Wehrlein: Sauber car masked my performances

Date published: December 10 2017

Pascal Wehrlein feels that the Sauber car prevented him from showing his true potential as he faces the prospect of his Formula 1 career being cut short.

Wehrlein scored all five of Sauber’s World Championship points in 2017, but the Swiss team have opted to pair Marcus Ericsson with Charles Leclerc for the 2018 season.

The decision leaves Wehrlein on the sidelines and is only considered an outside shot for the final vacant seat at Williams next year, but he is adamant that he always tried the best he can despite knowing his Formula 1 future was in serious doubt.

“I was always giving my best,” Wehrlein said. “I think that’s the most important thing you can say about yourself. When the opportunity was there we took it.

“You can always do things better. With more experience you think, ‘Ahh, one or two races ago I was doing this direction with the set-up. Now I know this was worse, I should have gone in this direction’.

“You always learn something. But I can definitely say I was always giving my best.”

Wehrlein also believes that he could have made more of a name for himself but Sauber’s car, packed with a one-year-old Ferrari engine, stopped him from standing out from the crowd.

“In the second half the gap was a few times too big,” he added. “Even if we had a good race in the second half of the season, you couldn’t see it as the gap was too big.

“For example at Suzuka I was lapped by the second last guy. What can you do there?”

“[We] scored five points when we could score points, that’s important. But probably in the second half of the season I had better races but you couldn’t see it.

“Malaysia was one of them, we were close to Q2 and the race was quite good.

“[Brazil] was quite good in terms of performance. There we were not so far from Q2 I think, just one or two tenths.”

Axed Wehrlein ‘a potential World Champion’

Date published: December 9 2017

Former Sauber team principal Monisha Kaltenborn has questioned the team’s decision not to pick Pascal Wehrlein as part of their 2018 line-up.

Wehrlein finds himself without a drive in Formula 1 for next season after Sauber opted to retain Marcus Ericsson and partner him with the Ferrari-backed and current F2 champion Charles Leclerc.

The German, who knew his fate was sealed at the Swiss team for quite some time, scored all five of Sauber’s World Championship points, but a lack of funding and the fact he is on Mercedes’ books means he has been put on the sidelines.

“I think his performance in 2017 is still not properly appreciated,” Kaltenborn said. “Without him, the team would have scored no points at all.

“I just hope that he will continue to get what he deserves in formula one, which above all else is a cockpit.

“Pascal has the potential to become world champion with the right team. Anyone who has worked with him knows that.”

Wehrlein is considered an outsider for the last remaining seat on the grid at Williams and could find himself back in DTM with Mercedes for one final year.

Ferrari still have hope for Giovinazzi future

Date published: December 8 2017

Ferrari president Sergio Marchionne retains hope that Antonio Giovinazzi will get a full-time seat in Formula 1.

The Scuderia were unable to turn Sauber into a full feeder team with two Ferrari-backed drivers after the Swiss team kept hold of Marcus Ericsson in favour of bringing in Giovinazzi alongside Charles Leclerc.

Haas have closed the door on Giovinazzi becoming a reserve driver for them again in 2018, meaning the Italian will be doing double duty for both Ferrari and Sauber – but ultimately in a reserve role.

“Giovinazzi is a good guy, and it’s just a question time. He should get his chance,” said Marchionne.

“He will be Ferrari’s third driver and he has a programme of testing with Sauber. We understand his desire to race, but at the moment there are no vacancies.

“The agreement with Sauber is a way to find an outlet for the youngsters in our Driver Academy, and it will take time to streamline this system.”

Giovinazzi impressed on debut when filling in for the injured Pascal Wehrlein in Australia, but two crashes in quick succession in China meant the Italian’s stock quickly fell.

Ferrari: Sauber deal different to Haas’ one

Date published: December 6 2017

Sergio Marchionne says Ferrari’s relationship with Sauber is “totally different” to that with Haas, which is just technical support.

Although both teams are Ferrari customers, and will run their 2018 power unit next season, Ferrari’s relationship with Sauber goes deeper given their new link up with Alfa Romeo.

Last week Sauber announced Alfa Romeo, part of the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles group, as their new title sponsor while also signing Ferrari protege Charles Leclerc as Marcus Ericsson’s new team-mate.

“It’s a totally different arrangement,” Ferrari president Marchionne said of the Scuderia’s relationship with its two engine customers.

“Haas has been given access to Ferrari resources and to our powertrain, so there Ferrari is acting as technical support.

“The team is still very much Haas, it has no association with any car brand, and Gene [Haas] has decided to run his own products.

“This one [Sauber/Alfa Romeo] is a completely different arrangement, starting with identification of Alfa as being title sponsor for the car.

“[The] team already exists – it may not be fully staffed – but it already exists.

“The arrangement itself is completely different.”

He added: “Is it possible for the Haas arrangement to turn into something other than what we have today? The answer is potentially yes.

“But we’re very far away from a resolution on that matter, but it’s possible. We’ll see, time will tell.”

Vasseur hails Sauber’s ‘strong’ 2018 line-up

Date published: December 5 2017

Sauber team boss Frederick Vasseur believes that in Marcus Ericsson and Charles Leclerc, the Alfa Romeo Sauber team has a “strong driver duo.”

Last weekend Sauber confirmed their driver line-up for the 2018 season as they unveiled their new Alfa Romeo livery.

Pascal Wehrlein has lost his seat despite scoring all five of Sauber’s 2017 points while Ericsson was retained following his point-less season.

The Swede will partner 2017 Formula 2 champ Leclerc.

“We are all delighted about the cooperation with Alfa Romeo,” said Vasseur.

“We created the foundation for our partnership at the Alfa Romeo Museum in Arese, Italy.

“With Marcus and Charles, we have a strong driver duo for the debut season of the Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team.

“Marcus is an experienced Formula One driver, who knows the procedures and the team well, after having worked together for the past 3 years. He is a team player, and has a very positive attitude.

“Charles has proven his talent in several racing series, most recently winning the Formula 2 World Championship title.

“He had the chance to drive in four FP1 sessions and two tyre tests for us this season, and convinced the team with his professionalism and charisma.

“I look forward to going into 2018 with this driver pairing, and I am convinced that they will complement each other very well.”

Ericsson ‘optimistic’ of a big step in 2018

Date published: December 4 2017

Point-less in 2017, Marcus Ericsson believes Alfa Romeo Sauber will take a “big step” forward next season.

Last week Sauber confirmed that the Swede would remain with the team for a fourth successive season despite failing to score a single point in 2017.

Ericsson, who beat Antonio Giovinazzi to the second Sauber seat, will partner rookie driver Charles Leclerc in what will be a new era for Sauber.

The team has confirmed Alfa Romeo as their main partner for next year’s championship, a season in which the team will race the latest Ferrari engines.

“First of all, I would like to congratulate the team on the new partnership with Alfa Romeo,” said Ericsson. 

“It is a great honour for me to be driving for this team in 2018, and I am excited and proud to be part of this promising journey.

“I am confident that I can add to the knowledge and experience of the team. 

“This winter is going to be very busy, and it will be important to push the development of the car in order to have a good start to the season.

“I am optimistic, that 2018 can be a big step and a good chance for us to move up in the field.”

Driver reviews: Haas, McLaren, Sauber

In the first of three parts, we assess each driver’s performance this season, starting with those at Haas, McLaren-Honda and Sauber.

Haas

Romain Grosjean

Qualifying battle v team-mate: 12-8
Average gap in qualifying: -0.196s
Race battle v team-mate: 10-9
Best finish: 6th (Austria)
Percentage of team’s Championship points: 60% (28 points)

Grosjean has been the slightly more consistent points-scorer at Haas – it took just six races for the team to surpass last season’s total points haul – and provided the American outfit’s highest finish in Formula 1 with a very impressive P6 in Austria.

But that performance is a very distant memory as Grosjean has instead become known as a frequent crasher and an even more frequent moaner, especially when Haas’ development came to a grinding halt and to the point where they were getting out-qualified by Sauber in Mexico.

He has, at least, just about got the edge on his team-mate and seems able to extract that little bit more out of the very temperamental Haas car despite his many offs.

You get the impression that Grosjean sees himself as the flag-bearer of Haas, the man trying to lead the charge of what is a still a very new team in Formula 1.

And while everyone loves an underdog story, not many want to see Grosjean as the main protagonist.

Kevin Magnussen

Qualifying battle v team-mate: 8-12
Average gap in qualifying: +0.196s

Race battle v team-mate: 9-10
Best finish: 7th (Baku)
Percentage of team’s Championship points: 40% (11 points)

Eventful is probably the best adjective to describe Kevin Magnussen’s season. A handful of points finishes and an even bigger handful of other drivers he has managed to p*ss off this campaign.

Magnussen’s highlight on the track this season remained the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, where he was running as high as P3 with 15 laps to go before he settled for a year-best P7.

Magnussen was one of the best starters in the 2017 season, gaining on average 1.74 places a race; but, it was a case of making up for lost time as he was one of only a very select few not to reach Q3 throughout the entire campaign – something that his team-mate did on five occasions.

There were a couple more points finishes to come in the second half of the year in Japan and Mexico, but they have been overshadowed somewhat by the spats and squabbles that he got into with others.

Just in the second half of the season alone, Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton and even Magnussen’s team-mate Romain Grosjean have all complained over team radio about his aggressive antics.

But even all of those incidents combined do not come close to eclipsing one of the highlights of the whole season when Magnussen told Nico Hulkenberg “suck my balls” after the German confronted K-Mag back in Hungary.

McLaren-Honda

Fernando Alonso

Qualifying battle v team-mate: 16-3
Average gap in qualifying: -0.259s
Race battle v team-mate: 9-10
Best finish: 6th (Hungary)
Percentage of team’s Championship points: 57% (17 points)

You can look now, Fernando, it’s over. Barely a weekend went by without Alonso sticking the boot into an unreliable and slow Honda. He got sick of it, McLaren got sick of it, we all got sick of it.

His sixth-place finish and fastest lap at the Hungarian Grand Prix just before the summer break was as good as it ever got for Alonso, who saw the checkered flag just eight times in the 19 races he participated in this season. Grim reading for a driver that should still be fighting for World Championships.

The only major positives for him are that he no longer has to drive a car with Honda power and he also started on his own road to Le Mans after getting a first taste of Toyota’s LMP1 car in Bahrain.

If Fernando Alonso cannot entertain us on the track in Formula 1, he simply has the freedom to try and do that in another series – continuing with the Daytona 24 Hours in January.

That being said, given what Alonso has managed to extract out of the god forsaken MCL32 this season, it will be fascinating to see just how high up the leaderboards he can climb in 2018 with Renault power.

He finished the season relatively strong with three consecutive points-finishes, but put this down as another Formula 1 season to forget for Alonso.

Stoffel Vandoorne

Qualifying battle v team-mate: 3-16
Average gap in qualifying: +0.259s
Race battle v team-mate: 10-9
Best finish: 7th (Singapore, Malaysia)
Percentage of team’s Championship points: 43% (13 points)

Stoffel Vandoorne had a difficult transition into Formula 1 with a combination of the usual McLaren-Honda reliability woes and early criticism coming from McLaren boss Eric Bouiller about his driving style.

When the Belgian did get an opportunity to drive the MCL32, he simply had no answers to the rather thankless task of trying to out-perform a certain Fernando Alonso in the first half of the campaign.

However, the second half of the 2017 season has seen Vandoorne begin to emerge from Alonso’s daunting shadow. He has shown he is capable of beating Alonso over a qualifying lap [albeit not very often] and his back-to-back seventh-placed finishes in Singapore and Malaysia made a great impression when Alonso was running largely out of the picture.

It was also refreshing to see Vandoorne distance himself from the assumption that Alonso has been acting as his mentor in his first full Formula 1 season. Vandoorne is at McLaren on his own merit and is trying to make a name for himself without the need to ride on the coat-tails of a two-time World Champion.

If McLaren and their Renault engines click nicely into place next season then Vandoorne could well be sharing more of the spotlight alongside Alonso.

If not, then another highly-rated driver in Lando Norris is waiting in the wings…

Sauber

Pascal Wehrlein

Qualifying battle v team-mate: 11-7
Average gap in qualifying: -0.05s
Race battle v team-mate: 11-7
Best finish: 8th (Spain)
Percentage of team’s Championship points: 100% (5 points)

It seems like it did not matter what Pascal Wehrlein did at Sauber this season, especially once the contract with Honda was cancelled and Sauber strengthened their ties with Ferrari.

The German does not bring the big bucks into the team and he is, after all, on Mercedes books – so it comes as no surprise to see that he has been shown the door.

It is difficult to stand out in a Sauber at the best of times, never mind knowing that your fate at the team, and in the sport, has been sealed long ago. As a result, Wehrlein’s performances have taken an understandable dip after taking two points finishes in the first half of the campaign.

He out-qualified his team-mate in seven of the first nine races of the 2017 season but, since then, he has managed to get the better of Ericsson in qualifying on four out of the remaining nine races.

In a year where he also missed the first two races of the season due to a back injury sustained at the Race of Champions event in January, Wehrlein looks set to return to DTM with Mercedes.

However, he would face another season of uncertainty there, too, with the Silver Arrows pulling out of the series at the end of 2018.

Does he deserve to lose his seat in Formula 1? No. But there is simply no room for niceties at the pinnacle of motorsport.

Marcus Ericsson

Qualifying battle v team-mate: 7-11
Average gap in qualifying: +0.05s
Race battle v team-mate: 7-11
Best finish: 11th (Spain, Baku)
Percentage of team’s Championship points: 0% (0 points)

Money talks in Formula 1 and there is no stronger evidence of that than Marcus Ericsson at Sauber. The Swede has now completed a second consecutive season without scoring a single World Championship point. His last coming at Monza in 2015.

Perhaps the most damning moment for those few who think Ericsson is still worthy of a place on the grid came in Hungary, where he was out-qualified by Paul di Resta – a driver who had not stepped inside a Formula 1 car for the best part of three-and-a-half years.

And yet, Ericsson has been retained for another year at Sauber, all because of the fact that his financial backers are the same that fund the Swiss team.

Given how long it took for Sauber to decide their 2018 line-up, Ericsson did come very close to losing his seat to Ferrari’s other reserve driver in Antonio Giovinazzi but he has ultimately survived the chop.

Despite making zero contribution on the track, it’s the financial contribution that unfortunately counts.

Mark Scott