DTM 2018: Hockenheim II – Analysis
Mercedes-AMG and the DTM have been inseparable for 30 years, and a certain British driver by the name of Gary Paffett has competed in the DTM for the brand with the three-pointed star for 15 of those years. After 436 races, Gary and Mercedes-AMG wrote the last chapter in their fantastic success story at the weekend. Once again, the route to success was an unrelenting roller-coaster of emotions - as is often the case in motor racing.
Race 1: Bad luck with the safety car
The tension was palpable even before the race weekend. While the team had clinched the manufacturers' and team titles during the penultimate race weekend in Spielberg, everything was riding on the season finale. After all, this wasn't the conclusion of just any season but the final race weekend that marked the end of Mercedes-AMG Motorsport's 30-year association with the DTM.
The big bonus as far as the team were concerned was that two of the six drivers racing for the brand with the three-pointed star - Paul Di Resta and Gary Paffett - still had a chance of lifting the title. Just four points separated Paul and Gary before the finale, but the danger posed by Audi driver René Rast in particular threatened to jeopardise everything. He had gone on a strong charge in the title fight during the second half of the season and as a result, could still put a spoke in Paul and Gary's fight for the title at Hockenheim.
And the worries were justified. Rast was again unstoppable in the first race at Hockenheim despite pole for Lucas Auer and P2 for Gary, locking out the front row of the grid. Last year's champion Rast took his sixth win of the season from team-mate Robin Frijns and BMW driver Timo Glock, reducing the deficit on the two Mercedes drivers in the lead even further.
Gary led the race for a long time but dropped back behind Rast in a spectacular battle, during which P1 changed hands several times. He then lost two more positions to Frijns and Glock following a safety car period shortly before the end.
'The result was disappointing,' said Gary after the race. 'We had great pace in the race and a margin on René in the first stint. He gained a lot on us in the pit stop and overtook me shortly after that with DRS. Then we had a bit of a battle, and I actually stopped using DRS. I was quite comfortable just sitting behind him, because I thought we had the pace to challenge him later in the race. I was in P2 without any threat from behind.'
The safety car came out towards the end of the race, costing Gary any chance he might have had of a podium. 'The safety car came out for debris on the track, and after that, it was very hard to wake my old tyres up,' he continued. 'And then on the restart, someone went off and the whole track was covered in dust. I nearly went off something like ten times because it was impossible to get any temperature back in the tyres.'
Team Principal Ulrich Fritz was unhappy with the way the race had gone. 'Our race pace was just not good enough. It looked good still until the safety car came out, but after that, the others were simply faster.' The position before the start of the second race was now clear. Gary had a six-point lead on Paul, who had finished Saturday's race in eighth place. Rast was 15 points behind Gary and seven down on Paul, so there was everything still to play for as far as the three title contenders were concerned.
Race 2: Second DTM title
The situation initially for the start of Sunday's last race of the season was even more exciting with René Rast next to Marco Wittmann on the front row. Gary was right behind them in third place on the grid. Paul's qualifying was again none too brilliant and he was only in grid slot eleven.
Gary knew right from the start that fourth place would be enough for him to clinch the title even in the event of Rast winning. Consequently, he didn't get involved in scraps with Rast in the Audi or with BMW driver Marco Wittmann, who lost the lead and then had to hunt down Rast. Instead, Gary drove his own race, concentrating on securing his tenth podium finish of the season, as that would make him DTM champion for the second time since his success back in 2005.
'I was alone for the most part as I lapped the track and had plenty of time to reflect on things,' said Gary speaking about his 36 long race laps. 'I was out there on my own for most of the race and had plenty of time to think about the situation. Towards the end, I was thinking to myself 'Now there are only five laps to go in my DTM career' and then, 'only 4, 3, 2, 1...' At one point, I almost spun off because of that.' But Gary stayed on the track, secured P3 and the title!
'It's absolutely incredible. This is the best day in my life. The first title in 2005 came along so soon. I've spent the last 13 years working to get back to the top. It's a fantastic feeling to have won the title,' said a delighted Gary. 'I've had such a great time with this team. Many thanks to every single member of the squad for all the hard work they've put into the car. Anyway, we've done it now!'
Team Principal Ulrich Fritz paid tribute to both Gary and the whole team, saying: 'It was an incredible fight in the end with a very close finish. Our utmost respect for the performance of René Rast and Audi in recent races.' With a total of seven victories this season, six of them in the last six races, Rast kept the title fight on the boil until the very last race, getting within four points of Gary. What a thriller of a final race!
The route to the title
Gary's route to the title began at the same venue, Hockenheim. The British driver secured his first win of the year in the season's opening race. He rounded off a nearly perfect first weekend for himself and the team with a spectacular battle against Timo Glock, taking third place on Sunday.
And he continued in the same vein, securing his second victory of the season at only the second race weekend of the season at the Lausitzring. His title ambitions suffered a minor setback in the sixth race of the year at the Hungaroring. Gary crossed the finish line in 15th position in a chaotic rain-hit race. This was just one of three fixtures (qualifying and races), in which he did not score points this season.
But he was back on the podium at the Norisring where he secured second place to retake the lead in the overall standings from Timo Glock, who was his main title rival initially. The weekend at Zandvoort that marked the half-way stage in the season was Gary's most successful. On Saturday, Gary led home no less than four Mercedes cars to victory and made another appearance on the podium on Sunday when he finished second to give the team a double podium finish.
In his home race at Brands Hatch, Gary took another second place as well as sixth place in the first race. That was then followed by his failure to score at Misano where a retirement and 14th place saw him lose a lot of ground in the title fight, which cost him the lead in the standings for the first time since the Norisring. His team-mate Paul took the top spot for the first time this season.
The lead changed hands quite a few times between the two title contenders during the next two race weekends at the Nürburgring and in Spielberg. Gary achieved four points-scoring finishes, including two podiums, putting him just four points behind Paul in the run-up to the finale - and the rest is, as we say, DTM history.
'To be going back to Stuttgart with the treble is sensational, especially with this being our last year in the DTM,' said Team Principal Ulrich Fritz. 'Many thanks to the entire team for the hard work and passion they have shown throughout the year. Our thanks also go to Audi and BMW for the great racing and the wonderful times we have had together over the years. We will miss you.'
After 30 years, 436 races, 190 victories, 140 pole positions, 193 fastest race laps, seven manufacturers', eleven drivers' and 14 team titles, Mercedes-AMG ended their time in the DTM in fine style by securing the title treble.