APRIL 7, 2017

Wehrlein fitness criticism unfair says Kaltenborn

Monisha Kaltenborn has hit back at rumours there is definitely more to the story regarding Pascal Wehrlein's supposed lack of fitness.

The young German missed Australia, is sitting out this weekend's Chinese grand prix, and is also not guaranteed a return in Bahrain or beyond following his winter back injury.

The 22-year-old pulled out citing a simple lack of physical fitness, but it's a story that has some eyebrows furrowed in the F1 paddock.

"If I felt such difficulties, I would try to overcome them," said 18-year-old rookie Lance Stroll, "but I don't want to comment on his situation.

"Maybe he has serious problems, but of course I hope not," Stroll added.

Others fear that a serious political issue has arisen for Wehrlein, the Mercedes-backed driver who for now is being replaced by Antonio Giovinazzi, the reserve driver for Sauber's engine partner Ferrari.

Asked if Wehrlein's full-time seat is now on the line, Sauber team boss Monisha Kaltenborn told the German broadcaster RTL: "Of course not."

Another recently mentioned possibility is that Wehrlein is not sufficiently motivated, with voluntarily stepping out the car perhaps indicative of his often controversial personality.

"This is all not true," Kaltenborn insisted.

"The fact is that he had his (race of champions) accident in America, and his spine was compressed quite hard. And of course you don't take these things lightly," she added.

"Actually it surprised us that Pascal got the green light to drive so quickly afterwards, but the truth is that it simply takes a while for the body to recover.

"He simply has to catch up on the training deficit as a result from the injury," said Kaltenborn.

Indeed, fellow driver Romain Grosjean said he sympathises with Wehrlein.

"While everyone else was working extensively, Pascal could not train," said the Frenchman.

"If I got at the wheel of one of these cars in the form I was in last year, I would have had problems too," Grosjean said. "And if I can't drive the car properly, I don't want to take risks and endanger myself and others."

Kaltenborn continued: "It is not fair to question his (Wehrlein's) motivation and I cannot understand how he is criticised for his decision."

But for now, Wehrlein is on the sidelines, in doubt for Bahrain next weekend and with no guarantee that he will be back in action in Russia either.

"At the moment, he is completing an intensive training programme with the Mercedes junior team. After this weekend, we will get together and see where we stand," said Kaltenborn.