Sat 22 April 2017
Following his accident in January's Race Of Champions in Miami, Pascal Wehrlein returned to Formula 1 action at last weekend's Bahrain Grand Prix, narrowly missing out on a points finish. Pascal spoke to www.raceofchampions.com about his recovery.
How hard was it to sit back and watch your colleagues race in Melbourne? Were you able to vent any frustration in the gym?
In Melbourne I was there watching the race. But then China was more difficult because I was home – or not home, I was in Austria for training – but of course I followed everything and that was quite hard that time. I was always in contact with my team to see how it’s going, but I actually didn’t even watch the whole race because I was just in the middle of my training camp and we started training early. I felt that this was more important than being in front of the television and getting angry because I wasn’t able to race.
Do you feel you are back to full fitness now?
I wouldn’t say full fitness. I would say in reasonable shape. I think it’s good enough to be able to perform, which wasn’t the case before. With the injury I had, I had to step back and do nothing for quite a long time. I felt this quite a lot and I was not able to race in Melbourne but now I think I have made good progress. These two weeks between Melbourne and Bahrain helped me a lot. Now I’m just back to where I should be. Of course I’m training more because I want to be even better for the next races.
The demands of the new generation of faster F1 cars are greater than last year. Are you at a level higher than last year because of those demands?
Yes, in general you need to train more than last year because the cars are harder to drive and more demanding. And that’s exactly what I’m doing, I’m catching up very quickly with my own level. In Bahrain I felt very happy with my own performance and where I am in terms of fitness. Everything is going in the right direction.
How encouraging was that 11th place in Bahrain on your return? Do you feel points are now within reach?
Saturday was even more satisfying. I missed the first week of testing, I missed two races. And just to come back like I did in the qualifying in Bahrain… but of course the race was great as well. I couldn’t be happier about my comeback, about how I was performing and also how my back and my fitness was, so that’s good.
How did the ROC organisation and fellow drivers handle the accident and support you?
Fredrik and Jessie and the whole team are really, really nice people. We are also friends. I really enjoy being at the Race Of Champions. It was my third time and obviously apart from the accident we had a great time together. But then after the accident the support I was getting in the hospital from Fredrik and Jessie was just great. Of course it’s not nice to have an accident but in some ways it’s nice to see which people are really supporting you and what they are doing for you. The support I was getting in general - not only from the Race Of Champions organisation but also from Sauber and Mercedes, the people around me - was just great and I’m really happy about that.
Is it right that immediately after the accident you wanted to drive the next day, then the ROC organisers insisted that you went to the hospital and it was there that the doctors found the problem and put you in the brace? Could you talk us through what happened?
Obviously I had some pain in my back after the crash. And it just got more and more. The first few minutes I was feeling OK. I felt something in my back but it just got worse with time. Then after a bit of time we decided to go to hospital. Still it was in my mind that I would drive the next day. But then with the results the doctors saw from all the tests, it was impossible to drive. They were quite serious with me and told me it was critical not to do any stupid things for the next four or five weeks because the injury needs to rest and recover.
Are you looking forward to coming back to Race Of Champions?
Yes, I am. That’s a question I’ve been asked many times – do I regret going to the Race Of Champions? No, I don’t. I’m still happy that I was there. If I wouldn’t have been competing at the Race Of Champions I would probably have been skiing which is actually riskier. Of course the injury is something bad but apart from that every year I’ve enjoyed the Race Of Champions a lot. It’s a nice thing even to be able to participate. I’m not sure if I’m going this year already but at some time I will go there again because I love racing, I love motor sport and the Race Of Champions is a really nice event and for sure I will do it again.
You competed in your first ROC at Barbados 2014 and also raced in ROC at the London Olympic Stadium. What are your favourite memories?
The whole event is great. I always try to spend some time there as well because we always go to some really nice countries. The first time I was in the Race Of Champions was in Barbados in 2014. I’d never been there. It’s an amazing place and actually after the Race Of Champions one year later I went there again for a holiday. I really enjoyed that. Then we were in London, which is obviously a great city. Then this year in Miami, I’d never been there before, so I spent two weeks there – one week of training then the Race Of Champions happened. Then the time after that was not so great of course but I just really enjoy everything. The race is fun, they have many different cars and it’s not about the result or to be very ambitious to win the race. The most important thing is to have fun, to enjoy it. We are always in some nice places and it’s just a great event with some other great drivers.
Which fellow champion at ROC surprised or entertained you the most? And why? Either on track or at the ROC drivers party …
First of all for me it would have been great to race together with Sebastian Vettel in the ROC Nations Cup – but then of course I couldn’t. I get along with him very well. Travis Pastrana is a very good example, he is really amazing so it was cool to see him there. I had some great fun with Juan Pablo Montoya in Miami, plus Tom Kristensen… I don’t know, there are too many to mention, everyone is great there, having fun.
Are there any drivers who you’d like to race against in the future at the Race Of Champions?
It was great to race against Juan Pablo in Miami because the evenings before we were always having a lot of fun, saying things like ‘I’ll beat you’, these little things. Then in practice we were joking a lot, so it would be nice to go up against him again. But also… I don’t know, there are many great drivers.
Following your accident ROC has now made the use of a HANS or FHR device compulsory, even when not mandated by the local motorsports association. Do you feel that is a good move?
I don’t know. It wouldn’t have changed anything in my accident because the HANS device is for impacts where you hit the barriers with the front or from the side. But what caused my injury came from rolling the car, so it was from a hit on the top of my head. In that case the HANS device wouldn’t have changed anything. Of course more safety is good but just in my case it wouldn’t have changed anything.