Pascal Wehrlein has finally taken to the track in the Sauber for the first time since his Race of Champions back injury, and he sat down to talk to the media to confirm he was fighting fit after a half day in the car and 47 laps.
On how he feels at the end of his first day in the Sauber:
“I’m feeling good and very happy about today. I jumped into the car and with no pain, nothing. I was pretty happy at lunchtime that I was totally fine and had no issues. Of course, I feel tired, but I don’t have pain, so it’s two separate things. I think it’s good that my back is not making any trouble or was painful after a few laps, that’s a positive.”
On being behind on training:
“I still trained a lot, so I tried to do a lot of cardio, and also some exercises where I was not putting load on my back, so in general I feel fit and I feel ready. Of course after a long break, like everyone had, since Abu Dhabi, you feel how hard it is to drive these cars, especially now with the faster cars, but that’s just normal.”
On missing last week’s test – would he have been fine to drive?
“Yes. I’d already said last week that I was feeling ready, with no pain in my back, so I would have liked to drive. I was just not allowed.”
“We decided this morning to only do a half day because we wanted to do 140 laps, and it’s my first day back in the car. Then as well, we didn’t know how my back was doing, so we changed the planning to half days to see how my back was doing and get used to the car, get used to the forces again, and then I’ll be back tomorrow.”
Could he do a full race distance now?
“Yes, it would be hard, but I guess for everyone.”
His first impression of the 2017 car?
“It’s good, it’s quick. High-speed corners, and pretty fast. In slow speed corners, you don’t really feel a lot of difference, yes from the tyres, you feel a bit more mechanical grip, but in high-speed corners with the downforce, it’s progressive. At 100kph, for example, you don’t feel a big difference, but then in 300kph corners, it’s unbelievable. That’s cool, it’s fun, it’s demanding for the drivers, which is good as well.”
On the 2017 tyres:
“There is a lot more grip and less overheating so, therefore, you can push them more. You don’t need to save them, but it also depends on the temperature. Here, it’s quite cold at the moment now, let’s see how it will be in Bahrain.”
On the engine comparison with the Mercedes (Sauber will use year old Ferrari engines in 2017):
“The engine was very good, all okay, but the behaviour is different and the feeling of the engine is different, so I need to get used to that, but I had no issues today.”
On the Mercedes drive – did he think the drive was his?
“I knew that I was one of the candidates, one of the possible drivers, but I didn’t focus on that. I’m not taking the decision, and therefore I just focussed on my training and what I could do better for this year, and waited until the decision was made.“
On the call from Toto to explain why the drive was going to Bottas:
“He said ‘we think it would be better to have more experience for you’. One year of experience is not enough, and especially in the second year, drivers are always making big progress, and I think Mercedes wants a ready driver and a perfect driver, and that’s its limit. At the moment, I’m not on my limit where I could be, because of the experience, that’s quite clear.”
“Of course, with one year of experience, you are not at your limit, you will make some mistakes. You will sometimes go in the wrong direction in the setup, because you are lacking that knowledge.”
On his delayed start to joining his new team, Sauber, and if this will affect his progress?
“I don’t think so. I think in terms of my own level, I will be ready soon. For sure, in terms of the first race, that will be quite tough, and also the second, because everything is new – new team, new engine, new tyres, new regulations. I lost two days of testing so of course, in the beginning, I will lack something, but I will catch up quite quickly, and after a few races, I will be back where I should be.”