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Paffett admits “a lot to get to grips with” in 2015

Gary PaffettThe 2014 season was one that proved to be more than difficult for Toto Wolff’s Mercedes-Benz DTM team, as the Stuttgart manufacturer suffered its worst season to date in the championship. This was clearly the case with a car that was uncompetitive against BMW and Audi initially, but they bounced back later on in the year, with sporadic victories to soften the wounds.

It also marked another disappointing season last year for veteran Brit Gary Paffett, who was the first driver to be confirmed with Mercedes for the forthcoming campaign. This was even though he had suffered his worst season whilst competing in the series, securing only five points that saw him 22nd in the drivers’ overall standings.

However, knowing that there was a confidence boost for the team that he was staying in the DTM, was a big help in refocusing efforts towards the first round at Hockenheim this coming May.

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“It was beneficial in getting back down to work and get things sorted,” explained the Suffolk-based driver to this week, knowing that the challenge will be intense for everybody this year. “It’s going to be a lot to get to grips with and up to speed with, and the outlook of the race weekends is very different, as this will be the first time this format [two races per weekend, revealed in December] has been used since I’ve been in the DTM. “

Paffett also explained that the departure of Gerhard Unger shortly after Hockenheim was “unfortunate.” This was especially because of the relationship they had formed over his DTM career, which included all of the Brit’s victories: “2014 was definitely a rollercoaster, as it didn’t get off to the best of starts, especially as we found we clearly weren’t on the pace.

“After the first race, the board at Mercedes-Benz discussed it, and it was decided that there needed to be a change in a different direction. Something had to change, so Gerhard had to go.”

Amongst other things, Michael Wilson joined partway through the season as Director of Team Operations, and along with the help of Bob Bell, the 2005 champion said that a lot of restructuring had taken place. People were joining the team and some others were being moved around to optimize the operations behind the scenes, which meant results would become a bit more consistent as the year progressed.

“We found ourselves working differently, through conversations that we had and talking with the engineers on setting the cars up. It wasn’t easy, even though we had highlights like some of the wins this season, such as Christian’s [Vietoris] in the wet at Oschersleben and Robert [Wickens] at the Norisring, a track where we have normally been rather competitive as in past years.”

Zandvoort showed how the package was coming along, especially as it was the Briton’s best result in qualifying with fifth on the grid. But it was soon to be for nothing, as Paffett went off at exactly the same place Adrien Tambay did on lap 34 and retired.

“Nothing’s easy,” he admitted, talking about just how close it is in the DTM, especially when you consider that the entire field was covered by 1.5 seconds in qualifying at the season finale back in October. “If you’re half a tenth quicker, you’ve had a good result and that’s what we need to do now. We’ve got the aero updates on the car and now we need to try and get the best out of them, and arrive at Hockenheim in May with a competitive car. “

The race format has been livened up for 2015, where Marco Wittmann will have to work twice as hard to defend his title, as Paffett is now set to contest another season to hopefully take a second championship.

“Budgetary restrictions dictated that more than ten race weekends with this format wasn’t feasible, so racing over nine was a perfect solution,” he said, especially with the opportunities that more racing gives to everybody to have a fair chance.

He also gave his thoughts on how qualifying should be revised due to now having to race twice each weekend, and is in favour of split sessions to decide the grid for each one. This is instead of the format adopted by other series, whereby the results of race one decide the second race’s grid The former McLaren F1 test driver felt this would compromise any further efforts if any driver had a bad first race.

“Currently, the format doesn’t fit the DTM terribly well, especially with how similar it is to Formula One. It’s so close that you can get knocked out in Q1, so there are three sessions where you have to do a perfect job, which just means that you can get random results at times.”

Limits were put into force by official tyre supplier Hankook after the 2013 season, as some of the drivers, particularly at Audi, were able to use the option tyres longer than they were designed for, so all drivers had to make a mandatory pitstop as per the regulations set in stone by the DMSB.

From a driver’s perspective, Paffett gave a clear picture as to what was going on after this decision was made, both in pit lane and out on track: “The pit lane was getting busier and penalties were being issued when everyone was heading in to change tyres at the same time.

“It created problems both in pit lane and out on the track, so when people saw overtakes it was a case of some drivers waving others by when you have a difference of about two seconds when it came to tyre choices.”

Safety Car periods were also a strategy killer, according to the Brit, especially if the plan was to start the race on the option tyres.

“It brought up random results, especially when you’ve worked so hard. You can’t predict when the Safety Car is going to come out and be able to do anything about it,” he commented, and was in agreement with going back to a single compound tyre with DRS, which will allow for better racing all round.

With ITR e.V’s Chairman Hans Werner Aufrecht saying that there would be no option tyre from 2015 onwards at the season finale in 2014, the opinion of the drivers, including Paffett, was on a more dynamic slant to really up the action out on track: “We’d rather have the option tyre, as the prime is just so consistent. You have to actively manage the option tyre effectively to last the distance. We were trying to put that forward, but we were a little bit late in doing so.”

There are still four months left until the season opener for 2015 at Hockenheim, but the efforts of Mercedes-Benz are well-bolstered with Paffett staying on with the updated car still needing a lot of work to be on the same page as its rivals, the Audi RS5 and BMW M4.

It begs the question as to what is going to happen to the current line-up, with both Audi and BMW having pretty much confirmed their line-ups for this season in favour of keeping things consistent. It remains to be seen if there will be more than just one new face for Mercedes-Benz, as the Stuttgart manufacturer will be bringing eight cars to the grid next season with ART GP joining in as a new team.

All efforts at Mercedes will be to get it back to where it has been in the DTM since its inception – at the very top and leading the pack once again.


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