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Honda website

APRIL 4, 2017

Doubts surround Wehrlein fitness story

Pascal Wehrlein could miss the entire China-Bahrain double header in the next two weeks, as a bizarre story about his physical fitness continues to unfold.

The Mercedes-backed German sat out the 2017 season opener in Melbourne, citing a lack of fitness in the wake of his winter back injury following a rollover crash at the race of champions event.

He was replaced by the Ferrari reserve Antonio Giovinazzi, who impressed. The Italian will now race again in Wehrlein's place this weekend in China.

This is "to ensure that Pascal will be back in the cockpit in best physical shape at the earliest possible opportunity", Sauber announced in a statement.

But that could be next weekend in Bahrain "or the Russian grand prix", the Swiss team admitted.

"For me the most important is that I can train intensively to ensure a 100pc performance from my side as soon as possible," Wehrlein said.

But some are not buying the 'fitness' story. Former British racing driver and TV presenter Tiff Needell said on Twitter: "Wehrlein doesn't think he's fit enough?! Do you think Giovinazzi ever thought 'but I'm not fit enough'."

Needell's cynicism is not isolated. La Gazzetta dello Sport, an authoritative Italian sports daily, said Sauber's announcement was "a day after Wehrlein said he wanted to at least do Friday practice" in China.

Germany's Auto Bild said Wehrlein, 22, was in the Mercedes F1 simulator on Monday.

The major German daily Bild, as well, does not know how to interpret the Wehrlein story.

"He has now trained for two weeks (since Australia) to be fit," correspondent Lennart Wermke said. "He is supervised by Josef Leberer, once the physio to the great Ayrton Senna.

"But according to Sauber, the ambitious Wehrlein is voluntarily not racing?

"Will Wehrlein be fit enough for Bahrain? Or is there something more to this?" Wermke added.

Wehrlein's career is overseen by Mercedes, whose boss Toto Wolff said: "I feel for Pascal, because he has had all the bad luck.

"Now he needs to build up his fitness and come back strong. I have no doubt that when he's back in the car, he'll prove he's still the same Pascal."