Pascal Wehrlein bounced back from his fitness troubles to outqualify his Sauber teammate Marcus Ericsson and earn 13th on the grid in Bahrain.
Wehrlein, who was helped by yellow flags spoiling the final laps of potentially quicker cars in Q1, admitted that he had outperformed his own expectations.
“It was definitely more than I was expecting, so I’m really happy about the result,” he said. “It was the best possible answer I could give today on track, and I’m just really happy about everything. In the car I was lacking experience with the team, and to come back like this and reach more than what we could have expected is great.”
Regarding his first attempt at a full race distance he said: “It will be very interesting tomorrow, but then I’m very happy as well to have a test next week so another day in the car where you get better fitness level, a better understanding of the car so it all helps. We go from there.
“I’m feeling OK in the car, I think also showed it today, that I am OK in the car but of course I already said it, so five weeks of being not able to train anything apart from the stupid cycling in the gym, it’s quite hard. I’m still catching up at the moment, or not catching up I think I am on a good level now but without the injury of course I would be in even better shape.”
Meanwhile, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has praised his protégé. He compared his performance to that of Valtteri Bottas, who recovered from his difficult race in China to take pole this weekend.
“Another one who has proved his critics wrong after the things he had to take,” said Wolff. “People saying he should have been tougher, and racing the car. He bounced back in a spectacular way and put Sauber in a solid performance in Q2. It makes me really happy for him.”
Asked what he expected for Sunday, he said: “A solid performance. It would be good for him to finish the race without any physical pain, and help Sauber develop the car. There’s certainly a lot of motivation in the team to move on from where they are at the moment, and Pascal can be a part of that.”