DTM 2017: Spielberg – Analysis
Mercedes-AMG Motorsport headed to the neighbouring country of Austria to contest the penultimate race weekend of the 2017 DTM campaign. The team faced a tough challenge at Spielberg’s Formula 1 circuit, as the surface characteristics of the 4.326-km track did not suit the Mercedes-AMG C 63 DTM. However, the two races still provided plenty of excitement with contacts, spins, overtaking manoeuvres and charges up the field.
Race 1: Robert Wickens fights his way up into P4
Robert Wickens travelled to Austria buoyed by the impetus gained from taking his first win of the season last time out at the Nürburgring. But his hopes of a possible repeat of his result were dashed in the very first qualifying session on Saturday with grid slot seven. However, the Canadian was not content to let that rest, promptly moving up three places at the start.
“What a tough race,” he said afterwards. “I was feeling really good in the run-up to the first pit stop. The team did a fantastic job in the pits and gave me some breathing space to Wittmann, but Rast on cold tyres drove into the side of my car after the stop, and I got a lot of damage on the floor and the whole side. From there on, it was just a matter of surviving, to be honest.”
At times, Robert even feared that he would be unable to finish in the points in his badly damaged car, but he managed to finish fourth in the end. “On the whole, we have to be satisfied with the result in view of the situation we found ourselves in after qualifying,” said Team Principal Ulrich Fritz. “Rob did a superb job in a car that was badly damaged and took a very well deserved fourth place.”
Robert was joined in securing points by the two Pink Panthers, Lucas Auer and Edoardo Mortara, who took eighth and ninth place respectively. Mortara produced the best charge of the race as he moved up. “Unfortunately, I had a problem at the start and dropped down to last place. But after that, I overtook a few cars and made good several positions,” said Edo after the race. “With our strategy, it might have been possible for us to finish fourth today. But I’m quite satisfied with ninth place after being in P18 at the start.”
Race 2: Exciting final stint brings improvement
After fourth place in the first race proved to be the figure to beat, P4 was again the ultimate benchmark for the team in the second round on Sunday. “I’m pleased,” said Gary Paffett, who moved up two places from sixth on the grid. He had one or two misgivings as he picked his way up the field, though, because he felt that there was something odd about the car shortly before his pit stop. “I thought maybe there was a lot of pickup on the tyres,” said Gary afterwards. “The car felt good on the fresh set of tyres after the stop.”
After making an early pit stop, he had to drive a very long stint, during which it was important to watch his tyres closely. “I managed, though, to hold on to P7 and then overtook two cars driven by Marco and Eki on the restart,” said Gary, describing the exciting closing stages of the race. “I crossed the line in P4 thanks to Green and his problem.”
As in the first race, three Mercedes-AMG C 63 DTM cars again finished in the Top Ten on Sunday – Gary, Paul Di Resta and Robert Wickens once more. The Canadian, however, had another chaotic race. “We tried going really long on the opening stint, which is why I was managing the tyres and maybe I overdid it, because I got a lot of graining,” said Robert. “After that, I was struggling a little bit for speed. Unfortunately I didn’t have enough pace to make any undercuts.”
So he overtook drivers on cold tyres and hung in there. His luck was Lucas Auer’s downfall. The late safety car deployment allowed Robert to improve by a few places over the final laps and to at least secure one point. “I had to fight hard for it,” said the Canadian. “I overtook four cars on the last four laps.” As a result, he crossed the finish line in tenth place directly behind Paul.
Lucas Auer out of luck in home race
After securing his third win of the season at the Nürburgring, Lucas Auer was confident as he headed to his home race in Spielberg. He was second in the driver’s standings with a nine-point deficit before the weekend, but things did not work out on Saturday for the Tyrolean as he would have wished. Luggi failed to qualify higher than 12th on the grid, and so, had a lot of hard work to do in the first race to get into the points.
“It’s been a difficult day for me,” he said after the race, during which he moved up four places: “Finishing eighth after starting from twelfth – that’s good. At least it means that I took a few points from the race.”
Unfortunately, Lucas came away empty-handed in the second race on Sunday. The rear of his Pink Panther was hit by BMW’s Bruno Spengler just a quarter of an hour before the end of the second race, so Luggi’s race was over – he had no choice but to retire his damaged car bearing start number 22 in the pits.
“That’s racing,” he said with resignation. “When you’re stuck way down the field, of course, it can happen that someone makes contact with you. Still, racing here in Austria in front of such a large crowd was mega.” Some 35,500 fans in all came to Spielberg over the weekend to wish him luck in his home fixture.
Looking ahead: The 2017 DTM finale at Hockenheim
The bottom line from the penultimate race weekend at Spielberg can no way compare to the surprisingly strong result achieved at the Nürburgring, unfortunately. All in all, the Mercedes-AMG Motorsport DTM team achieved six points-scoring finishes in Austria – the best being fourth place for both Robert Wickens and Gary Paffett. “It’s not ideal, but it was the best possible result, given the pace we had this weekend,” said Gary. Five of the six drivers were able to score at least one point.
From Styria, the DTM heads next to the finale at Hockenheim which has already played host to the DTM once so far this year. The season kicked off there early in May with Lucas Auer’s win. The last two races of the season and Mercedes-AMG Motorsport’s home fixture will take place at the Hockenheimring on the weekend of 13th - 15th October.