Champion’s Talk: Gary Paffett
15 years and two titles later, how would you sum up your time in the DTM?
Gary Paffett: Last weekend really was a fairy-tale ending to a great time. My whole professional career up until this point has been with Mercedes in the DTM. It started amazingly with my first full year in 2004 when I finished second and then won the title in 2005. It happened very quickly. At that point, I thought the DTM was quite easy and I was supposed to go on and win multiple championships. I left for a year, returned and had a couple of tough years, but I fought my way back into the works team and was in contention for championships on at least three occasions. Unfortunately, I only finished second in 2009, 2010 and 2012. The 2012 season was the hardest one – really tough to take. All the years since then have just been hard work. It’s not always been easy. I had years when I wasn’t very comfortable or happy. But the team has kept faith in me, all the way from Norbert and Gerhard to Toto, Uli and Martin. They never lost faith in me, kept me in the team, and this year has just been incredible. The team have given me a car that I can drive fast, especially in qualifying which has been the key this year. I have loved driving the car this year. As I said, it is just a fairy-tale ending to the whole story. Effectively starting my career with Mercedes, winning a championship very quickly and then ending it by winning the last championship for Mercedes for the foreseeable future is just incredible.
If somebody had told you a few months ago that you would win the championship, would you then still have decided to leave the DTM?
Gary Paffett: It’s an interesting question with various aspects to consider. It all started 18 months ago when Mercedes announced they were leaving the DTM. At that point, we all had to find jobs, including the drivers. My initial reaction wasn’t to find a seat in a rival team in the DTM. My first thought was “where can I get with Mercedes from here?”. I have been with Mercedes for 15 years, and I wanted to stay with them. So I talked to Mercedes, to Uli and Toto. I wanted to find out where I could go with the team. Obviously, at that point, I didn’t know I was going to win the championship. One thing I have never managed to do in my life is actually to race with the number one on my car, because every championship I have won, I have left the next year. But I am very happy I have moved on to Formula E. Sure, going back and fighting for a championship as a defending champion would be great, but I think ending my DTM career with a championship is probably even better.
You said at the weekend that this was the best qualifying of your career. What did you mean by that?
Gary Paffett: Honestly, I think it might not have been the fastest lap I have ever driven, but I think it was the most important qualifying lap in my career and one of the hardest. It would have been so easy to give up, drive too hard or make a mistake. To have got P3 on my second lap is even now pretty astounding. Like I said, it wasn’t the fastest lap I have ever driven. I qualified at Zandvoort four-tenths clear of the next driver, which was amazing. Actually, I had a similar occasion in 2005 in Istanbul when I was on pole there and fighting for the championship. I had a similar feeling on that lap. You get past a certain area of the lap which is the most difficult, and once you get past that, you think “this is going to be OK”. The title win this year is the most important in my career. It has been the hardest one to get, and basically, that qualifying lap secured it.