Australian GP: Unfit Sauber driver Pascal Wehrlein pulls out of race

Pascal Wehrlein
Sauber driver Pascal Wehrlein missed the first pre-season test with a back issue following a crash in January

Sauber driver Pascal Wehrlein has pulled out of the Australian Grand Prix and will be replaced by Ferrari third driver Antonio Giovinazzi.

The German said he lacked race fitness as a result of time off recovering from a back injury sustained in a crash in January's Race of Champions.

"My back is fine but I took a step back in terms of fitness and I'm trying to catch up," the 22-year-old said.

"I am not feeling like I could do a whole race at my best level."

Sauber said it was entirely the driver's decision.

Wehrlein, who is a Mercedes protege and was passed over for the seat alongside Lewis Hamilton this winter in favour of Valtteri Bottas, said he would have made the same decision had he been racing for the world champions.

He added that his decision had been influenced by the fact that it was the first race of the season and it might be a possibility for the struggling team to score points as a result of the high race of attrition.

"I want to be in the car and not even think about fitness. I want to show my best performance level and I would think about fitness at some point," he said.

Pressed on the fact that F1 history was littered with examples of drivers racing in extreme physical adversity, he said: "Every situation is different."

Wehrlein missed the first pre-season test at Spain's Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya as result of the back injury but did drive in the second, but he said the problem had not become apparent there.

Sauber team principal Monisha Kaltenborn said: "It matters what the driver says and if the driver cannot deliver to his best level you have to take that into account..

"Pascal is a very ambitious driver so you don't go into risks."

She added that there was no reason to believe there would be a problem with Wehrlein for the next race in China in two weeks' time.

Giovinazzi, the runner-up in the GP2 feeder series last year, has experience of the Sauber after replacing Wehrlein at the first pre-season test.

Australian Grand Prix Coverage details
DateSessionTimeRadio coverageOnline text commentary
Saturday 25 MarchThird practice02:55-04:05BBC Radio 5 live sports extraFrom 02:30
Saturday 25 MarchQualifying05:55-07:05BBC Radio 5 liveFrom 05:00
Sunday 26 MarchRace06:00 BSTBBC Radio 5 liveFrom 04:30 BST
Monday 27 MarchAustralian GP review04:30-05:00 & podcastBBC Radio 5 live

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