The dawn of a new DTM Series is on the horizon with Gary Paffett returning to the series with Mercedes for the fifteenth time.
DTM is set to enter a period of uncertainty with Mercedes’ having announced they are to leave the series after the 2018 season.
Paffett is currently with his Mercedes at Fitness Camp near La Manga preparing for the start of the season.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” he said. “The fitness week is always a kind of kick-off event for us drivers; it’s how every season starts. We get together with the other drivers, the engineers and some other guys from the team, and we plan together for the season, have a look at what developments have been done over the winter and generally work out what our expectations are for the campaign ahead. It’s always hard work, but also a good enjoyable week. We go testing soon afterwards, so it’s pretty much the official start of the year for us.”
It will be Junadella and Wehrlein’s return to the series.
This means in their final campaign Mercedes will have three championships lining up for them – Paffett (2005), di Resta (2010) and Wehrlein (2015).
After winning the 2015 title Wehrlein made the move to Formula One with Manor, scoring one point after finishing tenth place at the Red Bull Ring, before signing for Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 with his best result eighth at the Circuit de Catalunya.
Juncadella took a year away from racing in the DTM in 2017 but remained as the team’s development driver so is familiar with the machinery.
“I think that, over recent years, Mercedes has had the best driver line-up in the field, and I also think this year is no different. Rob was obviously very successful in DTM and his departure is a loss for us. He has been very strong over recent seasons and he will be missed in the team. But we also have two strong new additions.
“Pascal is a former champion who has spent two years in Formula 1 and certainly has a lot of talent. He’s going to bring a lot of strength and a lot of speed to the team. Dani continued to be part of the team as test and reserve driver last year. He also played a major role in the development of the tyres that we are using at the moment.
“Two incredibly talented young guys coming back into the team. They didn’t race the cars last year with the cold tyres, so they have a lot to learn in that department, but they are both incredibly experienced in DTM. It’s difficult to say whether our overall line-up has been strengthened or weakened based on the drivers that have gone in and out, but I’m still convinced that we have the strongest line-up in the field.”
Reactions on social media to the announcement Mercedes were bringing Wehrlein back to the DTM were strong, whether positive or negative with everyone seeming to have an opinion on the returning champion.
Though it is potentially unsurprising that Wehrlein did return, with rumours circulating that he was to lose his seat in F1 and Mercedes to leave the DTM it made perfect to bring him back for their farewell.
“I’ve known Pascal since he entered DTM all the way through until he won the championship, and I’ve kept in touch with him over the last couple of years as he was still part of the Mercedes family. He has grown a lot through being in F1. He was still very young when he won the championship in the DTM [Wehrlein is the youngest ever DTM champion], and there was a lot of pressure on his shoulders. There were also some incidents that did not help him. But he has confessed himself that he has changed a lot over the last two years, and I think he is a more complete person and a more complete driver than he was when he won the championship. I think the people will see a different Pascal to the one that left at the end of 2015.”
Wehrlein, Paffett and the rest of the DTM grid will get their chance to fight it out for the championship when the DTM returns 4-6 May with Audi‘s René Rast the defending champion.