…and Pascal Wehrlein answers them
The Sauber racer is often somewhat misunderstood. But this Q&A reveals a young man who’s not as serious as he first appears – there’s much more to him than just a sharp haircut…
Does Pascal Wehrlein have an image problem? We ask only because a good many of the questions that came in from our Global Fan Community this month were rather scathing. The impression we gleaned was that some of you think that the 22-year-old Mercedes prodigy is guilty of taking himself a bit too seriously.
He can certainly be quite intense, but, in our experience, Pascal is as good humoured outside the cockpit as he’s fiercely competitive within it. Word reaches us, for instance, that he once pranked a former team-mate during a photoshoot with some Bluetooth headphones by hijacking the connection with an, ahem, adult movie soundtrack. Indeed, as he bounds up the stairs now, to the curiously empty top deck of the Sauber motorhome, he has a twinkle in his eye and mischief on his mind…
As a long-time reader of this magazine, I fondly recall the time the editor told Ralf Schumacher to “eff off”. Did you ever feel like doing the same thing? Armin Stahel, USA
No, I think you’re all really nice. [He examines the question again and realises he’s misread it] Wait! The editor? To Ralf he said this?
F1 Racing: It was a long time ago, but Ralf could be rather difficult. If memory serves, the actual phrase was: “Off you fuck.” PW: Well, that’s different! No, only joking. In my first year in DTM Ralf helped me a lot. He’d just retired from racing and was working with Mercedes in a supporting role. Before that, I’d just done a season in Formula 3 and two years in ADAC, so I didn’t have much experience. He was helpful to me and my team-mate, Daniel Juncadella.
What would you say is your favourite sport outside of motorsport? William Choi, UK
Football. I loved playing football: I played in a team until I was 18. My focus is only on motorsport now because I could get injured.
F1R: How good were you at football? I ask only because Nico Hülkenberg loves playing tennis, but he admits he’s not that good at it. PW: Ha ha! Nice – can you write that please? [He hoots with laughter before composing himself again.] I think I’m pretty good. Not good enough to be a professional, but I’ve scored a few goals…
Do you have concerns about being treated differently to Marcus Ericsson now that team boss Monisha Kaltenborn has left? Peter Diamond, UK
So there are some serious questions here! Well, Peter, I hope not. I have heard many of those comments and rumours, and it’s not very nice to read things like this, so I really hope it isn’t the case.
As a driver with the Manor team, how did it feel when the team were in trouble and your future was uncertain? Cian Mcleod, Ireland
Honestly, I never thought too much about my future, because I’m in a lucky position with Mercedes and have been since 2012. I didn’t know what I was doing until February this year, but there has always been a plan B. Obviously you want to know what you’re doing, whether it’s going to be Formula 1 or something else, and my target is to remain in F1 and win races one day. But the other people in the team had less certainty even than that, which was very sad. It was not a good situation at all.
Who cuts your hair? Robert Mcandrew, USA
F1R: We actually had at least five questions on this subject, so your hair must have struck a chord with our readers! PW: [Unable to stop laughing.] It’s not the first time that I’m hearing this. In Germany someone said my hair made me look like a criminal – what’s the word? Like a mugshot? Actually, a friend of mine cuts it for me.
This has been a challenging season. What do you feel you have learned from your experience with Sauber? Jackie Heffer, UK
I’ve been learning a lot – it’s only my second season so there is still plenty to learn, even though I’ve done everything once. The first year was just a baseline. For me, Sauber are a step up from where I was before, because Manor were a very small team. Sauber have a windtunnel and more resources, and maybe you can’t see it at the moment in the results – although I’ve scored more points already than I did last year – but we’re heading in the right direction. And like I said, I’m still learning, getting faster and making fewer mistakes.
What thoughts went through your mind when you ended up upside down in the barrier at Monaco this year? Sam Rodriguez, USA
My first thought was that I wanted to be the right way up again! I was trying to push against the barrier to turn it back over, but I couldn’t because the car was stuck in the barrier. Then I was looking at the wheels, because while the fuel tank in an F1 car is very strong, we’d done around 50 laps and the brakes were very hot. Without the air cooling them they could catch fire. I saw some smoke, and I was thinking, “Come on, marshals!” And then they were there.
Why do you think you were overlooked by Force India for this season, and has this changed the way you approach your job? Anna Hunt, UK
[We feel a twinge of guilt at including this question because Pascal now looks like a kicked puppy, and he ruminates for a long time before answering] Ah, Anna, please ask Force India this. Has it changed my approach? My approach has always been to extract the maximum from what I have, and to do the best job I can. In our current situation we aren’t likely to finish in the points every race, but if I finish a race and we haven’t got a result because of something that I’ve done wrong, if I’ve made mistakes or not been fast enough, then I’m not happy. That’s how I get the maximum out of myself and that will never change. You have to be ambitious, and only be happy if everything is perfect.
SAUBER ARE A STEP UP FROM WHERE I WAS, BECAUSE MANOR WERE A VERY SMALL TEAM MAYBE YOU CAN’T SEE IT IN THE RESULTS BUT WE’RE HEADING IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION
F1R: You’re starting to sound like Ron Dennis… PW: No! I mean, I’m a happy guy generally. But you have to really focus in Formula 1. Maybe sometimes I’m not smiling enough, but that’s just because I’m focusing on the job. It’s like being two people in a way. F1R: It’s a good thing we got the happy one today! PW: Ha ha! But if we were making this interview just before qualifying, maybe it would be different…
What’s the most exciting race you’ve ever driven in? Peter Dalton, Australia
Oh, it was definitely Formula 3 in Macau. I loved that circuit and the atmosphere there. That was a crazy weekend – not just my race, but the whole event. It was unbelievable to see motorbikes racing around there.
Who do you see as your biggest rival? Steve Wrench, UK
This is a very difficult question. How can I compare myself with someone who isn’t driving for the same team, in the same car? Certainly the one guy you always have to beat is your team-mate, because that’s what’s expected of you, but I get along with Marcus quite well. So I see him as a competitor rather than a rival.
Would you ever choose to fly the Mauritius flag in your F1 career? Kieran Vince-clark, UK
Yes and no. I’m German, I was born and grew up in Germany, so that’s my home country. But then, of course, I have a second side because my mother is from Mauritius, and I’m really proud of that. So I do have the flag of Mauritius on my helmet. Everyone knows about my second side – maybe because I don’t look like a typical German.
Being a champion already in the DTM, do you think you could beat Lewis Hamilton if Mercedes put you in a seat beside him? Andres Prieto, Colombia
Ah, we have so many good questions, so let’s… [he pretends to put the question card straight into the ‘used’ pile] That’s a really difficult one to answer. Well, as I said before, you always want to beat your own team-mate, so if we were on the same team… but to beat Lewis is not easy. If I were his team-mate then I would try as hard as I could.
MAYBE SOMETIMES I’M NOT SMILING ENOUGH, BUT THAT’S JUST BECAUSE I’M FOCUSING ON THE JOB
What do you think about Robert Kubica’s recent F1 tests and his possible return? Pawel Rozwadowski, Poland
I kind of feel… well, the injury that I had [Wehrlein crashed at the Race of Champions in January, broke three vertebrae and missed the first two races of 2017] was nowhere close to the one he had. But I know how hard it is to have an injury and fight back, and the effort he’s put in over the past few years must have been massive.
When you’re recovering, it’s never happening fast enough. Time is your biggest enemy. Every morning you wake up and you hope. ‘Is it going to be better today? Can I move more? Is the pain less?’ And you do that every day. Sometimes it isn’t better, it’s worse.
For me it was just ten weeks of that. For him it has been six years. So I really hope, after everything he’s been through, that he can come back to Formula 1.