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Pascal Wehrlein Q&A: I have to impress Mercedes in 2016

15 Mar 2016

Long regarded as one of the brightest racing talents in the world - a reputation assured when he became the youngest ever DTM champion last year - Mercedes protege Pascal Wehrlein makes his much-anticipated step up to the F1 grid in 2016 with Manor. Despite improvements, the Banbury-based team aren’t expected to challenge at the sharp-end this season, but, as Wehrlein explains in this exclusive interview, that doesn’t mean the pressure isn’t on to perform…

Q: You only signed for Manor in mid-February, so it’s been a whirlwind few weeks for you. Can you talk us through how the deal came about?

Pascal Wehrlein: We were in discussions for a long time with Manor, but the decision was definitely quite late - just one and a half weeks before the first test.

Q: Were you beginning to think, ‘is it going to happen? What am I going to be doing this year?’

PW: I was always in contact with Mercedes, with Toto [Wolff, Mercedes-Benz Motorsport chief], and he told me ‘it’s looking good, but it’s not sure - there are some other drivers with more money’. But in the end it was the decision of Manor. It was not that Mercedes gave Manor engines and therefore they had to take me - it was completely separate.

Q: So Toto was integral to the whole thing coming together?

PW: Yes, but not only Toto - the whole team. But of course, Toto is the boss…

Q: Moving from the DTM to F1 racing is not unprecedented - we saw Paul Di Resta make the jump a few years ago - but it’s not a common thing to do. How have you found the transition so far?

PW: It’s really not easy going from DTM to F1. I did three years in DTM but before that I was in single-seaters, so I have experience of them. But, of course, the DTM is touring cars and it’s different and you just have to adapt and take it as a completely different story. It’s something completely different.

Q: So there are no similarities between the two of them?

PW: No, no - nothing at all.

Q: You mentioned Mercedes and the role they played in helping you to F1. Have they set you any goals for the season or are they just happy to see how things go?

PW: There’s no real target in terms of position, but for sure they want me to perform well. If the team says ‘he’s an ok driver, but not great’ it’s for sure not what they want to hear. I have to perform.

Q: So it sounds like there’s a fair amount of pressure…

PW: There’s always pressure. I mean you want to perform, you want to impress people and you want to get results. There has to be pressure - if there’s no pressure maybe you don’t push to the maximum. So it’s fine.

Q: So in that sense, what would constitute a good season for you?

PW: I think the first positive thing should be that we are competitive in Melbourne - that we are not at the back with a big gap to the other teams. Last year Manor was two or three seconds behind the second last team, so the first goal is to catch up and be able to fight with the other teams. Then if we can score some points, that would be great.

Q: You mentioned Manor being a long way off the back last year. From what you’ve seen in testing, do you expect that to change in 2016?

PW: It won’t be easy, but we are pushing a lot and we’ve tried really hard to catch up and be able to fight with the midfield teams.

Q: Even though you’re very young and still a rookie, you’ve driven three F1 cars already - last year you tested for Mercedes and Force India and this year you’ve obviously driven for Manor. How important has that experience been? You’ve driven the world championship-winning car, so you must have a good idea of the differences between a good and a bad car…

PW: Of course the experience helps, but it’s also not as much as people have been saying. I’m 21 - I spent one-and-a-half years as Mercedes’ reserve driver, but in that time I did just five or six days in the car. And beside that I’ve done DTM, so you can count that every three months I’ve done one day in an F1 car. It’s not a lot, but for sure I have some experience. I know how the Mercedes behaves - or behaved in the past - and, of course, I can translate it to Manor and say what we have to change to be quicker, how it should feel.

Q: What about your physical preparations for F1 racing? You were pictured training in the Pyrenees mountains…

PW: Yes, over the last month I’ve spent a lot of time in the Pyrenees. I have a trainer there and was just doing preparations for the season. Before the first test I went there for one week - and I went back for more training in between the two tests, just to be ready for Melbourne.

Q: Have you had to change a lot in your fitness regime for F1 racing? How does an F1 car compare physically to driving a DTM car?

PW: Physically it’s really different, DTM to F1. In DTM there are less G-forces, so it’s not so hard on the neck. But in the DTM car it’s 50-60 degrees [Celsius], so it gets really hot in the races. In an F1 car you can open your visor just a little bit to get a bit of fresh air. But in F1 you need more strength, more power.

Q: You did more than three race distances in testing. How did you feel afterwards?

PW: It’s fine, not a problem. For sure you feel it, but it’s not painful. I could do another three race distances!

Q: You grew up in Germany and race with the German flag on your race suit, but people might not know that your mother is from the island of Mauritius. Is there a big interest out there in what you’re doing?

PW: Yes, there’s big interest in Mauritius. I’m German, but like you said, my mother is from Mauritius, so there is Mauritian blood in me. They follow my career very closely and whenever I go there I have to do interviews. Now that I’m an F1 driver all of a sudden everyone wants an interview! They are interested in motorsport, but they don’t do it much there - there is no race track, just a couple of karting tracks. So for them it is something very special.

Q: How does your profile compare in Germany? The DTM is a high-profile series, so is there a lot of interest in your career in your homeland?

PW: Definitely. In Germany, the motorsport people know me well from DTM, because it’s very famous there. Now obviously the interest is much bigger than it was last year.

Q: Not long before the first race. How ready do you feel to jump in the car in Melbourne?

PW: I’m ready, but I was also ready last year. I needed to be ready in case something happened to one of the [Mercedes] drivers. I would have needed to be ready to race. So I’m ready and the team is also ready - we just have to improve, find more performance, learn more about the car and be even more ready for Australia!