FEBRUARY 8, 2017

Kaltenborn says Wehrlein not junior driver

Sauber boss Monisha Kaltenborn has denied claims the Swiss team has signed up a "junior" for 2017.

Sauber boss Monisha Kaltenborn has denied claims the Swiss team has signed up a junior for 2017.

In the media, Pascal Wehrlein is often referred to as a junior due to his prominent role in Mercedes' driver development programme.

But the 22-year-old made his debut with Manor in 2016 and this year is stepping up to Sauber, a former midfield team that almost collapsed last season.

However, Sauber's new technical boss Jorg Zander said this week: "Our objective (for 2017) is to establish ourselves in the midfield."

To that end, team boss Kaltenborn denied that Sauber has signed up a "junior".

"If we had signed a junior, we would give him a bobby (toy) car rather than a formula one car," she told Germany's Auto Bild.

Wehrlein is currently recovering from a rumoured neck injury sustained in a rollover crash during last month's race of champions event, but Kaltenborn is confident about 2017.

"Pascal has proved his talents in his career so far, including formula one, and he will certainly be able to celebrate further career highlights in the future," she said.

Wehrlein's 2017 teammate Marcus Ericsson, however, said his goal for this season is clear.

"My goal is to beat him (Wehrlein) -- what else?" said the Swede, who is reportedly linked with Sauber's new investors. "I expect a tough fight so I will have to do my best.

"He has been in the Mercedes programme for a long time, so they seem to believe in him," Ericsson added.

More broadly, the 26-year-old Swede is upbeat about Sauber's 2017 chances after recovering from its near-collapse last year.

"It takes time, but when I look at the second half of last season there was massive progress, and now it will make a different that some experienced people are joining the team," Ericsson said.