DTM 2018: Brands Hatch – Analysis
As the team made their way to Brands Hatch at the start of the second half of the season, one small question mark hovered over the historic British circuit. For the first time ever, the DTM drivers would be competing on the longer Grand Prix variant. The British fixture was returning to the DTM racing calendar for the first time since 2013, and this time with a modified timetable that did not include any Friday free practice sessions.
Ulrich Fritz issued a warning ahead of the sixth race weekend of the season: 'Brands Hatch is the first real unknown for us this year.' It was a challenge that offered opportunities as well as risks, for example misjudging the setup. Fortunately, our people passed the test with flying colours as the series made its comeback in England. But let's start at the beginning...
First-time winner: Maiden victory for 'Titanium Man'
Daniel Juncadella was the man of the hour at Brands Hatch on Saturday, claiming pole position number two of 2018 and a maiden DTM victory. The Spanish driver already rated his chances highly going into the weekend, as he had prior knowledge of this 'old-school' track from competing there in GT3. On Saturday, his experience stood him in good stead as he staked out his second DTM pole position.
In the race itself, Daniel stormed through to record his first ever win in the touring car series. 'Today is a big day for me,' said an ecstatic Daniel. He lost two places at the start, which made him fear that he was about to miss out again, as he did after securing his first DTM pole at the Norisring a few weeks ago: 'But then the guys were absolutely mega at the pit stop. Thanks to them, I re-emerged in front and had very good pace from that moment on.'
Daniel drove at qualifying pace for lap after lap, easing off shortly before the chequered flag to avoid putting his first DTM victory at risk: 'Then, on the final lap I drove very steadily and steered well clear of the kerbs because I just wanted to bring the car home. My first DTM win is a very special occasion for me. My car was absolutely great and I'm going to party with my crew tonight - they have a huge share in this victory.'
Sharing the podium was his third-placed team-mate, Lucas Auer. 'Congratulations to Dani on securing his maiden win in the DTM,' said team boss Ulrich Fritz. 'He's a worthy winner. He's done a fantastic job throughout.'
Daniel's performance this season is all the more impressive, as he injured his collarbone in training before the beginning of the season. Not long after, at the start of April to be more precise, he was back in the cockpit of his Mercedes-AMG C 63 DTM, test-driving at Hockenheim and busily setting lap times. His crew then nicknamed him 'Titanium Man'. And now, just four months later, our titanium man has become a member of the elite band of DTM race winners.
Three-time winner: Paul as King of Brands Hatch
Paul Di Resta was sounding confident ahead of his home race at Brands Hatch. He had competed on the shorter Indy-style configuration four times before, making three podium appearances, two of them as race winner on his last two visits in 2009 and 2010.
Saturday's race must therefore have come as sobering experience for him when he qualified a disappointing 12th, from which he could manage only a P16 finish: 'We took some risks with our strategy and the early stop and hoped that it would help us to get nearer the front. Unfortunately, the tyres degraded badly in the course of the race and our chance was gone. Now I'm hoping for a better qualifying result tomorrow and to round off my home race weekend in a more satisfactory way.'
A man of his word. After his team-mate Gary Paffett narrowly pipped him in the second qualifying, Paul hit back by seizing the lead right at the start: 'The start was decisive today. It was important to get in front of Gary. On this track, it is always difficult to get going from pole because of the uphill section.'
The work done overnight paid off. 'Today was just perfect, although taken as a whole, the weekend certainly wasn't a perfect one for me,' added Paul. This second win of the season (and a hat-trick in his home race) served to trim back the deficit on championship leader Gary: 'I feel sure that you will be seeing further such contests between us right through to the end of the season. I lost some vital points yesterday, but with a bit of luck, I'm hoping to turn the tables pretty soon.'
Podium number seven: Gary retains the lead
Just like Paul, Gary had a special interest in the Brands Hatch weekend, as it was his home fixture. On both days, qualifying was to play a crucial role. On Saturday, Gary got off lightly when he damaged his car on the first practice lap. Despite that, he still managed to qualify in P6: 'That was a really good result considering I went through the gravel and hit the tyre wall.'
In the race, Gary was relatively comfortable behind the leading group, whose pace he could not quite keep up with in the closing stages. He therefore finished the race in the position from which he had started, namely sixth.
Things would turn out much better for him on Sunday. The day started brightly as Gary booked his fourth pole of the campaign. But his hopes of a second win at home suffered a setback right at the start: 'Paul had the better start today, and as everyone knows, it's very difficult to overtake here. Starting from pole seems to be a bit of a curse here, but to be honest I just didn't get off the line very well.'
Thus it was that Paul passed him on the first corner. 'I left him the space to do it,' said Gary, though he subsequently pressured his team-mate for the remainder of the race. That caused Gary's tyres to degrade badly in the closing stages, but he always had the sense that he was faster, as he was constantly within a one-second gap to Paul: 'I was sitting there, just waiting to see if he would make a mistake, but he was very consistent and eventually won. So, well done to him, and thanks to the whole team for their terrific work all through the weekend.' Gary's runner-up spot was his seventh podium appearance of the season.
Eight straight poles: Strong start to the second half of the season
The praise heaped on the team after they continued their winning streak this weekend at Brands Hatch is wholly deserved. Indeed, they have won at least one race at each of the six race venues this season so far - including both at Brands Hatch.
In the first twelve races of the season, the brand with the three-pointed star has accumulated no fewer than ten pole positions, eight wins (five of them one-twos) and 21 podiums. On Sunday morning, the team also set a new DTM record: never before has a manufacturer in the DTM managed to secure eight pole positions in a row.
'We've had another strong weekend with a win and third place yesterday and one-two victory today,' said a justifiably proud Ulrich Fritz. The team boss had already expressed his satisfaction on Saturday with the way the many challenges and unknowns of the weekend had been handled: 'We had a lot of questions this morning as regards the track and setup. Thanks to the team's efforts, though, we were able to stop scratching our heads and can now hold them up high, as we've extended our lead in the championship.'
After the sixth of ten race weekends, Mercedes-AMG Motorsport continues to lead the drivers', team and manufacturers' championships. In the drivers' standings, Gary (177 points) has a lead of 29 points over second-placed Paul (148 points), who at least had the satisfaction of narrowing the gap with his win.
The Top Three of the team classification is monopolised by the three Mercedes outfits: Mercedes-AMG Motorsport PETRONAS (261 points) lead the way, followed by SILBERPFEIL Energy Mercedes-AMG Motorsport (211 points) and Mercedes-AMG Motorsport REMUS (205 points). In the manufacturers' championship, Mercedes-AMG (677 points) has a lead of 273 points over BMW (404 points).
But the season is far from over: there are four more race weekends on the programme before the 30th anniversary season of Mercedes-AMG Motorsport comes to an end. The next of these will take place in two weeks at the Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli (24th - 26th August). And as a night race, it will bring its own unique challenges and unknowns...