Wehrlein pulls out due to fitness deficit

Pascal Wehrlein on Saturday morning pulled out of the season-opening 2017 Formula 1 Rolex Australian Grand Prix, telling his Sauber team he did not feel fit enough to continue.

The 22-year-old German driver is to be replaced by Ferrari reserve driver Antonio Giovinazzi, who will take part in final free practice and qualifying for the team later Saturday.  

Wehrlein was 18th in Friday’s second practice session, half a second adrift of his Sauber team-mate llSwede Marcus Ericsson. 

Wehrlein injured his back in an accident at the Race of Champions in Miami earlier this year, when his car collided with that of fellow F1 driver Felipe Massa.

His car was thrown into a roll over a barrier.

He walked away from the incident, but later medical checks revealed a back injury that has prevented him from doing his full training programme ahead of the Melbourne race.

"The Sauber F1 Team has decided to replace Pascal Wehrlein for the Australian Grand Prix," said a team statement. “Wehrlein does not feel fit enough for a complete race distance due to his training deficit.

“As of FP3, Antonio Giovinazzi will take over the Sauber C36-Ferrari for the rest of the Australian Grand Prix weekend.”

Wehrlein is the first driver to suffer directly from the much greater physical demands of this year’s new era of ‘fatter and faster’ cars that deliver much greater cornering speeds and G-loads.

"My fitness level is not as it should be for a full race distance because of my training deficit," he said. "I explained the situation to the team yesterday evening.

“Therefore, the Sauber F1 Team has decided not to take any risks. It is a pity, but the best decision for the team."

Team chief Monisha Kaltenborn said: "We have great respect for Pascal's openness and professionalism. This decision was definitely not an easy one for him, but it underlines his qualities as a team player.

“The focus is now on his fitness level and in such a situation we do not take any unnecessary risks. Pascal will be in China as planned.”

Giovinazzi finished runner-up in last year's GP2 championship and is currently Ferrari's reserve driver.

He first drove an F1 car during a test in a 2015 Ferrari in February, before completing two days of testing with Sauber, as Wehrlein's replacement at the first pre-season test, in Spain.

He will be the second rookie on the grid alongside Canadian Lance Stroll, 18, of Williams while McLaren's Belgian driver Stoffel Vandoorne makes his Melbourne debut with one previous race to his name. 

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