Mercedes protégé Pascal Wehrlein will drive for Manor Racing in the 2016 Formula 1 season, it was announced today.
So what do we know about him and what kind of driver is he?
Wehrlein, who won the 2015 DTM championship for the German marque, had been linked with a seat at the British team for some time after the Manor secured a supply of 2016 Mercedes power units for the new season.
That deal is thought to be an important factor in the decision to hire Wehrlein as the squad is hoping to make progress with its up-to-date engines, as well as a new gearbox built by Williams, and it is understood that the team felt the 21-year-old would offer more performance potential than a better-funded driver.
That said there is likely to have been a financial offset against the €20m cost of engine supply from Mercedes. Force India considered a deal with Wehrlein but the discount on offer, thought to be around €4m a year, was not enough to tempt them to drop either of their more established stars.
Wehrlein scored two victories on his way to the DTM title last year as he became the youngest champion in the history of the series and has tested for the Mercedes F1 team and Force India in the past.
Speaking about his new deal, Werhlein said: “Manor Racing is a great place for me to start my Formula One racing career – I’m very pleased to be here. It’s a small and totally focused team and I soon hope to know everyone. Though it’s my first F1 season my aim is to help Stephen and the guys achieve their goals.
“It will be a tough challenge but I think we should be able to challenge for points along the way. It’s going to be good fun. A word for my racing family at Mercedes-Benz, and particularly for Toto, who have guided my career this far and made this opportunity possible. Thanks for the incredible support to help me achieve my dream; now it’s down to me to grab the moment and perform on track.”
Manor’s owner, Stephen Fitzpatrick, explained that his team is hoping to step up from the back of the grid in 2016 and join the midfield scrap that could feature F1’s newest team, Haas F1.
He said: “Pascal is a sharp driver with a very promising future; Manor Racing is excited to have him aboard. We’re a small team up for a big challenge this season, so we’ve chosen a driver with the talent and hunger to match our own on-track ambitions.
“Pascal has impressed in testing for Mercedes and Force India, together with commanding performances in DTM, culminating in the championship win last year. Manor Racing is perfectly placed to help Pascal make a big impact in his first season. We’re looking forward to it!”
Manor is still yet to confirm who will fill its second seat, the final spot on the grid for this season, with its 2015 drivers Will Stevens, Alexander Rossi in contention alongside GP2 race winner, Rio Haryanto.
Consistency key to DTM success
Wehrlein switched to the DTM after strong results in junior single seaters. He won the ADAC Formel Masters title in 2011 and was runner-up in the 2012 Formula 3 Euro Series.
The Mercedes C-Coupe he raced for his first seasons in DTM was a difficult car to drive in 2013 and 2014. But when Mercedes improved the car, although it was not the fastest in 2015, Wehrlein produced the results necessary to challenge for the championship.
Consistency was the most important factor in his title run as he scored 15 points finishes from 18 races to go along with his brace of victories. The DTM’s success ballast system makes it very difficult for one driver to dominate, as evidenced by the 13 different race winners in 2015.
Wehrlein’s two victories came at Moscow and Norisring – in the former he pressured and passed BMW’s Marco Wittmann to claim the win, while at Norisring he survived a difficult early phase on a damp track before moving up the order to win by 0.3s.
The most bizarre moment of Wehrlien’s 2015 season came in the second race at the Red Bull Ring when he was forced out as a result of Audi driver Timo Scheider hitting the German’s Mercedes teammate Robert Wickens after receiving a radio call to “push him out.” Wehrlein said after the race that Scheider had started a “war” in the series.
JaonF1 technical advisor, Dominic Harlow, explained that the DTM is good preparation for F1 because the cars offer similar performance levels to F3, along with a field of top-quality drivers and F1-inspired team operations.
He said: “It’s very good preparation for F1. In terms of the cars, they reward quite similar things in a driver to F3 cars and you find that the F3 drivers adapt and prosper in the DTM car because it’s got a lot of downforce and it’s underpowered. It’s quite heavy but the power-to-weight and power-to-grip is similar to F3.
“There are also so grown-up circuits and there is a field of very professional drivers, which is definitely a rung up from F3.
“The teams’ working practices are all derived from F1 so operationally it’s almost identical. You have a good commercial grounding too, so the drivers do quite a lot of promotion and marketing so that doesn’t come as such a shock when they get to F1.
“The only thing lacking is the car development and technology. It’s probably only a little bit more advanced than GP2 in that respect.”
What do you make of Pascal Wehrlein? Will he shine with Manor in his debut year in F1? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below or head over to the JAonF1 Facebook page for more discussion.