicated deals, and ego. Pascal just happened to find himself smack in the middle of it and he came out the loser. Fortunately for him he is still young and should be preparing like a mad man to make 2017 as good as he can.