Sauber driver Pascal Wehrlein will miss the season-opening Australian Grand Prix after admitting he does not feel fit enough to complete a race distance. After he informed the team it decided to replace him with Ferrari reserve driver Antonio Giovinazzi from final practice onwards.
Wehrlein injured his back in an accident at the Race of Champions in Miami earlier this year when his car collided with that of fellow F1 driver Felipe Massa and was pitched into a roll over a barrier. He walked away from the incident but after medical checks uncovered the back issue he was unable to train at his usual level and was forced to miss the opening pre-season test in Barcelona.
"It is because of my back injury which happened but there is no pain, my back is fine," Wehrlein said. "It is just a fitness level that I could not train as hard as I wanted to and as hard as I needed to. Now I feel that I could not race the whole race distance with my best performing level and that is why I decided not to race."
This year's new generation of cars are more physical to driver due to downforce and faster cornering speeds. Neck and core body strength are essential for drivers to withstand the extra forces and 58 laps would have been an almighty challenge for Wehrlein.
The German believes that the likely high rate of attrition at the opening round of the season means Sauber is in a strong position to score points and does not want his lack of fitness to hold them back.
"We want the best for the team and this weekend we have the chance to score points. If one driver is not 100 percent fit then you shouldn't take the risk and also from the team's perspective it is better."
Team principal Monisha Kaltenborn added: "For the team it matters what the driver says and if the driver is not 100% to deliver the way the driver wants to we are not going to take any unnecessary risks. We have great respect of Pascal's openness and professionalism and he will be in China as planned."
Giovinazzi finished runner-up in last year's GP2 championship and is currently Ferrari's reserve driver. He first drove an F1 car during a test in a 2015 Ferrari in February, before completing two days of testing with Sauber as Wehrlein's replacement at the first pre-season test. He will be the second rookie on the grid alongside Williams' Lance Stroll, while McLaren's Stoffel Vandoorne has just one race to his name.