Interview: Uli Fritz
The DTM will get the new 2016 season under way at Hockenheim with a home race for Mercedes-AMG on the weekend of 6th-8th May. Prior to the season opener, Head of Mercedes-AMG DTM Ulrich Fritz set out the key changes and biggest challenges in the upcoming DTM season.
Uli, the Mercedes-AMG DTM Team won both drivers' and team titles last year. What goals have you set yourselves this season after achieving such terrific success?
Ulrich Fritz: "I think that it would just not be plausible if we were to come along and say that we did not want to defend the title. After all, that's exactly why we are in the DTM - to win titles and races. Nevertheless, one must be realistic. The DTM is the toughest series in the world as regards to competitiveness, in my opinion. Everything has to be perfect to win the title in this series, and I am careful with my predictions for precisely that reason."
We often hear it said that Mercedes-AMG are lining up with a new car this year. What is actually 'new' about the car?
Ulrich Fritz: "The real innovation on our car is the vehicle's striking design in the main. However, whilst the car has really changed visually, we were not allowed to improve any of the performance-relevant aerodynamic parts below what is called the design line. The challenge for us now is to combine the aerodynamics of the old car with the shape of the new car."
But that doesn't sound like an advantage, does it?
Ulrich Fritz: "No, certainly not. But it is a simple fact that DTM race cars are always based on current production models, so we tweaked the design. The car now looks really great, for sure, but it also presents us with one or two more problems that currently need solving."
How do you think your team compares with the opposition?
Ulrich Fritz: "I think we are on the right track. What will be crucial is how quickly we can find the right setup for our car. Our competitors certainly have an advantage in that respect. Nothing has changed for them on their cars, so they can totally rely on their experience from the last few years. But really, I do not actually wish to discuss other manufacturers' strength. In the medium term, the new performance weight regulation puts the cars on a more equal footing, and then after that, it's mainly down to the driver."
How did you all come to agree that a manufacturer's performance should no longer be the prime focus?
Ulrich Fritz: "We are obviously competing in the DTM to represent the Mercedes-AMG brand as best we can, but we all realise that fans want to see humans battling it out on track. The DTM is a drivers' championship. We have spectacular cars, but few people know who is actually sitting in it. What sort of guy is he? Can I identify myself with him? That did not go far enough. You see, not only do we have three German premium brands competing in the DTM, but also, the best touring car drivers in the world. Paffett vs Ekström, Di Resta vs Spengler, that's what people want to see. The drivers must be the main emphasis. And so in that case, there is always bound to be some kind of conflict or another."
Since we are talking about drivers, who is your favourite to win this year's drivers' title?
Ulrich Fritz: "The last few years have shown that it is often the driver that you did not fancy at all at the beginning of the year who wins. Who would have thought that Wittmann would clinch the title in 2014? Not me. And Pascal was certainly a surprise winner for many people last year, but that does not alter the fact that they both put their mark on their respective seasons and deserved to win their titles. Still, I am fairly confident that the usual suspects will once again be championship contenders, most certainly."