F1 Sauber driver Wehrlein hits back at critics over absence

SAKHIR, Bahrain (AP) Sauber driver Pascal Wehrlein has hit back at critics who questioned why he missed the first two races in Formula One.

Wehrlein will finally make his debut for Sauber at the Bahrain Grand Prix this weekend, after Italian Antonio Giovinazzi replaced him at the season-opening Australian GP and then the China GP last weekend.

The 22-year-old German injured his back in a crash at the Race of Champions in Miami in January, sustaining hairline cracks in vertebrae and compressing some of his intervertebral discs.

But there was confusion surrounding the initial driver switch in Australia because Wehrlein competed in the first two practice sessions at Melbourne, leading to speculation.

''I don't care too much what the others say. They didn't know my situation,'' Wehrlein said on Thursday at the Bahrain GP.

''If you don't know what injury someone had, you shouldn't criticize him. It's quite simple. If it was just some muscle pain or anything else, do you think Sauber would accept me to not drive?''

Wehrlein is confident he will be fit enough to race on Sunday.

''I'll be fine in the car. No pain, that's the most important thing,'' he said. ''The track is also quite flat, not many bumps.''

Wehrlein impressed at times last year with Manor Racing during his F1 debut season, finishing 10th at the Austrian GP for the team's only point.

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