Mercedes reserve driver Pascal Wehrlein will in fact serve as a driver for the Force India team at the upcoming second pre-season test at Barcelona, despite previous denials by the Silverstone squad.
The 20-year-old German – who races for Mercedes in the DTM championship and became the series’ youngest ever winner last year – has previously tested for the works F1 outfit at the ‘Young Drivers’ test in Abu Dhabi at the end of last season, piloting the championship-winning F1W05 Hybrid.
Wehrlein will spend two days behind the wheel of the Mercedes-powered VJM07 – Force India’s 2014 car – with outings on the Thursday and Saturday of the test, while regular drivers Sergio Pérez and Nico Hülkenberg will drive on the Friday and Sunday respectively.
Force India also confirmed that Wehrlein will have two further in-season test outings, as part of a newly forged ‘association’ role with the squad, which finished sixth in last year’s Constructors’ Championship standings.
More cynical minds might suggest that the deal has been brokered for other reasons.
“This is a great opportunity for Pascal to develop his Formula 1 knowledge with our friends at Force India and shows the good working relationship within the Mercedes-Benz family,” Mercedes’ motorsport boss Toto Wolff said.
“Pascal impressed us with his approach to the Abu Dhabi test last year and I am sure his feedback will be useful to Force India also. It is also a valuable opportunity for him to work with another team and gain more experience.
“This is an important year for Pascal with his primary programme in the DTM, and also these tests to build his F1 experience. We will be following his progress on both sides with great interest.”
The positive sentiments were echoed in the Force India camp as well.
“I am pleased to give Pascal a chance to work with us in Barcelona,” Force India’s team principal, Dr Vijay Mallya, added.
“He is an exciting young talent who has already proved he has what it takes to be successful at the highest level in motorsport. As a reserve driver for Mercedes-Benz, he’s clearly destined for a career in Formula 1 and I am sure the test will be a positive experience on both sides.
“Being able to call upon Pascal for testing duties is also a clear demonstration of our strong working relationship with our engine partner, Mercedes-Benz, and I thank them for their collaboration.”
While the announcement is being drummed up positively on both sides, the more cynical might suggest that the deal has been brokered for other reasons.
Despite the team being the first to reveal its 2015 livery scheme, Force India still hasn’t taken the covers off its 2015 model – the VJM08 – and it won’t do so until the final pre-season test at the end of the month, which starts on February 26.
Rumours are rife that Force India is the latest F1 team to feel the pinch in an environment of ever-increasing spending. Indian officials are furiously at work trying to freeze Mallya’s assets stemming from court rulings over unpaid debts owed from his Kingfisher airline group, while the team’s co-investor, Sahara boss Subatra Roy, has been in jail for a botched share flotation that saw investors lose several billion dollars.
Wehrlein’s presence was first hinted days ago – and denied by Force India – as an apparent means of recompense to Mercedes for the team’s use of its power units, with some of the bills still remaining unpaid. amidst rumours that Force India is struggling to make payments to its suppliers, including the German manufacturer.
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