The confirmation from Force India that Manor’s Esteban Ocon will be joining the team for the 2017 season was a huge blow for his Manor team mate and fellow Mercedes junior driver Pascal Wehrlein. At one point in the season, the young German looked destined for bigger things but now his F1 future hangs in the balance.
To give Pascal his due, he has mainly impressed in his time at Manor. He has made it into Q.2 four times and has scored the team’s single point this season which may secure the team’s short term future. Since being paired with Ocon he has out qualified and out raced him. So why have Force India and Mercedes decided that it will be Ocon moving up the grid?
Firstly, Force India have tested a number of drivers over the past few years and have in house data on both drivers. Mercedes also have data of both drivers in one of their test cars and the second half of the season in the same machinery at Manor. Clearly that data tells us something that looking purely at this situation with a naked eye cannot see.
Secondly, We hear Pascal is hard to work with, there are stories from his DTM stint that are not flattering and it is well known that during his test for Force India in 2015 that he failed to integrate into the team. The team radio episode with his engineer at the USGP did not help matters, it appears the general consensus with Pascal is that he is talented but has an attitude problem.
With only four remaining seats left on the grid for 2017 there appears to be a consensus in the the F1 media that Pascal Wehrlein will be announced as a Manor driver in 2017. We are not so sure.
Mercedes have decided that it Esteban Ocon who will be first in line to replace Lewis Hamilton or Nico Rosberg once one decides to leave. This won’t be happening anytime soon so by the time there is a slot for a new Merc based driver, the newest young driver may have already appeared and requires a space on the grid. Ask Jean Eric Vergne if you don’t believe us.
Young driver proggrammes tend to be very ruthless and once it is clear that you are not going to be a world championship challenger, off you go. It’s a ruthless strategy but one that has paid dividends for Red Bull. From a business point of view, why do you continue to plow millions into something you know is not going to achieve your aim?
From a Manor point of view, I am sure they would be delighted to retain Pascal for 2017. However, that decision will have to probably wait until the end of the season. If the team finishes the season the top 10 of the constructors championship it will highly likely happily take the Mercedes discounted engines that come with Pascal. Mercedes do deals over engine costs. It is probably worth $5 to $10 million in engine bill reduction. If the team loses 10th place in the last two races, extra money will have to come from somewhere and with two well funded experienced drivers in the form of Felipe Nasr and Esteban Gutierrez who can allegedly bring up to $15 million in sponsorship, likely to be on the market, the team has options.
There are striking similarities between the dilemma facing Pascal and Paul Di Resta who was one of the first of the new generation of drivers backed by Mercedes. Di Resta came to F1 as a DTM winner with Merc and was given his debut with Force India in exchange for an engine discount. At first he looked the real deal and there were even rumors of a him replacing Michael Schumacher at one point. He waited for a drive at a top team to free up but nothing ever happened and his last year in F1 last plagued by rumors that he was not well liked in the team due to his bad attitude and never accepting responsibility for his own failures. Once he was dropped by Force India, there was not a line of teams lining up to pick him up and Di Resta’s top flight motorsport career was over by the time he was in his mid 20’s.
We have met Pascal, he was warm and friendly and seemed perfectly nice to us but we don’t work with him day in day out. There have been too many independent reports of his attitude problem for there to be no smoke without fire. It would be a terrible shame for this to cost Pascal his chance at F1 super stardom. Being chucked on the heap in your early 20’s can’t be much fun. Ask Jamie Alguersuari or Antonio da Costa. We really hope that Pascal stays with the team for next season and develops as a person. He does have the potential to be something special.