MONISHA KALTENBORN SAYS PASCAL WEHRLEIN'S MOTIVATION CANNOT BE QUESTIONED: Pascal wehrlein's fitness remains a hot topic. Image: AP Exchange
China - The young German missed Australia, is sitting out this weekend's Chinese grand prix and is not guaranteed a return in Bahrain or beyond following his winter back injury.
The 22-year-old pulled out citing a simple lack of physical fitness, but it's a story that has some eyebrows furrowed in the F1 paddock.
18-year-old rookie Lance Stroll said: "If I felt such difficulties, I would try to overcome them but I don't want to comment on his situation.
Not sufficiently motivated
"Maybe he has serious problems, but of course I hope not."
Others fear that a serious political issue has arisen for Wehrlein, the Mercedes-backed driver who for now is being replaced by Antonio Giovinazzi, the reserve driver for Sauber's engine partner Ferrari.
Asked if Wehrlein's full-time seat is now on the line, Sauber team boss Monisha Kaltenborn told the German broadcaster RTL: "Of course not."
Another recently mentioned possibility is that Wehrlein is not sufficiently motivated, with voluntarily stepping out the car perhaps indicative of his often controversial personality.
Kaltenborn insisted: "This is all not true."
"The fact is that he had his (race of champions) accident in America, and his spine was compressed quite hard. And of course you don't take these things lightly.
"Actually it surprised us that Pascal got the green light to drive so quickly afterwards, but the truth is that it simply takes a while for the body to recover.
"He simply has to catch up on the training deficit as a result from the injury."
Romain Grosjean said:"While everyone else was working extensively, Pascal could not train.
"If I got at the wheel of one of these cars in the form I was in last year, I would have had problems too," Grosjean said. "And if I can't drive the car properly, I don't want to take risks and endanger myself and others."
Kaltenborn continued: "It is not fair to question his (Wehrlein's) motivation and I cannot understand how he is criticised for his decision.
"At the moment, he is completing an intensive training programme with the Mercedes junior team. After this weekend, we will get together and see where we stand."