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Wehrlein: I’m ready to step up to Mercedes if opportunity arises

27 May 2016

Pascal Wehrlein can already boast a glittering career outside of F1 - but five races into his rookie season, he’s hoping his performances are laying the foundation for even greater achievements. With Nico Rosberg potentially out of contract at the end the season, we pressed the Mercedes protege on his chances of stepping up to the main team, his goals for the season - and how he is going about preparing for what will be his first race in any series on the streets of Monaco...

Q: Pascal, we’re five races into your fledgling F1 career. Are you satisfied it has clicked into gear?

Pascal Wehrlein: More or less, yes. To be honest I didn’t really know what to expect this season. I joined the team very late - it was already February - and had no idea if, and how much, they had improved from last year. There was a bit of a question mark over the team’s competitiveness. Now I know we have the potential to fight with some other teams. That is much more fun than being all by ourselves at the very end of the grid.

Q: Has your perception of F1 changed since you joined the grid?

PW: Of course. F1 was always my dream since the day I decided to become a race driver, some day at the age of five or six. Now I am here - and now I want more. Being here is suddenly not enough any longer. Of course the perception has changed: before I was queuing up for an autograph from Sebastian (Vettel) or Fernando (Alonso), now we speak among equals. They are no longer ‘godlike’, but guys like me. That was a comfortable discovery. (laughs)  

Q: Given that you spent the last three seasons in DTM, is getting mileage in single-seaters still an important objective for you? 

PW: Yes, mileage is still very important for me. I have spent three years in a touring car, which is a far cry from a Formula One car in behaviour and driving style, and before DTM I only had one year in Formula Three. So yes, mileage means a lot. 

Q: Is it fair to say you haven’t quite showed your full potential so far? That you haven’t out-shone Rio Haryanto in the manner some expected you to?

PW: Of course when you win the DTM championship at the age of 20 - leaving guys like Paul di Resta or Gary Paffett behind - then expectations skyrocket. But right now I simply don’t have the tools to show more. I have to be patient! 

Q: Was it a risk to enter F1 with Manor? A driver’s reputation is a very fragile thing…

PW: Well, in everything there is risk involved - in every decision that you take. Right now I consider this a learning year. As I said before, mileage is still paramount for me - and when I signed the contract I was very much aware of what I would get. There are also so many new tracks for me - like this weekend in Monaco - which I have to come to terms with. Other rookies might have a few tracks to come to terms with - for me it is probably 10 or 12! And if you are not able to do them all blindfolded you will never be able to enter a top team. So learning is written on my forehead big time! (laughs) 

Q: Testing for Mercedes in Barcelona last week must have given you a taste of what cars at the other end of the grid feel like…

PW: I was running a certain program - otherwise I would have clocked the fastest time! It was one of those special racing moments when you really physically feel that a car is quick.

Q: Esteban Ocon was scheduled to run - and suddenly you were in the cockpit. How did that happen?

PW: Tuesday evening I received a phone call from Mercedes - I was already in the hotel - and they asked me if I wanted to drive the next day. What a question! (laughs) I jumped into the car, drove to the track and made the seat fitting. It was already after midnight when everything was done. Wednesday I managed around 140 laps. It was demanding - and felt like Christmas! (laughs) 

Q: Toto Wolff always speaks with much affection about you, calling you ‘our little prince’. That sounds charming, but nobody wants to stay a little prince forever. When will you make the transition to the throne of a Mercedes race seat? Do you have a time frame for that ambition?

PW: Of course there is something in my head - but that’s for me! Of course I want to sit in a Mercedes cockpit as fast as possible. And then the full program: win races and championships. But first is learning. No doubt would it be incredible to sit in the Mercedes next season...

Q: …then let’s play the 'what-if' game. The media are reporting rumours that Ferrari are talking with Rosberg. What if he goes for red - would you then go for silver? And did the test day have anything to do with that situation?

PW: I would wish, no doubt. When I spoke with Toto some months ago he said that Mercedes couldn’t put young drivers without experience into our team. That would be too high a risk. Now I would have one year of experience under my belt… In the end it is Mercedes’ and Toto’s decision if that one year is enough experience. I am ready, for sure. And regarding the ‘little prince’: little princes tend to become kings one day!

Q: But first things first: the Monaco race is very special - some even call it madness! You have never raced here, so how do you prepare for a circuit that cannot be compared to anything else?

PW: Yes, true, this track is a blank page for me - and from what I know from the simulator it is a pretty difficult track, very tricky. But I also think that there are two ways to come to terms with this circuit: either you have tonnes of experience here , or you are a newbie with very little ‘worry potential’. One thing is paramount though: don’t kiss the walls. It’s better to go slower and memorise every centimetre than do the bravado thing in free practice and crash out. That at least was my plan on Thursday. Okay, the time was rather disillusioning, but my car is still intact. And it’s only Thursday - times don’t mean a lot!