Race 1: Wehrlein extends range of success for Mercedes-Benz
Audi has to wait even longer for a home win and Mercedes-Benz extends its unique spell of success in the DTM at the Norisring. In an impressive way, drivers of the brand from Stuttgart locked out the first four places in the race on Saturday. Youngster Pascal Wehrlein was the buoyant winner, giving Mercedes-Benz its twelfth success at the street circuit in Nuremberg since 2003. After 46 laps, the 20-year-old crossed the finish line ahead of his fellow Mercedes-Benz drivers Robert Wickens and Gary Paffett and celebrated the second DTM race win of his career. Prior to the fifth DTM race of the season, teams were faced with a difficult decision: wet or dry weather tyres? After a dramatic and thrilling first half of the race on a drying track, both tactics could be considered as successful, especially from Mercedes-Benz’s perspective.
“My race particularly took place in the first 20 laps,” the jubilant winner Wehrlein said. Unlike most of its fellow Mercedes-Benz drivers, his HWA team opted for slick tyres at the start. Due to a heavy downpour just before the race, this was a very risky decision. “It was my engineer, and not me who made the call,” Wehrlein revealed.
After ten laps of racing, many things made the call for slick tyres initially look like the wrong decision. Seven drivers had opted for the wet weather tyres, pulled away from the rest of the field and partly made up over four seconds per lap. First and foremost pole-sitter Christian Vietoris, who led the field from his fellow Mercedes-Benz drivers Gary Paffett, Robert Wickens and Paul Di Resta. In fifth place, Martin Tomczyk flew the flag for BMW while another Mercedes-Benz driver, Daniel Juncadella, followed with rain tyres. The example of Mike Rockenfeller showed how superior this option was in the first half of the race. The German had started from 22nd place and made it up all the way to seventh place within nine laps. However, when the track dried out more, it was clear to everyone that a change from wet to dry weather tyres was unavoidable. Between lap 14 and 19, all seven drivers with their rain tyres turned into the pits and all seven rejoined the race with dry weather tyres behind Wehrlein. The margin they had established beforehand was too small – Christian Vietoris, who slotted in into second place behind his fellow Mercedes-Benz driver, was two seconds short. Wehrlein: “Keeping the car on track with slick tyres was extremely difficult. It was exciting and demanding at the same time. My goal is to be in front after the pit stops. Fortunately, that worked out. Then, I only had to bring victory home.”
Eventually, the 20-year-old was certain of the support by his fellow Mercedes-Benz drivers. Behind him, Robert Wickens, Gary Paffett and Christian Vietoris were battling for second and third place. On lap 21, Wickens first overtook Vietoris for second place. Two laps later, Paffett did it likewise and took third place. Then, it was enough for the four Mercedes-Benz drivers – the order remained unchanged for the remaining 23 laps until the chequered flag was out. “I am not at all angry about the fact that we opted for wet weather tyres before the start,” Wickens said. “That was a good strategy. It had almost worked out, but Pascal did it really well with slicks.” Third-placed Gary Paffett was also happy: “It is always great when you are able to challenge for victories and podium results. Our tyre choice really was a last-minute affair.” Paul Di Resta, on the other hand, was not at all happy with the outcome of the race. After his pit stop, the Brit also had chances of scoring a good result, until Jamie Green hit the rear of his Mercedes-AMG C63 DTM at the Schöller-S. Di Resta’s car spun, the race was over for him.
The collision remained without consequences for points’ leader Green after a brief investigation by the stewards. Apart from that, the Audi driver stayed out of all the battles on track, but wasn’t able to compete for a podium finish on Saturday. “Perhaps, I could have done a little bit better, but I didn’t want to take any risks. For the championship leader, the points are the thing that counts. From that point of view, I am happy,” Green said after finishing the first race as the best-placed Audi driver in seventh position. His Audi RS 5 DTM finished behind the four Mercedes and two BMWs. Bruno Spengler managed to finish fifth after having started from 13th place. “Hat off to the team. The decision to start with slick tyres was the right one. I was even able to push in the wet. At the end, my speed was still high. Like that, I even could close up to the front runners,” the Canadian said. Martin Tomczyk also overtook Green on lap 40 and thus secured sixth place.
After five laps, Jamie Green is currently leading the drivers’ standings with 81 points from his fellow Audi drivers Mattias Ekström and Edoardo Mortara (both 58 points). Because of his win, Pascal Wehrlein now has significantly made up ground. Fourth in the standings, he now has 57 points. On Sunday (June 28), he can already move up into the top three. At 15.15 hrs, the second race at Norisring gets underway. The starting grid positions will be determined in qualifying from 11.40 hrs.