DTM 2017: Budapest – Analysis
Budapest: An amazing metropolis of a million inhabitants on the banks of the Danube, an amphitheatre-like track embedded in the landscape, and a driver rushing from one high to another in both his private and sporting life. It's the sort of story you only get in motor racing.
The Hungaroring has not been the happiest of hunting grounds for Mercedes-AMG Motorsport since it returned to the DTM racing calendar three years ago, despite the fact that the team won the first two races contested there in 1988. But that lean spell came to an end in an unexpected as well as fairy-tale fashion on Saturday. However, let's start at the beginning...
Paul Di Resta: Inspired by joy of the baby
What a week for Paul Di Resta! The Scottish driver has just experienced some exhausting, eventful and ultimately exhilarating days. The first of these happy moments came on Monday when his new daughter Perla saw the light of day. 'It's a very special feeling,' he said. 'There is nothing comparable. She is healthy, and she got the timing just right, so that I could be present for the birth ahead of Budapest. Hopefully I can carry forward these positive emotions from my private life into the race weekend.'
A man of his word. Just five days later, Paul lifted the first of what will hopefully be many winners' trophies for little Perla into the sky above the Hungaroring. Although early on in the race, the chances of Paul claiming his eighth DTM victory had looked remote. But an early pit stop on Lap 6 and a safety car deployment at just the right time allowed him to progress through the field from a lowly P13 on the grid to victory.
'Sometimes, fortune favours the brave,' said Paul. 'We had bad luck in qualifying today, but then the safety car helped us out. Things have a habit of balancing themselves out. But my tyres also allowed it.' After Paul went into the lead, BMW man Timo Glock chased him all the way to the finish line. 'He never got close enough to attack,' added Paul. 'We managed to control the situation.'
Head of Mercedes-AMG Motorsport DTM Ulrich Fritz agreed that the safety car had played into the hands of the team. 'The way Paul wrapped up the race was phenomenal,' he said, full of praise for the 2010 DTM champion, not least because his tyres had already taken 28 laps of wear by this time. 'This was once again a great advert for the sport and a terrific victory for the entire team.'
It was perhaps too much to expect a repeat of this surprising result on Sunday, but Paul still managed to end his incredible week on a high. After another difficult qualifying session in which an error set him back on the grid, he crossed the finish line as sixth - again in the points. 'I think we would have signed up for P6 coming into today's race,' he confided. 'I had one of the best starts I've ever made. The guys also did a great pit stop. That enabled me to jump a few cars. It's been nice to score a lot of points this weekend.'
Three drivers in the points - twice
The blissful Paul was not the only member of the squad to score points in both races this weekend. Gary Paffett also advanced his title claim on both Saturday and Sunday. In the first race, he finished seventh after the disqualification of Jamie Green, and ninth in the second.
'I'm pretty happy with the result,' said Gary on Saturday night. Unlike Paul, he was not able to benefit from the safety car period in the same way and had to settle for seventh place. He compensated for this disappointment by gaining two places on Sunday, first by overtaking Mike Rockenfeller and then by moving up to ninth after Marco Wittmann was forced to retire. 'P9 means another couple of points,' he said. 'It was not what we wanted really, but we couldn't do more. It's simply too difficult to overtake here.'
The race weekend also terminated on a brighter note for Robert Wickens, after he twice suffered bad luck with the timing of pit stops on Saturday: 'I was one corner away from coming into the pits, and then the safety car came out, and I couldn't pit.' He then sustained a puncture on the last corner and had to drive a complete lap to get back to the pits. 'It's a shame. P7 was a real possibility today.'
Robert made up for missing out on the Top Ten by finishing eighth on Sunday: 'It's so hard to overtake on this track, so actually managing to score some points here was a really good achievement. All the same, it's a pity about what happened on Saturday. If we had come away from here with a P7 and a P8, that would have been good damage limitation. Gary and I were both in the points, so it was a good day for the Mercedes me team.'
Edoardo Mortara associates the Hungaroring with some great memories, not least after winning a race there last year. This season, however, he was clearly struggling with the car and did not feel at his ease. In the circumstances, P9 in the first race on Saturday was a positive outcome for him. 'Salvaging points from 16th on the grid after a problematic qualifying is by no means bad,' said Edoardo. On Sunday, he finished narrowly outside the points. 'Overall, I had promised myself that I would get more out of this weekend in Budapest. But it's all part of the learning curve. I see myself as currently facing an enormous challenge, and I'm going to keep pushing until I've overcome it. Afterwards, the satisfaction of having done it will be all the greater.'
Championship table: A single point separating P1 and P2
After arriving at the Hungaroring as a championship leader, Lucas Auer did not have the best of weekends. On Saturday, the Austrian was spun round by an opponent and dropped down to the rear of the field. On Sunday, he misbraked when pulling up for his pit stop, which once again put him out of contention for the points. Eventually, his Pink Panther developed a mechanical fault and had to be parked in the garage: 'Too bad, because, going by the qualis yesterday and today, it looked like I might be able to at least grab a few points. That's just how it goes sometimes in motor racing. We've still got another six race weekends, so there's still everything to play for.'
After six of the 18 races in the 2017 DTM, Lucas is now second in the standings on 69 points, just one point behind the new leader René Rast (Audi). 'We struggled today,' said Ulrich Fritz. 'The initial situation after qualifying was anything but great. Then came Luggi's mistake during the pit stop, which didn't actually matter in view of his retirement. Overtaking is tricky at the Hungaroring, so there was nothing doing for the other guys.'
Despite all that, the team returns to Affalterbach with its first victory at the Hungaroring since 1988. The next fixture on the 2017 DTM calendar is at Nuremberg in two weeks' time. On the weekend of 30th June - 2nd July, the city will host races seven and eight of the season - and the Norisring has always been a favourable venue for Mercedes-AMG Motorsport.