Sauber driver Pascal Wehrlein took a more unconventional route into Formula One than those he competes against.
The German had started his career in single-seaters but switched to ‘tin-tops’ in 2013 when he joined the Mercedes DTM line up.
It was a switch that paid off for Wehrlein who has crowned champion in 2015 which resulted in him getting the call up to F1 with Manor the following year.
Wehrlein is not alone in taking this route into F1 with 2010 DTM Series champion Paul di Resta and Esteban Ocon having done so as well – all three having raced for Mercedes in the German touring car series.
The Stuttgart based brand is the most successful team since its inaugural season in 1984 and its revamp in 2000, which is why their decision at the end of last month to leave the championship for Formula E was a shock.
Mercedes will leave at the end of 2018 with the aim to join Formula E the following year.
“I was really surprised about it. I heard about it on Monday, just before they went public with it,” Wehrlein told crash.net on the announcement.
“I’m always in contact with the guys from DTM after the nice time we had together. For them it’s of course not an easy time so they have a lot of time now, one-and-a-half years which seems to be a lot in situations like this because it could have been just before the last race, someone could have said ‘we’re stopping with DTM, that’s your last race’.”
Wehrlein believes that this will see Mercedes shift their approach to helping junior drivers progress through the ranks, meaning they are likely to take the more traditional route up the single-seater ladder.
“Definitely with Mercedes you had the chance to go into F1 [from DTM],” Wehrlein said. “DTM is not the normal way, you start in Formula 4, Formula 3, Formula 2, however, that’s the normal way.”
Wehrlein made the switch to DTM as he did not have the funds to make the step up from Formula 3 to the GP2 Series, leaving the touring car series his only option possible.
“Now I can just tell you about my case, it was not possible for me to drive GP2. I didn’t have the budget of 1.5 million. I had to decide what can I do after Formula 3, and for me it was clear that there was an offer from Mercedes that I could drive DTM, so I’m getting paid and I don’t have to spend a crazy amount of money for another year of Formula 3 or something like this, and GP2 was not possible.
“For me the only option was DTM, and I was really happy about that chance. I always knew that if I was doing a good job and if I was successful winning and so on, there could be still a chance to drive in F1.
Wehrlein credits winning the DTM title in 2015 – which saw the young German beat veteran drivers Jamie Green and Mattias Ekström to the title – in getting him to F1, but feels that it would not have been possible with any other manufacturer.
“Luckily I won DTM and now I’m in F1. But I think this is only possible with Mercedes.“Now maybe without DTM they will put their drivers in Formula 3, GP3 Series and Formula 2.”
Wehrlein’s fellow Mercedes Junior driver George Russell is currently leading in the GP3 title with ART Grand Prix, with Ocon completing the trio of junior members.