DTM 2017: Hockenheim I – Analysis
What a start to the new DTM season! 79,500 spectators witnessed a thrilling opening weekend in Hockenheim with amazingly close margins between cars, plenty of spectacular racing and a very special milestone for Mercedes-AMG Motorsport, the 400th race for Mercedes-AMG Motorsport in the DTM/ITC, by the end of which the team had secured podiums 521 and 522, plus victory number 176 towards the championship. What's more, the brand with the three-pointed star was the only one of the three manufacturers to bring home four drivers in the Top Ten in both races, but let's take one thing at a time...
Race 1: Excellent start to the season for Lucas Auer
One of the two Pink Panthers dominated events on Saturday as Lucas Auer comfortably took pole position in qualifying and then drove to his second DTM victory in the season opener. He pulled off his amazing feat at the same Hockenheim venue where his uncle, Gerhard Berger, achieved his last Formula 1 win in the German Grand Prix 20 years ago in 1997 when the current chairman of the ITR secured pole position, fastest race lap and the win.
But the first race of the season race was no walk in the park for Lucas. 'That was the most difficult race of my life,' he said after 36 hard-fought race laps. 'I had to nurse my tyres through to the end. I had to defend, but at the same time drive fast and avoid making the slightest error.'
The reason for that was the fact that he was being quickly reeled in by BMW driver Timo Glock, who sat on Lucas' bumper for the final ten laps. The gap between the two in the lead was less than one second at times. Lucas: 'When Timo was getting closer on the last few laps, I knew that, if I could hold off his initial attacks, I would have a chance, because his tyres would then be equally degraded. It really was very hard work.'
'A very strong race from Luggi,' said Head of Mercedes-AMG Motorsport DTM Ulrich Fritz, full of praise for his Austrian protégé. 'Towards the end, he came under incredible pressure but magnificently stood his ground, Starting the season off with a victory is the well-earned reward for the whole team.'
However, Timo Glock's attacks were not the only challenge Lucas had to face in the race. Lucas: 'We had a strategy planned out, but because of the new rules, you're all on your own out there without team radio. Nobody can tell you if you should be going easy on the tyres - you have to find that out for yourself. A huge 'thank you' to my team. They worked 24/7 over the winter, and that's now paid off.'
Three more Mercedes-AMG DTM drivers finished in the Top Eight - Edoardo Mortara (fourth), Gary Paffett (seventh) and Paul Di Resta (eighth). The squad had previously turned in a strong team performance in the first qualifying session, as all six drivers qualified in the Top Ten with Auer, Paffett and Mortara taking the top three places. Fritz: 'Obviously, it would have been nice to make more of our strong position on the grid, but you saw today just how tough and competitive the DTM is. That was exciting racing at its finest.'
Race 2: Spectacular charge up the field by Gary Paffett
Sunday's second race was even more exciting. An early safety car period, an Indianapolis-style restart, changeable weather conditions and plenty of scraps provided even more tension and diversity. Gary Paffett summed it all up, saying: 'The race today was like a roller-coaster.' The 2005 champion had lined up in P7 on the grid, was fourth after the re-start but dropped down into P14 following a mistake.
Gary: 'I got away pretty well, but on Turn 4, I went onto the grass. After that, I thought it would be difficult to get into the points, but we made a perfect decision on the pit stop and switched to wets at just the right moment. The car was then really fast.' Gary overtook Marco Wittmann's BMW on Lap 22 and began to chase Jamie Green in the lead. 'The first time I saw the board at the pit wall, he was 16 seconds ahead of me, but by the end of the race, this was down to just four.'
In difficult conditions on a wet track, Gary then reduced the deficit on Green over the course of ten laps. 'What a sensational race by Gary,' said Fritz, singing his praises. 'He put the setbacks from the start of the race behind him and chased up the field like crazy. Finishing in P2 in these conditions was a superb performance.' Gary's explanation for his amazing drive was more prosaic: 'You must never give up and always fight to the end.'
That was never going to be easy in such a tough race as Sunday's. Several of the team's drivers had high hopes of a podium or even victory at times, including the winner of Saturday's opening round, Lucas Auer, who said after finally placing fourth just a few seconds behind Marco Wittmann in P3: 'It was a tough race. There were times when I had no idea what position I was in due to the tricky conditions. After the pit stop, I thought I was last, whereas in fact I was fourth. I'm basically satisfied with the result.'
Edoardo Mortara also had a roller-coaster of a race. He started from grid slot four, then dropped back following a scrap but fought his way up to third again after the safety car period. However, Edoardo began to trail once more after spinning in conditions made difficult by light drizzle to finally end the race in P13. Edoardo summed it all up, saying: 'Overall, it was an eventful race, but if we look at the positives, we can say that we had decent pace in both qualifying sessions and in the races themselves.'
That was borne out by the fact that two more Mercedes-AMG DTM drivers finished in the points apart from Gary and Lucas. Paul Di Resta took sixth place, while Maro Engel placed tenth on his return to the DTM. Maro: 'My thanks to the guys for the mega work throughout the winter. They've given us a great car, in which we're certainly going to have a lot of fun this year.'
Successful start to the new DTM era
The Hockenheim weekend marked both the start of the new DTM season and also the beginning of a new era in the DTM. After much hard work over the winter, the new generation of cars developed by the three manufacturers was deployed under racing conditions for the first time. A great deal has changed following the introduction of the new regs. The proportion of new parts on the 2017 Mercedes-AMG C 63 DTM is more than 70 percent.
And the changes made to the cars and the new tyres paid off. Lucas secured a pole time of 1:30.849 minutes in the first qualifying of the season on Saturday. By way of comparison, pole time for the first race of the 2016 season finale was 1:32.344 minutes. So, the new Mercedes-AMG C 63 DTM was about one and a half seconds faster than the previous vehicle generation had been some seven months earlier at the same track.
'All in all, it was an incredible start to the DTM season,' said Gary Paffett for the record. 'In both races, all three manufacturers were on the podium, and each time it was three different drivers.' The Mercedes-AMG Motorsport DTM Team succeeded in bringing home four drivers in the Top Ten in both races, so the squad lead all three championships as they leave Hockenheim. Lucas Auer on 40 points heads the championship standings. Mercedes-AMG lead the manufacturers' rankings with 92 points and Mercedes-AMG Motorsport BWT top the team standings with 52 points.
Ulrich Fritz summed up the outfit's performance on Sunday evening, saying: 'We've made a good start to the season, which was obviously important for the whole team, with a win yesterday and second place today. Congratulations to everyone in the team.' The DTM will now leave Hockenheim and head off to the Lausitzring where the second race weekend of the 2017 season will take place under the banner of the second Lausitzring Motorsport Festival, 19th - 21st May. We're certain of another thrilling weekend after this cracking season opener.