NOT FIT YET? Sauber driver Pascal Wehrlein feels he is not yet 100% ready to race in the Chinese GP this weekend. Image: AP / Rick Rycroft
China - Pascal Wehrlein could miss the entire upcoming China-Bahrain double header, as a bizarre story about his physical fitness continues to unfold.
The Mercedes-backed German sat out the 2017 season opener in Melbourne, citing a lack of fitness in the wake of his winter back injury following a rollover crash at the race of champions event.
He was subsequently replaced by the Ferrari reserve Antonio Giovinazzi. The Italian will now race again in Wehrlein's place in China.
Sauber released a statement saying: "To ensure that Pascal will be back in the cockpit in best physical shape at the earliest possible opportunity. That could be next weekend in Bahrain or the Russian Grand Prix."
Wehrlein was quoted saying: "For me the most important is that I can train intensively to ensure a 100% performance from my side as soon as possible."
READ: Wehrlein could miss start of F1 due to neck injury
Former British racing driver and TV presenter, Tiff Needell, does not buy the fitness debacle and took to his Twitter account in saying: "Wehrlein doesn't think he's fit enough?! Do you think Giovinazzi ever thought 'but I'm not fit enough'."
Needell's cynicism is not isolated. La Gazzetta dello Sport, an authoritative Italian sports daily, said Sauber's announcement was "a day after Wehrlein said he wanted to at least do Friday practice" in China.
Germany's Auto Bild said Wehrlein, 22, was in the Mercedes F1 simulator on Monday.
The major German daily Bild, too, struggled to make sense of the Wehrlein story, with correspondent Lennart Wermke saying: "He has now trained for two weeks (since Australia) to be fit.He is supervised by Josef Leberer, once the physio to the great Ayrton Senna."
"But according to Sauber, the ambitious Wehrlein is voluntarily not racing? Will Wehrlein be fit enough for Bahrain? Or is there something more to this?" he added. added.
Wehrlein's boss, Toto Wolff also weighed in on the scenario by saying: "I feel for Pascal, because he has had all the bad luck.
"Now he needs to build up his fitness and come back strong. I have no doubt that when he's back in the car, he'll prove he's still the same Pascal."