DTM 2018: Budapest – Analysis
At the Hungaroring, where the third race weekend of the 2018 DTM season was being contested, motor racing showed itself from two different sides. After the team's second one-two victory of the year on Saturday, the emotion was one of pure joy; in the second race on Sunday, however, we were reminded once again that there are more important things than sporting success.
Race 2: The most important news of the day
The DTM teams and drivers experienced anxious moments shortly after the start of the sixth race of the season. After a quarter of an hour of racing time, the second race of the Budapest weekend was halted due to multiple incidents in the pit lane. There were several separate accidents on the rain-soaked surface in front of the garages, two of which involved the cars driven by Lucas Auer and Edoardo Mortara.
As a result of the accidents, a Hungarian marshal had to be airlifted to hospital with severe leg injuries; two local fire brigade personnel are also being treated as in-patients. Three of the team mechanics suffered minor injuries. 'After incidents such as the ones we've seen today, the sporting outcome is obviously of secondary importance,' said Team Principal Ulrich Fritz solemnly. 'We wish all the injured a rapid recovery.'
Shortly after the start of the second of the weekend's two races, rain set in across the Hungaroring. It became increasingly intense over the course of the next few laps, so that many of the drivers opted to pit and switch from dry to wet tyres. Several of them lost control as their slicks hit the wet concrete in front of the garages and were unable to bring their cars to an orderly halt.
'There are two different types of surface in the pit lane, and I was already coming in as slowly as possible,' explained Lucas. 'But I couldn't steer anymore, so I just slid straight ahead into the collision. At that moment, I was only a passenger in the car.' From then on, the sporting action on the track no longer mattered to him: 'After the incident at the pit stop, sadly, my heart wasn't in the race anymore. Sure, I still finished, but all I wanted to know was how the two race marshals are doing. I didn't care about anything else.'
It was a similar story for Edoardo, who was also unable to bring his car to a controlled stop on the wet surface: 'As I just told my mechanics, I was lucky that our pit stop didn't have an even worse outcome. I hit the pit equipment at maybe 40 or 50 km/h, and thankfully nobody was injured. I'm glad about that, because it could all have ended very badly today and there would have been nothing I could have done about it.
When Edoardo entered the pit lane, he found it swimming with water, and there was an ambulance and marshals milling around. 'As soon as I touched the brake pedal ever so lightly, the wheels locked up and I just drove straight towards the mechanics and the pit equipment. After an incident of this kind, the race result today is of absolutely no consequence. I'm just glad that nothing happened to any of my mechanics in this incident, and I am very sorry that things didn't work out quite so well for the marshal with the broken leg. I wish him a speedy recovery.'
Race 2: Of secondary importance...
The running order was turned on its head by the chaotic conditions of the opening phase, with early pit stops, the onset of rain, the temporary halt after the pit stops and the subsequent restart. In that initial stage of the race, all six Mercedes-AMG Motorsport DTM drivers had been in the Top Six.
Ultimately, however, only one of them finished in the Top Ten: Paul Di Resta was fifth, and although Lucas and Edoardo were initially classified as ninth and tenth respectively, they were subsequently disqualified as a result of their pit stop accidents. 'At the start of the race, it looked like we were in for a fabulous result today,' said Ulrich Fritz. 'The first six positions were all occupied by our Mercedes cars. But then we had the sequence of accidents in the pit lane. This completely turned the field upside down. We had decided before the race that we weren't going to bring any of our drivers in early, because we wanted them all to have an equal chance of victory.'
Although Daniel Juncadella and Pascal Wehrlein led the race for a few laps after the restart, they dropped back to 11th and 12th after their mandatory pit stops. It was an even more disappointing outcome for the 2015 champion Gary Paffett who finished 15th: 'As we hadn't made our stop before the restart, we had no chance of scoring any points from there on. We fitted wets just to see if some of the track was wet, which might have enabled us to pull something back, but unfortunately that was not the case.'
Race 1: Mission Budapest accomplished
Going into the third race weekend of the season, there was a big question mark over the Hungaroring, which had not always been favourable to the team in recent years. Since the return of the DTM to Hungary in 2014, there have been few positive results to celebrate, with the honourable exception of Paul's victory last year. That was to change for the better on Saturday.
Paul and Lucas successfully completed Mission Budapest with a second one-two victory of the season and the 106th in the history of the brand. Furthermore, the team laid the Hungaroring hoodoo well and truly to rest with five drivers in the Top Ten.
'That was again a very strong team performance,' said Fritz. 'The fact that we've achieved this on a track where we haven't always been so successful in the past is all the more significant. It shows that we have a car which currently has superb balance.'
In fact, it was a fourth victory for the team in only the fifth race of the season. Paul also passed an important milestone in his DTM career on Saturday, starting from pole for the eighth time. He went on to win six of these eight races and finished the other two as runner-up.
'After this victory, I'm obviously delighted,' said the Scot afterwards. 'We did not have the best of pit stops - Nico Müller probably had a better one - but overall, we've done a very good job all day, from practice through qualifying to the race itself, and we ultimately got the best possible result.'
Looking ahead to the Norisring
The race weekend in Hungary showed the team just how quickly elation can turn to despair in motor racing. This also applies to results. On Saturday, Gary took the lead in the drivers' standings, opening up a seven-point gap. This was wiped out by Sunday's failure to score even a single point, which allowed BMW driver Timo Glock to move back into the lead. Fortunes are swinging dramatically one way and the other at the moment. After six rounds of the season, Gary is now eleven points behind the former Formula 1 driver. In the manufacturers' championship, Mercedes-AMG (294 points) stay 58 points ahead of BMW (236 points).
'We maximised the situation,' said Paul Di Resta, 'but as a manufacturer of course, you have to be a bit disappointed because we didn't capitalise on everything we had. But hey, that's racing. There are highs and lows. We've had a super car for the last three rounds, and that gives us fighting spirit going forward that we are championship contenders. Hopefully we can carry the momentum with us.'
The team gets its next opportunity on the weekend of 22nd - 24th June at the legendary Norisring in Nuremberg. 'After the level of performance we have been putting in all weekend, it's a bitter disappointment to come away virtually empty-handed,' said Ulrich Fritz in summary. 'But that too is part of motorsport. What it can't take away is our strong result of yesterday and the recognition that we have a great car and a strong team. We'll now be looking to come back with a vengeance at the Norisring.'