At the halfway point of what has been a very mixed 2017 season for Pascal Wehrlein, the future of the Sauber driver – a member of Mercedes’ junior driver programme – is already the subject of paddock speculation. We caught up with the German to get his personal take on what lies ahead…
Q: Pascal, you seem to have a talent for delivering much-needed points to ailing teams. You did it with Manor last year and you have scored Sauber's only points so far this season. When do you expect this will finally be rewarded with a competitive drive?
Pascal Wehrlein: Hopefully soon. My target is to one day be in a team where I can win races, get on the podium regularly and fight for championships. Right now I don’t have these tools to make it happen. The weekends where we score points are very, very special for us because we don’t have the car to finish in the top ten often – only if the stars are in the right place! (Laughs) And then we have to take the opportunity and bag the points. I am very happy that when the chance was there I was able to grab it. I want to be there when it counts.
Q: Shouldn’t somebody notice that?
PW: I think it gets noticed that I have scored points in cars that under normal circumstances don’t score points. I don’t worry about that.
Q: Your Mercedes connections mean you have been linked to a drive with the team. Could Valtteri Bottas’s success rain on your parade? Do you worry about that?
PW: No, because I cannot influence such a decision, so worrying about things that you cannot influence is wasting your time and wasting your strength and efforts. Yes, Valtteri is doing a good job and he deserves it.
Q: Sauber are set to race with Honda power units next year – and there have been media rumours speculating that Honda is looking into a Sauber take-over. Is that setting off alarm bells concerning your whereabouts for 2018?
PW: I have no idea what is happening next year. Of course, I have heard all these rumours as well. But the same answer goes for this as for the previous question: I cannot influence any of these things, so why worry about them? Whatever rumours there are in the air, it is no distraction for me - that is the bottom line. I have a contract for this season so I am only focusing on this year – and the rest is a bit like the Valtteri thing: I cannot influence anything. Decisions are made by others and I am only here to drive - to perform as well as I can. Of course I want to see Sauber do well. They have the potential and have already been in good positions in the past and I want them to get back there. How and when – that is on another page.
Q: When you say that you have a contract for this year, does that mean that 2018 is completely open?
PW: At the moment, yes.
Q: That means you are on the ‘market’?
PW: Yes, you could say so.
Q: Sauber have been undergoing many changes in recent months – first the acquisition by Longbow last year, the subsequent departure of team principal Monisha Kaltenborn, and now the appointment of Fred Vasseur as new team principal. Is that a distracting factor as a driver?
PW: First and foremost, the team wants to do better than we are doing now or did last season. So from now on we need ‘lucky races’. It is definitely a different situation now than it has been. The team wants to get back to where they were around five years ago. You can physically feel this desire in the team.
Q: What are your expectations of Fred? He is a ‘racing man’ who knows all the ins and outs of a team, about technical aspects and about young drivers. But he probably can't work miracles…
PW: Yes, I do have expectations of Fred – and the team. I don’t know how fast Fred can change things or how he can change them, but we now have one race left before the summer shut-down. In the second half of the season the team will focus on next year, so I don't think you will see his touch too much this year. So let's see what we can still do with the tools that we have right now. I really respect Fred. I used to work with him in DTM. He had a team when I drove there in 2015. He has so much experience in motorsport and in many other ventures outside racing. He is a very successful man. He could help Sauber. He could be very good for the team.
Q: Can you talk us through your season so far? It is mid-season and time to reflect on the achievements, on acclimatising to a new team, coming to terms with a new team mate – and spending a lot of time in Switzerland…
PW: It is no secret that my start to the season was very difficult. The injury matter was pretty tough. Going to Australia and not driving was hard and having to skip China was another notch on the ‘horror scale’. The start to 2017 in Bahrain was not bad. It felt like I had never been away, never been injured. The first qualifying took me to Q2 and I nearly finished in the points with P11- with the Sauber car! Since then it is going smoothly and pretty much in the right direction. Twice I scored points, with the clear highlight of Barcelona, which was exceptional for us finishing in P7 - even if with the penalty it was finally P8. But imagine: P7 with the Sauber! Yes there have been difficult races since then, but we knew that this would happen.
Q: And your trips to Switzerland?
PW: I love to go to Switzerland. And the Sauber facilities are great. The team really has everything to be successful.
Q: So what can we expect from Sauber in the coming races?
PW: For Budapest we are set for a big upgrade. Almost all the car – or all the aero side – will be new, so that should give us a good performance boost. If what the data shows really can materialize we could be on a good go. So the plan is to dive through the Silverstone weekend and look forward to Budapest!