Mercedes-Benz Motorsport’s lead driver, Gary Paffett, who is currently the most decorated active driver in the DTM with 20 wins to his credit, feels that Stuttgart have made progress in terms of this year’s campaign, where he recently explained to theCheckeredFlag.co.uk that the team has been hard at work over the winter, especially with the form that seemed to evade them last season.
When it comes to optimisation in many key aspects, it also means that the team of drivers have to be able to push to the limit of the cars to get further understanding of how further developments can be made. Paffett himself commented about Paul di Resta‘s return and Vitaly Petrov being signed to Mercedes, alongside Daniel Juncadella: “With Paul and Vitaly, we have two very experienced drivers of a high quality. So I think that the driver line-up that we have got, with a few more yet to be announced, we have a very strong team.”
He explained about the struggles that the entire outfit suffered in 2013, especially when it came to talking about where teams would have decide their focus every weekend within the limited running that the drivers have: “We had to react to how our pace was in comparison with the competition and with the limited amount of running that we have during those 90 minutes, you have to decide to where your focus is going.
“At the start of the year, we struggled with our qualifying pace and whether that was something that it was the car or whether we were concentrating on race pace. I was the highest Merc during qualifying in P12 at Brands Hatch, where it really was touch and go, but I finished P3 on track when the race was over.”
Qualifying was clearly a strength that Mercedes had unfortunately been lacking last year, even with the fact that the times during the knockout sessions were so close, that as Andy Priaulx explained to us late last year, that fractions of a second can make all the difference when it comes to final grid positions for the race.
Even with the changes that the team made during the year, there was no real answer to what performances Toto Wolff’s outfit could produce, as Audi Sport had really upped their game when it came to the strategy card, resulting in Mike Rockenfeller winning the title at Circuit Park Zandvoort through great consistency and teamwork. Gary’s challenge was pretty much over early on, with the only highlight being the win at Lausitzring, where it all came together for him.
The Suffolk-based driver also pointed out about the fact that an interesting factor to how the season may play out is the fact that a multitude of drivers have swapped places at both Audi and BMW, rather than a lot of new drivers coming on board: “It is interesting to see drivers returning to teams that they have raced with before. There have been some major shuffles, with drivers going from Rosberg to Abt and Abt to Phoenix and so forth. Martin [Tomcyzk] was really disappointed, but moving to Schnitzer alongside Bruno [Spengler] will be a test for him, as he has the same equipment as the 2012 champion.”
With 2014 set to kick off for the DTM in eight weeks’ time, there are two circuits that are no longer on the calendar, one of which is Gary’s home race at Brands Hatch, as well as the omission of Zandvoort. He is hopeful that the series makes a return to home soil, as he pointed out that British drivers including himself and Jamie Green have had success in DTM, but it could have been a time to change tracks.
“Zandvoort has also been on the calendar for a long time, and it is going to be strange to not be going there as it is a really enjoyable circuit to drive,” said the 31-year-old, who is looking forward to racing at the Hungaroring, but there is also the Asian leg of the series, which returns to China for the first time since 2010. “I’ve won the last two times we’ve raced at street tracks over there, so I’m really looking forward to this one.
“It’s another great market for the DTM to race in and I think the problem is that with the restrictions we have when it comes to limitations on budget, we can’t have any more than 10 races a year. That is why we are having to lose two really good circuits.”
He has been close several times over the past few years to winning that elusive second title. so we will see what pecking order emerges come Hockenheim, and whether Gary will be fighting at the front as he did back in 2012.
TCF would like to thank Fiona Hewitson at Mark Blundell Partners for arranging the interview and we thank Gary for his time and wish him all the best for the forthcoming season.