DTM 2017: Zandvoort – Analysis
Race 1: Hard-earned points for Paul and Gary
The first race on Saturday already posed a major challenge for the team, as only one Mercedes driver qualified among the Top Ten, namely team captain Gary Paffett. Gary and team-mate Paul Di Resta at least managed a degree of damage limitation, finishing eighth and seventh respectively.
'I don't think that today's result shows a clear picture,' said Paul. 'Today, we achieved just about all we could have. The main thing is that we took some points off Rast by way of damage limitation to help Lucas.' Meanwhile, the Austrian finished outside the points in P15, and was unable to improve on that result a day later in the second race.
Behind Paul, Gary took eighth place - the same position as he had started from: 'We got some points, but I really wanted to move forward in the race. I thought we had the car to do so. It was really disappointing overall, because I thought we could have had a really strong race.'
None of the Mercedes-AMG Motorsport contingent ever looked like finishing higher on Saturday. 'Hardly any of the drivers made any significant mistakes, which obviously makes it very difficult to overtake on a narrow track like Zandvoort,' explained team principal Ulrich Fritz. His hopes now rested on a better-looking grid for the second race on Sunday.
Race 2: Gary in spectacular charge through the field
But Sunday also turned out to be a difficult day for the team, which was further complicated by technical issues in the car driven by Paul Di Resta. 'The guys did a fantastic job to get the car ready for the race,' said the 2010 DTM champion. During the sixty minutes, however, the Scot was unable to repeat his bravura performance of Saturday. Instead, he had to park his car around the halfway mark as a precaution against further damaging the engine.
The second of the two points-scoring contestants from Saturday had a better day: Gary Paffett moved up eleven positions in the course of the race to finish sixth. With the subsequent disqualification of winner Marco Wittmann (BMW), Gary was further promoted to fifth - a highly respectable result at the end of an extremely difficult day, which had begun for Gary himself with invalidation of his qualifying result.
'We didn't expect much after the disqualification, but we had a great strategy,' said Gary. 'That was a mega race. I pushed when I needed to and did my utmost to get past Augusto. I pulled off a great pass on the outside of Turn 1.'
On the final lap, Gary was in a three-way battle for fourth place with Audi drivers Mattias Ekström and Nico Müller: 'Müller was blocking me the whole race to help Eki. I overtook him on the outside of Turn 1, and then Eki just brake-tested me out of the corner, and he did the same out of Turn 2 to let Nico back in. That's not fair and I'm pretty disappointed with that move.' The Englishman nonetheless finished both races at Zandvoort in the Top Ten and is thus able to look back on ten points-scoring results in the twelve races so far this season.
At one point, it had looked as if Maro Engel might be about to bring a ray of light to the proceedings. The winner of the second race in Moscow was once again in a promising position on Sunday to at least get onto the podium. But a puncture set back his prospects, and he eventually crossed the line in eleventh place:
'What a shame,' said Maro. 'The race result is hugely disappointing for me. My car was really super today. Unfortunately, I missed out on what could have been a podium finish. Many thanks to the guys for having given me such a mega car. But most of all, I feel sorry for the whole team - they deserved to have a driver on the podium.'
Looking forward: Next stop, Nürburgring
For Ulrich Fritz, the race on Sunday was symbolic of the entire weekend in Zandvoort: 'P5 for Gary is sadly the only positive bit of news for us to report today. Maro, Luggi and Rob each sustained punctures in collisions and had to either make an extra pit stop or retire early from the race. Paul was unable to finish the race either, and Edo was disadvantaged from the start because of the penalty imposed on him. So all in all, it just wasn't our weekend.'
From the sand dunes of Zandvoort, the DTM moves on to the hills of the Eifel forest, where the seventh weekend of the 2017 campaign (8th - 10th September) will be contested at the legendary Nürburgring. Maro Engel fancies his chances, having won last year's 24-hour race on the Nordschleife: 'Today, we were out of luck, so now we have to look forward and aim to strike back at the Nürburgring.'
Lucas Auer also has fond memories of the Nürburgring, having secured pole position there twice in the past two years. 'The track was good for us last year,' says Luggi. 'I feel quite optimistic about it and not at all anxious.' Onwards to the Eifel!