Time for a bit of a special edition of Just Who Is today, with the spotlight firmly on (one of) Manor’s new rookies for 2016, Pascal Wehrlein. I’m sure the vast majority of you have heard of Wehrlein by now, especially after the announcement that he will contest his debut F1 season at Manor Racing, powered by Mercedes engines.
Although you can’t really compare many drivers to Max Verstappen, at the age of just 21 Wehrlein has enjoyed a similarly rapid rise through the junior ranks, which culminated in him making his debut in the DTM, one of the worlds most competitive Motorsport series at just 18 years of age. So how did Wehrlein end up at Manor for 2016? And what can we expect from DTM’s youngest ever champion? I’ve taken a look back at Wehrlein’s short, but highly successful career to find out.
Wehrlein began his single seater career in the ADAC Formel Masters championship, the successor to Formula BMW and predecessor to Formula 4 back in 2010 scoring a win, pole, fastest lap and four podiums on his way to sixth place in his debut car racing season. Greater success followed in 2011 where, with a full ADAC season under his belt, Wehrlein took the title with an impressive 8 wins in 24 races, and a further 5 podiums.
A move into the traditional F1 training ground followed with a switch to Mucke Motorsport in the F3 Euroseries on the cards for 2012. Wehrlein finished a fine 2nd place in 2012, just behind his ex Mercedes DTM stablemate Juncadella, who continues to drive for Mercedes in the 2016 DTM.
Wehrlein’s performances were beginning to make the movers in the motorsport world pay attention and following his successful 2012, Wehrlein became part of the Mercedes DTM team for 2013 with Mucke Motorsport. He ended his debut DTM season 22nd in the championship with three points. Richer pickings followed over the winter of 2013 as Wehrlein was transferred to the Mercedes “A-team” HWA for the 2014 season. Behind the wheel of the fastest Mercedes machinery Wehrlein became DTM’s youngest ever race winner on his way to a much improved eighth place in the 2014 championship.
Following that successful maiden season with HWA, Mercedes F1 team announced that Wehrlein would become their official reserve driver for 2015, and he got his first taste of current F1 machinery during pre-season testing for both Mercedes and Force India. Combining his F1 reserve driver duties with his drive at HWA, Wehrlein became the youngest ever DTM champion in 2015, storming to two race victories and five podiums in his history making season.
February of 2016 saw the announcement, after a long winter of speculation that Wehrlein would indeed make his F1 debut, for Manor Racing, with Mercedes allowing Manor use of their wind tunnel in return. I think this deal is fantastic for every party involved.
Mercedes get to place their young protege in a team to gain F1 experience, Hamilton and Rosberg aren’t going to hang around forever and by giving Wehrlein the F1 experience he needs, they are ensuring themselves a ready made replacement if either of their current drivers decides to move on. For Manor, the use of Mercedes engines, and now their wind tunnel in 2016 instills great optimism for the team who struggled with sub-standard equipment last season. There will be a greater expectation now for Manor to begin moving up the grid, and perhaps even to snatch a point or two at the odd chaotic race this season. Despite being a relatively new team, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a whole new Manor Racing turn up in Melbourne for the start of the season.
For Pascal Wehrlein, 2016 gives him the chance to prove to the world that Verstappen and Sainz aren’t F1’s only young starlets. Coming from DTM, which is essentially single seaters with a body shell Wehrlein’s race craft, fitness and competitiveness will be as strong as ever and, going straight into a racing role is only bound to help him settle into F1 faster.
For Mercedes to have invested so much effort into securing Wehrlein a drive for 2016 should be a sign to all of us just how highly they rate him, and that they clearly expect him to make the jump to the official works team at some point in his career. Whilst it would be unfair to expect any Verstappen esque miracles from Wehrlein his debut year, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if we see some. Whilst F1 drivers have often struggled the switch to DTM (see Coulthard, Ralf Schumacher), Paul di Resta showed that the switch from DTM to F1 can be done with great levels of success. Wehrlein has learnt his craft in one of the most competitive and technical series going, and I have no doubt that 2016 is just the beginning of what will prove to be a very lengthy, and successful Formula One career.