Yesterday it was reported by this MRTFB HQ that there was a solid rumor coming from the German press that Manor was close to making an announcement regarding its driver line-up for next year. We had barely just got out of bed and had time to light some candles in front of our bedroom Stephen Fitzpatrick poster when the most exciting news of 2016 thus far reached us. Pascal Wehrlein has signed to race for team in 2016. Although an official announcement has yet to be made, several reputable F1 journalists from Germany and the UK have confirmed the story.
So who is Pascal Wehrlein? He is a 21 year old German who is extremely highly rated by the Mercedes F1 and already has a proven pedigree, winning the 2011 ADAC Formel Masters before finishing runner-up the following year in the Formula 3 Euro Series and fourth in the parallel European F3 championship. In 2013 Wehrlein moved onto the DTM, becoming the youngest champion in the history of the series last year. In 2015 he was the official test driver for the Mercedes F1 team but also completed a test session for Force India during pre-season testing. Not only is he a hot prospect for the future but he is also hot in general! If ever a face deserved to race for the Banbury Babes it is that one!
The signing of Wehrlein is interesting in many ways. There is much speculation that this may lead to Manor becoming an unofficial B team for Mercedes. With Ferrari linking up with Haas and Red Bull benefiting from it’s ownership of Torro Rosso for a number of years now, it makes sense for Mercedes to have a B team of their own and who better than the Banbury Babes!
The placing of Wehrlein at Manor signals the start of the 2017 silly season before the 2016 season has even started. Mercedes clearly rate Wehrlein and were keen to see him gain some race experience. Having already publically warned Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton about their rivalry harming team morale, placing a obvious replacement on the grid could be seen as a timely reminder to them ahead of a new season. Placing another quick young German on the grid could also be seen as a direct warning to Rosberg that he maybe replaced if he is dispatched easily once again by Hamilton. Wehrlein is younger, home-grown and cheaper than Rosberg and comes without any of the baggage that has created the intense intra-team rivalry. Interestingly, respected F1 journalist Joe Saward believes that Wehrlein already has a deal for a race seat in 2017.
The second seat at Manor remains up for grabs. Last seasons Manor drivers Will Stevens, Alexander Rossi and GP2 race winner Rio Haryanto are all vying to now become Wehrlein’s team-mate. The announcement of Wehrlein complicates an already fluid situation. Manor had been looking to gain over 20 million dollars from its driving duo but as the details of the deal that purchased Wehrlein’s drive have yet to be confirmed we can only speculate as to what this means for the other contenders. AMUS yesterday reported that Wehrlein only brought 4 million dollars in personal sponsorship. However, Mercedes, keen to see Wehrlein gain some race experience may have topped up his sponsorship. They have also offered Manor technical assistance as discussed above and wiped several millions off Manors running costs for 2016.
What we do know for sure is that there is one seat left on the F1 grid for 2016 and that with a Mercedes engine, a promising young driver and a possibly a link to the Mercedes F1 team, a seat at Manor has suddenly become a very attractive option over the winter. It is well and truly a sellers market.
Uncle Stephen, we salute you!