DTM 2018: Spielberg – Analysis
Mercedes-AMG Motorsport competed at Spielberg last weekend for the last time as a DTM team. Although the team came away from the circuit in the Austrian Alps without a victory and with only one podium finish to celebrate, there were nonetheless two causes for satisfaction. There was also added incentive to make one last big push as the 2018 grand finale at Hockenheim looms up ahead. 'It was a rollercoaster of emotions for us,' said team boss Ulrich Fritz after the Saturday race. A theme that was to continue for the rest of the weekend.
Daniel Juncadella plagued by bad luck
On Saturday, it looked as if fortune might at last be favouring Daniel Juncadella. In qualifying, Dani secured his third DTM pole by the wafer-thin margin of 0.071 seconds. In the race, which took place on a drying track, the Spaniard lost the lead to Mike Rockenfeller after the first safety car deployment. But ten laps later, on Lap 15, he regained the lead and maintained it until the second safety car just before the end of the race. Although he was the first to cross the finish line, there was to be no happy ending for him on this occasion.
At the second restart, Dani made a mistake and received a drive-through penalty (converted into a 30-second time penalty) after the race, which cost him victory and dropped him down to 14th: 'I just don't know what to say. It's a pity I lost my second DTM victory as a result. I'm especially sorry for the guys, as they did a great job. The car was excellent and I had a really great race.'
In the second race on Sunday, Dani was not in contention for a top position, but shortly before the end, the Spaniard was on course for a decent finish. But then he locked up in a battle with BMW driver Timo Glock and skidded off through the gravel. 'I was able to store up enough DRS laps for the final sprint,' Dani revealed after the race. 'That enabled me to attack Timo Glock in the battle for seventh place. Unfortunately, I struggled with the brakes and missed my braking point. As a result, I dropped out of the points. But I at least had to give it a try.'
Paul Di Resta takes overall lead
Going into the penultimate race weekend of the season, the situation in the battle for the title was clear cut: Gary Paffett led the drivers' standings by a two-point margin over fellow Mercedes driver Paul Di Resta. But that was to change in the first of the two races at Spielberg. As on the previous race weekend at the Nürburgring, the lead would swing back again.
Paul benefited from a difficult race for Gary, who finished relatively far back in tenth place. By contrast, Paul secured fourth place and regained the lead in the drivers' championship. The Scotsman feels he might have got even more out of the race: 'Towards the end, I was in a good position for the restart but got caught out by a slow start, which sadly also cost Dani the win.' As well as his main challenger, Gary, Paul has to keep an eye on the results of Audi driver René Rast: 'The change of position at the end (Editor's note: Mike Rockenfeller let Rast win the race) unfortunately had a bigger influence than we would have liked. Still, tomorrow is a new day, and there's no reason to be too disappointed with fourth place.'
Paul again finished in P4 24 hours later. This means he leaves leaves Spielberg as championship leader, but he has lost valuable points to both Rast and Gary in the title fight: 'That was a fairly average day from my perspective. The battle with Gary was a lot of fun, especially as we are going head to head for the championship. But I'm obviously disappointed not to have been up there on the podium.'
Gary Paffett claws his way back
Starting from tenth on the grid, Gary's prospects in the first race did not look good. But on a drying track, the 2005 champion fancied his chances. After all, anything can happen in such circumstances. And that's what Gary experienced shortly after the start - unfortunately in the negative sense.
'Bruno Spengler pushed me off track in the first turn and hit me and Duval in Turn 3,' said Gary after the race. 'After that, my car was badly damaged, and I fell back to the rear of the field. When your car gets badly damaged, it's impossible to push forwards.' Despite this, Gary managed to claw his way back to tenth place and at least score a single point. His summing up was nonetheless tinged with disappointment: 'All in all, a very disappointing day.'
One day later, the world looked better again for the Englishman. First, he claimed a fifth pole position of the season in the second qualifying session of the weekend and scored three important bonus points in the title fight. In the race itself, he was overtaken by the two Audi drivers René Rast and Nico Müller but subsequently held out in a thrilling duel with rival title contender Paul. Gary was understandably pleased with his ninth podium finish of the year.
'Unfortunately, today's race did not go quite as we had hoped, despite starting from pole position,' said Gary, who is separated from Paul by only four points with two races remaining. 'But I'm still happy about the championship situation, because I was able to gain some points on Paul.' His full concentration is now directed towards the season finale in mid-October: 'It's going to be a fantastic fight in the season finale at Hockenheim. It feels great to be heading for the finale still fully part of the battle for the title.'
In the drivers' championship, the situation is still extremely tense. In the team and manufacturer classifications, however, a champion has already emerged at Spielberg: Mercedes-AMG Motorsport has won both titles as its 30-year DTM history draws to a close.
Whereas Mercedes-AMG can no longer be caught in the top brand stakes, a question mark still hangs over the destination of the team trophy: which of the three Mercedes-AMG Motorsport DTM Teams will be lifting it in the end? No other manufacturer still has a team in the running.
Despite having now secured its seventh manufacturers' title (1991, 1992, 1994, 1995, 2003, 2005 and 2018) and wrapped up the team trophy one way or another (for the 14th time), there is still a lot of work for the Mercedes-AMG Motorsport to do ahead of the season finale in Hockenheim.
'We cannot be satisfied with today's result,' said team boss Ulrich Fritz on Sunday afternoon. 'It's extremely disappointing when you start with three cars in the Top Four and then only secure one podium in the end. Not even today's win in the constructors' and team classification can make up for that. It's already abundantly clear that we've got a tough fight ahead of us at Hockenheim, and we'll have to prepare for that now.' The team has three weeks of intensive work ahead, culminating in the grand finale at Hockenheim on the weekend of 12th - 14th October.