Mercedes-AMG Motorsport heads into another Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters season opener for the last time this coming weekend, as the Stuttgart brand will take part in the series for their 30th and last year before departing to Formula E.
Even with it being Mercedes’ farewell after leaving a marker as the most dominant manufacturer, the squad, led by Ulrich Fritz, is looking ahead to tight competition at Hockenheim this weekend, and know that it will not be an easy task.
“We are heading to Hockenheim on a much more level playing field with regards to the cars than we did last year,” said 2005 champion Gary Paffett, who is eager to get back to racing at the 4.574-km circuit.
The Briton, who has spent his entire tenure in DTM with Mercedes, expects the racing to closer over the 20 races that comprise the 2018 season, but explained that having the right package to compete at the sharp end will be key to kick starting his season off in the right way.
“However, I don’t think we know exactly where we are in comparison to the others. I think if we go there with a good car balance from the start and we do a really good job, we’ve got a chance of winning the race. That’s the perspective we have to have every weekend.”
Austria’s Lucas Auer is also anticipating further clashes between drivers after the customary long off-season break, and is happy with the changes that have been made aerodynamically on the cars for this season.
“In the build-up to the first race weekend, the tension about the new season and how the teams will measure up is clearly a major factor. Hockenheim is a fantastic track, on which qualifying is important but not decisive. That’s because it offers mega opportunities for overtaking,” admitted the 23-year-old, who was in the running for the title last year, until several events saw him finish sixth overall, with three pole positions and two wins.
“With the new aerodynamics, the braking points are earlier, which allows you to get stuck in and overtake. It’s no secret that everyone is really up for it after the winter break, so you can expect to see us knocking chunks out of each other. That’s why the start of the season at Hockenheim is always a great weekend.”
With the returning Daniel Juncadella and Pascal Wehrlein paired up alongside Paul Di Resta and Edoardo Mortara, Mercedes have been very wise in considering a line-up that shows both strength and depth, along with the success that the brand is aiming for this year.
Fritz, himself, was very clear on the fact that the final season for Mercedes in DTM is one that will be filled with many emotions, but is still very mindful that the room for mistakes being made will be even less than before.
“It is always important to get the season off to a solid start. As the 2018 DTM will certainly be even tighter than in previous years, the margin for error is also smaller. Consequently, everyone in the team will have to focus fully on the upcoming races.”