Fitness Concerns prompts Wehrlein to withdraw, Giovinazzi to debut

Pascal Wehrlein will sit out the Australian Grand Prix due to fitness concerns - Credit: Sauber Motorsport AG

Pascal Wehrlein will not participate in the Australian Grand Prix due to concerns that he is not fit enough to complete a full race distance, with Antonio Giovinazzi coming in to replace him.

Wehrlein informed his Sauber F1 Team bosses that he was not ready after the end of second practice on Friday, with Scuderia Ferrari’s reserve driver Giovinazzi now stepping in to the seat alongside Marcus Ericsson.

Wehrlein had seen his pre-season testing programme compromised by an accident at the Race of Champions in Miami that caused a back injury, with Giovinazzi having already replaced him in the first of those tests, but now the 2016 GP2 Series runner-up becomes the first Italian since Jarno Trulli and Vitantonio Liuzzi in 2011 to race in Formula 1.

“My fitness level is not as it should be for a full race distance because of my training deficit,” explained Wehrlein. “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 Principal Monisha Kaltenborn expects Wehrlein to come back stronger in the next Grand Prix in China and understood the reasons for his withdrawal, feeling the decision had the interests of the team at heart.

“We have great respect of Pascal’s openness and professionalism,” she said. “This decision was definitely not an easy one for him, 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.”