Pascal Wehrlein has secured a seat alongside Marcus Ericsson at Sauber for 2017 after the promising German driver missed out on the vacancies at Force India and more recently Mercedes.
Wehrlein’s lack of Formula One experience has put Valtteri Bottas as the clear favourite to partner Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes next season. Whilst Wehrlein’s move to Sauber could be perceived as a sidestep given Manor Racing’s similar performance levels in 2016, funding is in place for Sauber to mount a more intense in-season upgrade package.
Sauber weren’t helped in 2016 by their financial problems. It paralysed the team in terms of development and for most of the season they were adrift of the midfield and fighting amongst themselves and Manor. But next season, the team are assuring that they will be more competitive and are hopeful of finding their pace again.
The Mercedes protege is replacing Felipe Nasr, who secured around £11m with his 9th place finish in Interlagos for Sauber in a last gasp move in the Constructors standings that usurped Manor from 10th following Wehrlein’s inspired point-finish in Austria.
The broader results of Wehrlein’s move will hurt Manor racing for several reasons. Firstly, they are losing a driver that has shown a greater turn of pace than ex-Haas driver Esteban Gutierrez, who is poised to recover his F1 career at Manor. If he can’t score for Haas, Manor might have to look elsewhere for a points finish. The bigger issue is that Wehrlein’s affiliation with Mercedes was allowing Manor Racing to use the team’s wind tunnel for R&D.
Given the ever decreasing shelf life of Formula One driver’s, it feels like next season will be crucial for Wehrlein. At Sauber, he has the opportunity to silence the critics that believe he has some sort of attitude deficit, but more importantly (It’s not a popularity contest, results are a bit more important), Wehrlein has the chance to show Mercedes what a second year in Formula One looks like for him in terms of performance. The Silver Arrows see Wehrlein as a future driver and if he can impress in some midfield dogfights in 2017, his racing CV will look much better for 2018.