DTM 2018: Hockenheim I – Analysis
The new 2018 DTM season is up and running - and how! Spectators at the Hockenheimring and at home in front of their TV screens witnessed plenty of spectacular racing that will long be remembered as Mercedes-AMG Motorsport's special anniversary season got started. We set out below four reasons why this first race weekend of the season at Hockenheim was a real stunner...
No. 4: Twin-pronged attack by Gary & Lucas
Before the weekend at Hockenheim, none of the 19 drivers knew (Mattias Ekström was a guest entrant, contesting his final race for Audi), where he and his team stood compared to the competition, so everyone was pleased with the way the first qualifying session ended: Pole position for Gary Paffett, plus three Mercedes-AMG Motorsport DTM drivers in the Top Five on the grid!
But they still had to translate their good positions on the grid into a strong final result in the race. And the team did that in fine style. Gary initially defended his lead after the start until he was overtaken by Lucas hurtling past from behind. He went on to lead the race until his pit stop on Lap 17. 'Lucas passed me initially and I did not want to put up too much resistance at that point,' said Gary later.
The scene at the head of the field changed after all the drivers had completed their mandatory stops. Gary led the field on Lap 24 by 1.7 seconds and was heading towards his 21st DTM victory. 'That was unfortunate, because I held the lead up until the pit stop,' said Lucas afterwards. 'And of course, I wanted to win the race!'
How did Gary get past his team-mate? 'We brought our pit stop forward, and the tyre change and out-lap were really strong, so I was able to pass him,' said the 2005 champion. 'I managed to open up a gap and secure the win.' This was Gary's first DTM victory since 2013 at the Lausitzring. 'We were often close to winning during the interim period and it's a terrific reward for me and the team for all of our hard work in recent years,' he said. Team Principal Ulrich Fritz added: 'At last, Gary and I are able to celebrate our first DTM victory together. We've been waiting for a long time for that. '
'What a mega start to the season! It really could not have gone any better for us,' said Fritz, summing up after Race 1.
No. 3: Strong team performance
But it wasn't just Gary and Lucas who produced a strong performance on this first race weekend of the year. All six Mercedes-AMG Motorsport DTM drivers finished in the Top Eight! Edoardo Mortara, Pascal Wehrlein, Paul Di Resta and Daniel Juncadella finished fourth, fifth, seventh and eight respectively. There were three more points-scoring finishes in the hard-fought race on Sunday.
And so, they headed home from Hockenheim with a win, two more podium finishes and a total of nine points-scoring results. Mercedes-AMG Motorsport PETRONAS (61 points) lead the team classification by 17 points after the first race weekend of the season. In the constructors' championship, Mercedes-AMG (103 points) are in first place, some 31 points up on BMW (72), and Gary (43 points) is in second place in the drivers' standings, just one point behind Timo Glock (44 points) after the first race weekend of the season.
'But above all, a big thank you to our team,' said Ulrich Fritz on Saturday. 'Some commentators were doubting our motivation for this year. I think we've given them the perfect answer today.'
No. 2: Two drivers make their return
Two drivers were returning to the fray in the DTM at Hockenheim. Pascal Wehrlein was contesting his first DTM race since his title win at this same venue in October 2015, and Daniel Juncadella was back on the DTM starting grid after a one-year break.
Pascal made a solid start to the new season with P5 and 6 following his two years in Formula 1. 'I did not think I would settle back into the DTM quite so fast,' he told us. 'I haven't forgotten anything in the meantime, but there is still a lot for me to learn.' Overall, he rated his first weekend as good. 'I finished in the points twice and considerably more should have been possible in both races. We have a good car, which is why I'm really looking forward to the rest of the season.'
Dani's DTM comeback was mixed. He scored his first points of the season in P8 on Saturday despite not doing too well in qualifying and despite the fact that he had injured his collarbone during practice in early April. 'The race was fun, but I'm annoyed about my qualifying,' he said. 'It's a shame - I had wanted an even better result, because today would have been the birthday of one of my best friends, who unfortunately passed away last year. That's why it's a very special day for me and I gave it everything I'd got in the race.'
Dani was unlucky in the second race. He did not get off the line initially and then got a five-second time penalty for jumping the lights. 'I had a problem with the clutch going into the start and killed the engine even before the lights went out,' he explained. 'After that, it took ages before the car would start again. That was a setback, and then came the penalty which I still don't fully understand, because I didn't move at the start, because I'd stalled the engine.'
No. 1: Gary the Fighter
However, the highlight of the weekend was the breathtaking finish to Sunday's second race - despite Gary not emerging victorious. But what a cracking race!
Gary carried on a thrilling battle with BMW driver Timo Glock over the course of many laps. 'I love Timo, that was incredible,' said Gary afterwards, hardly able to believe what had just happened. The two drivers overtook each other over and over again and then would fight back in the hairpin or in front of the Mercedes grandstand. 'We could have both backed off at any time and taken second place,' said Gary, who knew that the other drivers were catching up while they were busy scrapping. 'But neither of us wanted to give up.'
And that's exactly what happened. The rest of the field did catch up. First, Joel Ericsson attacked the British driver, and then Mike Rockenfeller. While Gary was able to fend off the rookie's attack, he had to let Rockenfeller through in the end. Also, Gary was at a disadvantage, because he had used up all of his DRS allowance. 'At the end of the day, third place is disappointing, but it was worth it,' said Gary about the action-packed finish. 'It was the best race I've ever driven in. A fight for the win like that is absolutely incredible.'
Gary may have just missed taking victory, but the real winners were the spectators in the stands at Hockenheim and in front of the TV screens who watched this spectacular race and shared the excitement. 'What Timo, Gary and Mike showed today was racing at its best,' said Ulrich Fritz. 'It didn't quite go our way, unfortunately, but I can hardly remember a more intense, closer finish than today's.' The Lausitzring is next up. Bring it on!