DTM 2018: Zandvoort – Analysis

Five race weekends, ten races: the contest amid the dunes of Zandvoort marked the midway point of the 2018 DTM season. And what a weekend it turned out to be! The Mercedes-AMG Motorsport DTM Team returns to Affalterbach having claimed five of the six podium spots in the Netherlands. An almost perfect weekend, from which the team emerges with a 1-2-3-4 victory, a double podium and three of its squad leading the championship. But let's start at the beginning...

Almost perfect weekend for Gary Paffett

The broad grin on Gary Paffett's face told the whole story on Sunday afternoon. 'I'm really happy - that was an almost perfect weekend for me,' said the 2005 DTM champion after the second race of the weekend in Zandvoort. 'Two pole positions, a win and a second place - you can hardly ask for more.'

Already a three-time winner at this particular venue on the Dutch North Sea coast, Gary set some new personal bests during the course of the weekend. First was his second pole position of the campaign, ensuring the best possible start for Saturday's race. Indeed, it was the first time that he had taken pole in 18 outings at Zandvoort. And it proved to be a good omen, as Gary overcame the disruption of a safety car deployment and withstood the determined challenge of his opponents over the 34-lap duration to register victory number four on this historic track.

'It's been a fantastic day for me,' said Gary, delighted to have claimed his third win of the season. '28 points in one day is just perfect. We've had a great car all season, and it was the same again today in qualifying and the race.' Not only did Gary secure his 23rd DTM victory, but he also drew level with Mattias Ekström on the all‑time leaderboard. Only record championship winner Bernd Schneider (43 wins) and Klaus Ludwig (37 wins) have triumphed more often: 'I'm tied with Mattias `{`Ekström`}` on the third most DTM victories - incredible! Many thanks to Mercedes for all the support over the years.'

His target for Sunday was clear: to claim the third place in this ranking solely for himself with victory number 24. Initially, it looked as if he was well on his way to doing just that, as he again took pole position, this time by the comfortable margin of four and a half tenths. That also dangled the alluring prospect of a second record: since the introduction of the new format with two qualifying sessions and races per weekend in 2015, no driver has yet managed to clinch two poles and two wins on one weekend.

Until his pit stop, it looked as if Gary might be about to crack that particular record. But after his stop on lap eleven, he found himself returning to the track just behind Audi driver René Rast. 'When he was behind me on the grid today, I knew that he was going to be a tough opponent,' said Gary. 'They took a risk with the early pit stop, but the tyres held up, and it was enough for them.'

Nonetheless, Gary is completely satisfied with his weekend and the entire first half of the season: 'It has been incredible. Things have not always gone perfectly for us, but we are leading the championship, and so far I am mega happy with the performance.'

Paul Di Resta moves up to become main challenger

After a highly successful weekend at the Norisring, the team travelled to Zandvoort with squad members occupying the two top spots in the drivers' championship. In second place behind Gary was Edoardo Mortara, winner of two races in 2018 and separated from his team-mate by only six points.

At Zandvoort, their fortunes would diverge dramatically. Edoardo did not have the best of weekends, scoring only four points for a P8 in the second of the two races, which allowed Paul Di Resta to move up into the role of main challenger. Paul joined Gary on the podium on both days - once as runner-up and once in third place.

'It has been a solid weekend,' said Paul, who is 27 points behind Gary in the drivers' standings. 'We obviously lost ground on the top of the championship but at least consolidated our second place today.' As the first half of the season draws to a close, he prefers to take the long view: 'In a long season, it's all about consistently good performances. In that regard, we are well in contention. I'm ready to carry on the fight at the tracks that are coming up, some of which I really love and where I usually have quite decent results. It's a nice position to be in going into the summer break.'

Taking a triple lead into the second half of the season

Gary and Paul were not the only Mercedes-AMG drivers to come away from Zandvoort with valuable points in the bag. Saturday's race ended with a 1-2-3-4 win for Gary, Paul, Lucas Auer and Pascal Wehrlein. Ulrich Fritz was delighted: 'Monopolising the first four positions on a track as demanding as Zandvoort is a remarkable achievement.'

In Sunday's race too, there were five Mercedes-AMG Motorsport DTM drivers in the Top Ten. Joining Gary and Paul in the points were Pascal, Edoardo and Lucas. 'All in all, the Zandvoort weekend has been fantastic for us,' added Fritz. 'Yesterday, we monopolised the Top Four, and today we had a double podium. What's more, we've been able to consolidate our lead in all three championships at this halfway point in the season.'

So not only do Gary (148 points) and Paul (121 points) lead the drivers' standings after ten of the twenty races in 2018, but the constructors' championship is dominated by Mercedes-AMG Motorsport on 547 points, a lead of 189 over second-placed BMW on 358. In addition, Mercedes-AMG Motorsport PETRONAS (213 points) and SILBERPFEIL Energy Mercedes-AMG Motorsport (186 points) occupy positions one and two in the team standings.

The half-term report could therefore hardly be more gratifying: in eight of the ten races so far contested, a Mercedes-AMG C 63 DTM has started from pole position. Furthermore, the team has won at least one of the two races on all five weekends this year, four of those victories being one-twos. But it is only the halfway point in the season, and there are still five more race weekends and ten more races to come. The next fixture on the calendar is Brands Hatch in England (11th/12th August), a home race for championship leader Gary.

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