until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Formula E

Formula E’s answer to Kimi Raikkonen is hitting his stride

by Sam Smith
4 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

An ‘enigma’, ‘restless’, ‘contradictory’.

These are just a few descriptions I have used in the past when talking about Pascal Wehrlein.

They weren’t written in an unflattering light but more to paint a picture of one of motorsport’s more private individuals, one whose heart isn’t so much on his sleeve but seemingly packaged away beneath apparent self-imposed barriers.

You won’t get any overly emotional responses to questions from Wehrlein, and you won’t get intricately thought-out answers to complex topics either.

In this way, his way, he’s perhaps the closest Formula E has ever got to a Kimi Raikkonen figure. A vastly different inherent character, granted, but one whose core nature is to always race first and worry about the other facets to his job later.

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It’s probably why he’s often got into knotted situations with previous employers before, notably Mercedes and Mahindra. With Wehrlein it’s all about the racing, not how many skits or funky reels he can produce on social media.

“He’s a more intimate character in the fact that he’s not so outgoing and not so outspoken,” says one of those who knows him best in a professional sense, his engineer at Porsche, Kyle Wilson-Clarke.

“He doesn’t necessarily like to be the centre of attention,” adds Wilson-Clarke.

But there’s no timidity to the way Wehrlein operates.

You have to get up early to get one over on him and even in a communicative sense he’s “very able to express what he wants in a small intimate group,” says Wilson-Clarke.

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“He likes to get into the car, put the helmet on and do the racing and let that do the talking as opposed to trying to brag about beating yourself up or anything else.

“He just likes to put the times down and let the results speak for themselves. I think that’s where he takes a lot of pride.”

When things are right Wehrlein looks unbeatable. It happened occasionally at Mahindra, and it happened last year for Porsche at Puebla when he crushed his opposition but was never rewarded for it due to the infamous tyre coding admin error.

It would have been very easy for Wehrlein and Porsche to seek out the nearest TV camera or journalist’s Dictaphone in Mexico City last month and articulate the vengeance.

We got it with bells on when Lucas di Grassi brilliantly laid his Mexican ghost to rest in 2017 after losing his win the year before. Wehrlein isn’t of that disposition, though. Yes, there was the natural explosion of joy as he crossed the line but, the first thing he said when he was interviewed post-race after his and Porsche’s first win was to say how much he loved “this team”.

It’s a team that targeted Wehrlein in early 2020 just as the pandemic was showing its devastating hand. Even after just a handful of races it seemed clear that Neel Jani was unlikely to become the frontrunning prospect that Andre Lotterer was already proving to be in the other Porsche.

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In retrospect this was a little unfair on Jani, who was effectively starting from scratch in Formula E after just two starts back in 2017 with a lacklustre Dragon team as opposed to the three full seasons Lotterer had with a multiple title-winning Techeetah squad.

Porsche was on the lookout for youth and Wehrlein was at the top of that list.

His introduction to the team was initially slow and it took time to gel.

“As with any relationship, engineer, driver, it does take some time before you get that harmonious language, and you really understand each other,” agrees Clarke.

“I’d say towards the second half of last year is when we really came into our stride.

“At the beginning of the year, we were still finding our feet, whether it’s with car set-up, communications procedures, him getting used to the Porsche way. I’ve been with Porsche for a long time, so I’m well ingrained in the family here.

“But, you know, it was partly up to me to try and really bring him into the team and bring him to our way of thinking and how we operated.”

Strength of character in a racing driver isn’t always evident from the outside. Inner steel is often more productive than external force. In Wehrlein’s case it is starting to amalgamate nicely at present, and it will only get more durable.

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“Pascal is a very, very strong character,” says Wilson-Clarke.

“He’s able to communicate what he wants quite well to myself. I understand what he needs now.

“Once you’ve got the core structure and bare bones down, we’re now really putting the meat onto it, and getting down to the nitty gritty and details of things, which makes our job a lot more rewarding as well.”

That’s a nice encapsulation for Wehrlein’s 2022 manifesto now.

From Rome, still an infuriating six weeks away, the races will come thick and fast. There are 13 in 18 weeks, which in a Formula E realm is an almost bullet-quick cadence.

If Wehrlein uses this latest momentum to his sometimes false-starting Formula E career then the feeling is that anything is possible. Then, finally, the enigma of one of racing’s more sequestered characters might at last start to be decoded.

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