His second year in Formula 1 did not start the best way. Having missed the first two races due to an injury, his decision cast criticism and yet he came back stronger. We have talked with Pascal Wehrlein about the difficult time he was away from the track, his arrival to the pinnacle of motorsport and dig deeper into his relationship with Toto Wolff.
Following your decision of not taking part in the first two races of the year after the injury, some criticism came along. Do you have the feeling it was unfair?
Honestly, I did not pay attention to those comments. People didn’t know how heavy the injury was. If someone knew that I fractured three bones in my back, I think they would think different and would understand my decision. The back is something really critical and I could be in a wheelchair right now but I got very lucky. So hearing comments like those makes you realise they are based on nothing.
It has been almost four months since the accident. Can you assure us your recovery is going as well as expected?
I feel really good because the pain starts to disappear completely. I just feel it when I train really hard or after a long day in the car. But otherwise I have no pain at all, which is very positive and also unusual for this kind of injury.
Mercedes didn’t doubt in supporting you in your decision, especially Toto Wolff. What does that mean to you?
Toto is my mentor and he has been crucial in my career. I know him since 2010. Indeed, the way we met was certainly funny. I remember I was racing for Mücke Motorsport and people from the team had a lot of trust in him, so they invited me to a DTM weekend and there I got to meet Mr Wolff and I asked him straight away if he could help me with my career. He declined at first because I was too young and I needed more experience. However, he indeed said he would follow my career closely. Toto counted on me for the Mercedes Junior Programme and also helped me in DTM. He has always been extremely supporting and so has been the team.
If you’re not wealthy, if you don’t have a sponsor that pays for you or if you don’t have the support of a manufacturer, you must be the best driver, not an average one, but the best in every category.
And having all that support, and being considered one of the most talented young drivers on the grid, at any point did you believe you could replace Nico Rosberg?
To be honest, I didn’t think too much about it during the winter. Of course, I knew that it was possible that this could happen, but I also knew it wasn’t my last chance. I only have a single year of experience, and Mercedes believes in me. As long as I do a good job they will keep investing in me. They helped me to get a seat in Sauber and I try not to focus too much on the future because that may distract me. When Rosberg announced his retirement I was focused on training hard, working with the team and getting myself ready for the year and that is still my priority right now.
You were one of the cases that always have had a manufacturer backing you and somehow it looks racing is a sport you need to have either a huge sponsor behind or lots of money. To what extend is that true today?
Well… finding sponsorship is extremely difficult, and the reality is that if you’re not wealthy, if you don’t have a sponsor that pays for you or if you don’t have the support of a manufacturer, you must be the best driver, not an average one, but the best in every category to get a chance to race in Formula 1, otherwise it is almost impossible.
Especially if we consider nowadays the only path to get to Formula 1 is wining the F2 or GP3, letting you aside since you were the exception.
I would not say there are many ways because my way [Pascal comes from DTM] was a very difficult and unusual one. Yes, the normal way is coming from F2 or GP3, mainly because you are always in the environment of Formula 1, people recognise you quicker and they see you quite often since these categories share the calendar with Formula 1. But in my case, I knew that my chance was winning the championship and having the back of Mercedes. Of course when you win in feeder series, there are more teams interested in you, they have seen you enough to know about you. However, for me doing DTM was the right way, especially because I could not compete in F2 or GP3 because of the budget.