DTM 2017: Moscow – Analysis
Moscow has been a bitter-sweet experience for the Mercedes-AMG Motorsport DTM Team time and again in the last few years. True, the team have won a race there every year since 2015 but have always had to deal with tough challenges at the Moscow Raceway. That again proved to be the case in both respects this season. Things did not look particularly rosy at the start of the weekend...
Race 1: At full throttle through the field
In fact, the situation looked rather bleak for the team before the first race on Saturday. Gary Paffett's P9 on the grid was the best position of any of the six Mercedes-AMG Motorsport DTM drivers. But just one hour later, no less than four drivers charged up the field in spectacular fashion and secured valuable championship points.
Both Robert Wickens and Lucas Auer moved up seven places during the race. The Canadian improved from eleventh position to fourth place - and could hardly believe it after the race. 'If you had asked me after FP2 whether I would finish this race in the Top Five, I would have said that you had to be joking,' said Robert, who was still struggling with a braking issue in second practice. 'We changed the entire brake system between FP2 and qualifying. We only had an hour to do it in. Really, hats off to them for actually getting the car ready for qualifying.' So, finishing fourth must have seemed like a minor victory to him.
Lucas Auer produced an equally brilliant charge on the Russian tarmac. The Austrian started from P13 on the grid and finished sixth in front of Gary Paffett. 'The basis for the points was the first lap plus a clever strategy,' said Luggi, who did not, however, produce the biggest charge of the race. That honour went to Maro Engel, who had a small taste of what was to follow on Sunday. Engel gained eight places, crossing the finish line in P10. Maro: 'Nice, that I made it into the points from 18th on the grid.'
So as a result, Head of Mercedes-AMG Motorsport DTM Ulrich Fritz could still be positive in his summing up of the first day's race action: 'I think we've seen exciting racing with some great wheel-to-wheel action. All in all, the day was not nearly as black as it had looked this morning.'
Race 2: Clever strategy & great driving
Sunday marked Maro Engel's finest hour. 'That was an incredible race,' said Maro, who was practically jumping for joy. The driver, who returned to the DTM at the start of this season, had just crossed the finish line for the first time in his 52nd DTM race. Maro: 'I had to stay patient behind Nico Müller and look after my tyres, but my car was mega today.'
To experience this feeling of sheer joy, he had to fight hard for 36 laps or 56:41.087 minutes. 'At the end of the race, I saw Mattias getting close, but I didn't know it was the last lap,' said Maro after crossing the finish line. 'Fortunately, the race came to an end at this moment. Those were definitely the longest five or six laps of my life.'
Maro and the team laid the foundations for his maiden DTM victory after the first lap. Maro decided to pit at the start of the second lap, change tyres and gain a few places with this early pit stop strategy. He could have had no idea at the time that he would move up from 17th on the grid, last position but one, to take P1 thanks to that decision.
But a safety car period to facilitate the recovery of the car driven by Maxime Martin, who had retired, and a spirited drive by the German were to give him the lead with just a few laps to go before the end. At the same time, Maro not only had to take care of his tyres, so as not to be attacked in the dying stages of the race by other drivers on fresher rubber, he also had to defend himself bravely against an all-out attack by Mattias Ekström.
Ulrich Fritz: 'Congratulations to Maro on his maiden victory in the DTM. Of course, we were lucky with the safety car, but, despite Müller attempting to back up the field to enable Ekström to win, he stayed cool and wrapped it up at the finish line. It was a brilliant achievement.'
As on Saturday, four Mercedes-AMG C 63 DTMs ultimately placed in the Top Ten on Sunday. While Lucas Auer and Robert Wickens were already aware of their luck as the chequered flag fell, Edoardo Mortara only found out later, after Gary Paffett and Mike Rockenfeller had both been handed penalties.
But the best overtaking manoeuvre of the race was produced by the driver in third place overall, Lucas Auer, who pulled off a double move on Augusto Farfus and Rene Rast. Lucas: 'The overtaking manoeuvres in the race were harsh. I think my two points were really hard earned, but it was a tough weekend.'
The position at the half-way point in the season: High tension in the DTM
The fifth race weekend in Moscow also marked the half-way point in this 2017 DTM season. Lucas Auer limited the damage in the drivers' championship by taking P6 and P8 in Moscow. He is in third place in the rankings after ten of 18 races this season. Now on 99 points, the Austrian has a deficit of 14 points on the leader, Mattias Ekström, who is just one point up on team-mate, Rene Rast.
Mercedes-AMG Motorsport achieved three pole positions and four wins in the first half of the season, which means that the team are on level pegging with Audi at the top of this particular ranking. Only three drivers have been able to achieve more than one win: Lucas Auer (in Hockenheim and at the Lausitzring), Jamie Green and Rene Rast. Paul Di Resta (Budapest) and Maro Engel (Moscow) have each won a race this season. This means that Mercedes-AMG Motorsport is the only manufacturer to have produced three different winners this season.
What's more, the Mercedes-AMG Motorsport DTM Team are the only one in the DTM to have put all six of their drivers on the podium at least once this year. Auer has secured most of the podiums for the brand with the star, taking part in the champagne shower on the podium three times, twice as winner. That leaves just Ekström, who has stood on the top rung of the podium just one more time than Auer. Robert Wickens also achieved two podiums during the first half of the season.
The team will get their next chance to improve on these statistic at the dunes circuit in Zandvoort where races eleven and twelve will be run on the weekend of 18th - 20th August.