Pascal Wehrlein leapt back into the running to race at Manor this year as the backmarker team got serious about its plans for 2016.
That is the claim of Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff, who had earlier hinted that better-funded contenders like Will Stevens and Alexander Rossi were more likely to secure the seat because of their superior sponsorship packages.
But Wolff told Germany’s Auto Motor und Sport that he doesn’t blame small teams like Manor from trying to maximise the money it can get out of its drivers.
“You have to respect that the teams want as good a financial deal as possible,” he said.
Wolff therefore explained that at no time was Wehrlein guaranteed the seat just because Mercedes is supplying its title-winning engines to Manor this year.
“The engine was completely separate to the driver question,” he said. “And so we exerted no pressure in this area.”
Wolff said that Wehrlein, the reigning DTM champion, suddenly returned to serious contention for the 2016 race seat when Dave Ryan, the former McLaren sporting director, came on board.
“When Dave Ryan came to Manor, it became more and more clear that they wanted to have a measuring stick on the driver’s side. To know what the car is able to do,” he explained.
“The experienced people in the team knew that the best development in the world brings nothing if you have nobody in the car to push the throttle down.
“So we sat down at the table before Christmas to discuss the basic conditions,” said Wolff.
Wolff said he thinks Manor, to benefit from Williams technology and top new technical staff including Nikolas Tombazis and Pat Fry, will have a much more competitive season in 2016.
“They have ambitious plans to bring the team forwards,” he said. “The team is well financed, they have good technical people and the Mercedes engine. And now they have a good driver.
“Last year they had to tackle with the restructuring of the team, with a Ferrari engine that was a year old and a chassis that was hardly developed. But things are going to be different now.
“Now Manor will even use our second wind tunnel at Brackley. In this respect we can expect a big jump from them and I think even championship points,” said Wolff.