For the Mercedes-AMG DTM Team, the race weekend in Moscow was one of stark contrasts. On Saturday, the team totally dominated the first race, monopolising the Top Four positions. On Sunday, the gremlins were back and the team’s hopes were frustrated by a collision. But let’s start at the beginning...
Positions one to four: The three-pointed star rules on Saturday
The weather conditions did not bode well initially. As early as the second free practice session and Q1 on Saturday morning, the drivers were having to contend with standing water on the track. Before the race, there was yet another heavy downpour which led to the first race being started behind the safety car. “The conditions at the start of the race were very difficult,” said Robert Wickens. “There was a lot of water on the track, and visibility behind the safety car was relatively limited.”
But these challenging track conditions did not seem to cause the Mercedes-AMG DTM drivers many problems. On the contrary: Robert Wickens immediately moved to the front of the field where he steadily built up a lead. “The car was absolutely fantastic here in the rain,” said the Canadian with obvious glee. “Once I had got past Gary, I had super grip and an incredibly fast car.”
Wickens proceeded to claim his second win of the season and a temporary lead in the championship. The success was made all the more comprehensive by the presence of Paul Di Resta and Gary Paffett on the podium alongside Wickens and the fourth place for Maximilian Götz. A flawless quadruple victory. “It’s just tremendous,” said a jubilant Di Resta. “Today, all of our hard work during the past weeks and months has come to fruition.”
For Paffett, it was the perfect return to racing after the long summer break. “I’ve felt really comfortable in the car the whole day,” said the Englishman. “We must also thank Max, who did an excellent job of holding off the rest of the field.” The aforementioned Max driving the Mercedes-AMG C 63 DTM with the number 84 on its bonnet achieved the best result of his DTM career to date. “We made the big breakthrough today and earned our just reward,” said a delighted Götz. “I’m very happy.”
Feeling just as happy after the race was Felix Rosenqvist. The Swede drove his first two DTM races in Moscow after stepping in for recent F1 recruit Esteban Ocon – and moreover finished in the points on his first series outing. “Tenth place is a magnificent result for my debut DTM race, especially considering the difficult conditions,” said Rosenqvist. “So from that perspective, I’m very satisfied.”
Head of Mercedes-AMG DTM Ulrich Fritz summed up what had been a perfect day of racing all round for the Mercedes AMG DTM Team: “Today’s race day was just perfect, with the top four positions in the bag. And then Felix finishing in the points in his maiden DTM race just put the icing on the cake, so to speak. You can’t ask for any more. My thanks go to the whole squad. Their performance as a team was outstanding today.”
Fight to the finish line: Wickens and Juncadella combine forces in title battle
In total contrast to the success of the first race on Saturday, the rematch on Sunday was fraught with problems. Robert Wickens in particular experienced an emotional roller coaster on the Moscow Raceway after Saturday’s win. “That was a bittersweet race from my perspective,” he said after the finish.
At first, everything was looking good. Wickens was on course for another podium and had opportunities to overtake second-placed Blomqvist. But then came the first fateful blow: “From the eighth lap onwards, I was having trouble with the steering. It gradually got harder to steer and I could feel vibrations as well. And then I completely lost power steering around Lap 10 or 12. I really had to fight after that.”
But the handicap of the power steering failure was not the last of it. After his pit stop on Lap 20, he emerged behind BMW driver Martin Tomcyk. “He braked deliberately on the straight and in places where you shouldn’t in a bid to hold me up,” said Wickens “I tried to overtake him on the outside, but he didn’t steer into the turn and carried straight on.” The resulting damage cost more time than the problems with the steering. “It was really hard to keep out of the way of other drivers without power steering and with less downforce than normal. But still, I can be pleased in the end, since at times, I didn’t think I would make it to the finish line.”
Daniel Juncadella, who was following close behind, recognised that Wickens was in trouble: “I could see that he was struggling with the car, so I tried to defend him.” The gallant Spaniard then did his best to support his team-mate in the best interests of the team. “In the end, I finished outside the points, but in a team you just have to stick together when it’s a battle for the title.”
Juncadella subsequently received generous praise from his Canadian team-mate. “Dani is the man of the race for me,” said Robert. “I cannot thank him enough for his support. But for him, I would not have been in the points.” Unfortunately, Juncadella’s selfless contribution went unrewarded in terms of points towards his own account. A fault developed on his gearbox on the final lap and he missed out on a well-deserved Top Ten finish.
For Wickens, however, the excitement still wasn’t over. After Juncadella was overtaken by Edoardo Mortara, the Audi driver launched an attack on Wickens on the final corner of the last lap of the race. “I realised that it would be really close as I scrapped with Edoardo Mortara in the last turn, but I have the greatest respect for him,” said Wickens. “We used to race against each other in Formula 3, and I’ve known him for a long time. Our battles with one another have always been very clean.” Wickens fought off the attack in the final metres to the finish line and so defended his fifth place and second place in the championship.
“I have to take my hat off to Robert,” said Ulrich Fritz. “He turned in a strong performance by making it to the end of the race without power steering and secured vital points as a result. What’s important is that we were able to reduce the gap on the leaders in the drivers’ standings this weekend.” In figures, this means that Wickens has closed the gap to championship leader Marco Wittmann (BMW) from 22 to 12 points. The next opportunity for scoring championship points comes on the weekend of 9th - 11th September at the Nürburgring.