Ekström wins in the rain – radio call sparks a lot of discussion
Overwhelming – that is the only suitable way to describe Mattias Ekström’s performance in the race at the Red Bull Ring on Sunday. In the most adverse conditions with pouring rain, the Audi driver secured victory after 34 laps. For the Swede, who had never been on the podium at Spielberg before, everything went perfectly on Sunday. Initially, Ekström claimed pole position in his final lap in qualifying, he drove the fastest lap in the race and defended the lead after a thrilling fight with Gary Paffett. “I had to take maximum risk. A great duel, a great victory,” said a delighted Ekström, who also took the lead in the drivers’ standings after his win. Behind Paffett, Edoardo Mortara, the winner of the race on Saturday, completed the podium. But no matter how fascinating the battle out in front was, the main topic of discussion after the chequered flag was a different one: a radio call to Audi driver Timo Scheider, which had massive effects for ‘DTM half-time champion’ Pascal Wehrlein and his fellow Mercedes-Benz driver Robert Wickens.
A situation on the final lap of the race caused an uproar: when Robert Wickens blocked Audi driver Timo Scheider behind him and thus allowed Pascal Wehrlein to overtake both of them to move up into sixth place, disappointment in the Audi pit box was huge. “Timo, push him off!” An instruction that could clearly be heard over the team radio. Scheider reacted instantly and ran into the back of Wickens’s car. The slight contact resulted into a fatal chain reaction. Due to the contact, the Canadian slid into the car of Wehrlein, who was driving in front of him. The two spun and slid into the gravel trap. “That was simply unfair. I am defending our position and he is punting both of us off,” said a disappointed Wehrlein. Timo Scheider justified his move: “I didn’t hear any instruction. Robert braked so hard that I ran into him. That was racing on the edge, something like that can happen.”
Audi’s head of motorsport Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich described the situation in the Audi pit box at the time of the radio call as follows: “After the move by Mercedes, I was so upset and cried: ‘Push him off’. That was out of emotion and I want to apologize to Mercedes for this. I wasn’t aware that the radio was on at that time.” Ulrich Fritz, head of Mercedes-AMG DTM: “It always takes two to tango. One who gives the instruction, that was clear for everyone to hear, and one who follows it. The whole thing had nothing to do with fair racing. We don’t want to see something like that in the DTM. The overtaking move prior to that was hard, but fair.”
No matter how controversial the situation was, the duel out in front was fascinating. Long-time colleagues and friends Ekström and Paffett staged a great duel over 34 laps. After the race was started behind the safety car because of the adverse conditions, the track was clear for the 24 drivers after the fifth lap. Ekström immediately pulled clear and after one lap, he already had a gap of 2.6 seconds between himself and fellow Audi driver Mike Rockenfeller. By the time Paffett overtook Rockenfeller after nine laps, Ekström had already doubled his advantage. Paffett gradually closed up, but dropped back again after the pit stops. Ekström’s team had done a better job in the pits, allowing the Swede to start the 20th lap with a margin of 7.6 seconds. Instead of challenging for the lead, it rather looked as if Paffett would have to defend his position against Mortara, who had moved up to third. However, the Italian made a slight mistake and the Brit pulled away. He managed to close up to the front runner by up to seven tenths of a second per lap. “I thought that I would still get him,” Paffett said. However, Ekström never let him get closer than two seconds. “I drove flat-out, but without taking maximum risk. This guy behind me put everything on one card. When he was two seconds behind me, I had to risk everything as well.” The result: Ekström posted the fastest lap time of the race right away and managed to keep his opponent at bay until the finish. “A great race. We have pushed one another,” Paffett said after hugging his opponent in the finish area.
Mortara, who finished third ahead of Rockenfeller, was equally delighted: “Victory on Saturday and third place today – a great weekend for me.” With 98 points in the drivers’ standings, he is now the main rival of the new leader Ekström, who has 111 points to his tally. After the retirement, which wasn’t his fault, Wehrlein drops back to third and stays at 94 points. However, it is still uncertain whether the result, and Timo Scheider’s sixth place in particular, will remain unchanged. The stewards of the meeting are investigating the situation on the final lap.
Prior to the next DTM race weekend at Moscow, from August 28 till 30, a few questions still need to be answered. One of them is the one about the potential of BMW. After their highlight at Zandvoort, the drivers of the brand from Munich were now off the pace and failed to get one driver into the point-scoring positions on Sunday. Motorsport director Jens Marquardt after the poor result from Spielberg: “Of course, that was not the result we had hoped for. But I am convinced that it will be totally different again in Moscow.”