APRIL 8, 2017

Wehrlein hopes for Bahrain return

Sauber driver Pascal Wehrlein says he is hopeful he will be fit enough to race in Bahrain next weekend.

Sauber driver Pascal Wehrlein says he is hopeful he will be fit enough to race in Bahrain next weekend.

The German is not in China at all, after he sat out the season opening Australian grand prix with a lack of fitness.

Wehrlein's absence triggered wild speculation that the 22-year-old is either more seriously injured, or that he is the victim of a political struggle between his bosses at Mercedes and Sauber's engine supplier Ferrari.

Currently substituting for Wehrlein is Ferrari reserve Antonio Giovinazzi.

But Mercedes' Toto Wolff told Bild newspaper: "Of course you could infer that this is a political struggle.

"But the fact is that we have a good relationship with Ferrari and we would never get into it over junior drivers," he insisted.

"It's a great thing for Antonio Giovinazzi to get a chance, and Pascal will be back," Wolff added.

Wolff confirmed in China that Wehrlein lost his fitness due to fracturing a vertebrae in his race of champions crash during the winter.

Sauber team boss Monisha Kaltenborn told Auto Bild that Wehrlein is currently working to rebuild that fitness.

"He is training hard now to make his debut race for us in Bahrain or Sochi," she said.

As for the conspiracy theories, Kaltenborn insisted: "It's only about training and nothing else.

"Some people should be quiet rather than speculate wildly. His spine was extremely compressed in Miami so the doctors initially gave him an absolute training ban.

"He is now taking the time he needs," she added.

Wehrlein backed the claim that he is training hard to return.

"The problem is that formula one does not work like football. After an injury, you can't build yourself back up slowly in a formula one car," he said.

"The most important thing for me is that I can now train very hard to get my performance back to 100pc so I am well prepared for my first full weekend with Sauber.

"I hope that this will be in Bahrain, but at the latest I should again be in top physical condition for Russia," added Wehrlein.