Sauber revealed last night that reserve driver Antonio Giovinazzi is to stay on in place of Pascal Wehrlein for this weekend’s Chinese Grand Prix.
Citing a lack of fitness following a truncated pre-season, Wehrlein withdrew from the Australian Grand Prix after Free Practice 2 – a situation born out of Race of Champions crash in January.
While disappointing for Wehrlein, his absence offers Giovinazzi another opportunity to impress the Formula One field, after the Italian quickly got up to speed and raced very well in Melbourne. Should Giovinazzi match that debut, he stock will rise again.
There were several theories floating around the web yesterday as to Wehrlein’s continued absence, with some believing there is more to the story than meets the eye. In the background, Wehrlein and Giovinazzi are backed by Mercedes and Ferrari respectively and while it is though in some circles that Sauber’s relationship with current power unit supplier Ferrari may be coming to an end, talk about linking up with Mercedes has quietened since February.
Over the weekend, rumours began to emerge that Sauber may be considering a possible relationship with Honda, as the struggling Japanese manufacturer search for a second team to work with, now that their exclusivity relationship with McLaren has passed. This is, of course, conjecture, and there is absolutely nothing to link political actions being played between teams and manufacturers, but it would not surprise if games were being actioned out in the background.
Beyond the immediate realms of Formula One, this potentially creates future problems for the Race of Champions. Following Wehrlein’s crash and eventual issues, the RoC could find it a little more difficult to attract top names in future events, especially as long as the event is held close to the beginning of pre-season testing.
This may promote a move back to an early December date, but considering the tight clauses that already bind the drivers, teams may be less likely to release their drivers for such an event.