After months of speculation and rumor, Sauber has announced their intention to end their Ferrari partnership and their acceptance of an engine deal with Honda. The Hinwill team will join the Japanese manufacturer as their second engine customers alongside McLaren. It looks like a win-win situation for both parties except for one person: Pascal Wehrlein.
Wehrlein is part of the Mercedes’s young driver program and has been signed by Sauber in a deal reached between the Silver Arrows and the Swiss team to put the young German in the seat after the demise of Manor Racing. With Pascal on board, Mercedes was also expected to remain Sauber’s engine partner – but with the announcement of the Sauber-Honda deal, the plan has now changed and Wehrlein might be on the move again.
There is every likelihood that Pascal will race for his third team in three seasons in Formula One, but with limited seats available on the grid, he may be forced to find refuge in other racing categories. So if the inevitable happens, what are Pascal’s possible options?
A JUMP TO ANOTHER MERCEDES POWERED TEAM
After Massa’s “retirement” announcement last year, speculation mounted as to who would originally partner Valtteri Bottas at Williams. Pascal was one the top prospects to replace the departing Brazilian with his status as a Mercedes’s junior driver. When Williams signed young Canadian sensation Lance Stroll, the door at Grove was closed.
When Rosberg announced his retirement at the end of the year, Wehrlein again was under the spotlight with various media organisations considering he would either land the seat at Mercedes – or take the other seat at Williams with Bottas joining the Silver Arrows. Pascal again was denied of a chance to drive for Williams when it was discovered Massa would be coming back for a year after Williams persuaded him to return from his brief time away from the sport.
All that being said, it might not be all over for the young German. Massa will officially retire from the sport at the end of the 2017 season, so possibly it might be ‘third times the charm’ for young Pascal. Mercedes still plans to develop him for a future seat so it might be on Toto Wolff’s hands to decide. But it might not an easy fight, as Carlos Sainz will be aiming to take Massa’s place, if he is to walk away from Toro Rosso as rumoured. If that be the case, an interesting battle will be played out in the remaining races of 2017.
STAYING AT SAUBER
Pascal is in a tough situation at Sauber. With Honda coming to supply engines for the team next year, Wehrlein could lose his seat with the team. Honda has its own driver’s academy with Nobuharu Matsushita leading the charge for the Japanese manufacturer.
Honda might push Sauber to sign Matsushita with other benefits in place, but it will depend on the Japanese drivers performance in this years F2 season. If he doesn’t get the 40 points baseline for the super-license requirements, Honda’s hand may be forced – and short of dragging Takuma Sato or Kazuki Nakajima back into F1, a better plan would be to stick with Wehrlein.
RETURNING TO MERCEDES – BUT OUTSIDE OF F1
If Wehrlein doesn’t get a full-time drive for next year, heading ‘home’ to Mercedes is a safe option and there are four possibilities for Pascal’s return for the German marque. Coming back as a third driver for Mercedes isn’t a bad idea but it will limit his time on the track and will deny him the opportunity of reaching further.
But Mercedes will have other plans. The Silver Arrows has already reached an agreement to join Formula E, with options to compete for the next season. Mercedes can use Pascal’s experience as an open-wheeled driver to compete with other teams from the outset. As Formula E has demonstrated, it’s a great place for ex-Formula One drivers with Buemi, Piquet Jr, Di Grassi, Vergne are notable names that race in the series.
Endurance racing isn’t a bad idea either. Mercedes has a global network in GT Racing and reached an incredible amount of success with the SLS AMG GT3. Racing in LMP2 is also a huge chance for Pascal to show his potential and proves to be a good hunting ground as well for ex-Formula One drivers. DTM isn’t a bad idea for Wehrlein and like Di Resta, he might again thrive in the series that launched him into being one of the top prospects of Formula One.
ON HIS OWN
Although Pascal is still in the Mercedes driver program, he faces tough opposition from the likes of Esteban Ocon. It could be that he need to take drastic action to be able to climb to the heights that he desires – so breaking up with Mercedes might be the only option.
Wehrlein will be on his own but he will have more freedom in his career choice and many more options to choose from. It will be a massive gamble so it’s probably the least likely scenario to happen. Although a move to Renault might be the most logical choice for some, it will be hard to see him getting the seat without a fight. Jolyon Palmer, Sergey Sirotkin, Carlos Sainz Jr and possibly Fernando Alonso will all be putting their CV’s forward to drive an ever-improving Renault.
It will be interesting how will Pascal, Sauber and Mercedes handle the situation in the coming weeks and months, as the 2017 Formula One season reaches its zenith. It just might be one of the biggest stories for the upcoming silly season.