ESPN's driver of the year countdown: No. 10 - Pascal Wehrlein

Moment of the 2017 F1 season (1:10)

ESPN's F1 experts reveal their picks for the standout moment of the 2017 season. (1:10)

Our countdown of the best F1 drivers of the 2017 season begins with a man who had to overcome the worst car on the grid and a serious pre-season injury to showcase his talent.

10. Pascal Wehrlein
Championship finish: 18th (5 points)

It says a lot about the fickle nature of Formula One that the man kicking off our rundown of the top ten drivers of the season looks unlikely to be racing in it next season.

The arrival of Ferrari and Alfa Romeo sponsorship to Sauber prevented him from securing another deal with the team and, with most other slots taken and his name a long way down the list of candidates for the vacant Williams seat, he faces a fight to revive his F1 career. And given how 2017 went for the man who once looked like the heir apparent at Mercedes, that seems to be an unfair situation for the German-Mauritian driver to be in.

Overlooked by Force India in favour of Esteban Ocon, Wehrlein had to make do with a seat at Sauber this season, a team running a year-old power unit. His preparations for life with a new team and F1's new era of cars suffered a significant blow when he crashed heavily at the Race of Champions in January, fracturing three vertebrae, an injury which sidelined him during a crucial point in training for the new season. After missing the opening week of pre-season testing, Wehrlein ruled himself out of the opening races in Australia and China as he did not feel he was fit enough to complete a race distance.

His two-race absence prompted some to suggest there was more to the story, while others criticised the decision to miss any races in the first place. Ahead of his return Sauber was forced to deny there was any "conspiracy" behind his decision to sit out until he was fit enough. In that backdrop, his performance at the Bahrain Grand Prix was super impressive -- he made Q2, out-qualifying teammate Marcus Ericsson by a nearly a full second, before narrowly missing out on a points' finish in 11th. It was a comprehensive return to action.

His strongest performance of the year followed just two races later in Spain, as he executed a bold one-stop strategy for Sauber's first points of the season. He finished seventh on the road, with an in-race penalty eventually demoting him to eighth, having battled with Toro Rosso and Haas cars throughout. Team boss Monisha Kaltenborn praised the character he showed, saying: "He had to take so much criticism for what had happened, partly very unfair and then a lot of criticism coming out about his performance, we know a lot of it was on the car of course, but he just I think he showed everyone today what we is capable of." It was one of the stand-out drives of the whole season.

Another point followed at the chaotic Azerbaijan Grand Prix before Sauber dropped further and further behind the rest of the pack. Baku was another example of Wehrlein taking a bad car to a strong finish, something he did for Manor in Austria last year.

Wehrlein also did a lot to improve perceptions outside of the car. In a paddock where shyness often gets misconstrued as arrogance, his positive demeanour throughout the season was genuinely appreciated by a Sauber team which spent most of the year focusing on various things happening away from the race track. Having been overlooked by Force India amid suggestions he could be difficult to work with, that alone will bolster his chances for a return in future.

This might have been the year which saw Ocon rise above Wehrlein in the pecking order of Mercedes protégés, but Wehrlein proved this year he deserves every opportunity to showcase his talent further up the grid. Here's hoping he gets another chance.