Mercedes is set to leave the DTM Series at the end of this year after 30 years in the championship.
Gary Paffett has been part of the squad since 2003, with 2018 posing the final opportunity to pick up his elusive second title after winning back in 2005. Since then the Briton has finished runner-up on four occasions.
Kicking off at Hockenheim, Paffett will be looking to add to his four victories and ten podium visits at the circuit.
Rule changes implemented for this season will see a reduction in aerodynamics by almost a third with standard aero components to be used by all three manufacturers; the intention behind this is to help create a more level playing field.
“It has been a long winter and a long time since we were at Hockenheim back in October,” said Paffett. “Quite a lot has changed in the DTM in the meantime. The new rules this year with the standard aero components are making a big difference. We are heading to Hockenheim on a much more level playing field with regards to the cars than we did last year.”
Paffett, got to sample how his Mercedes would feel at the Hockenheim during a pre-season test at the track where the team racked up an impressive 7,000 kilometres of data; with the man himself recording 269 laps over the two days and posted the fastest time on the second day.
Despite this, Paffett is still unsure as to how the competition will stack up heading into round one.
“I don’t think we know exactly where we are in comparison to the others. In testing, you work on your own car and your own balance and you try to find something you are happy with, but the lap times really don’t mean anything. I was quickest on the second day, but it goes up and down with the different days, and you don’t know what fuel people are running or how long their runs were. Really and truly, it is impossible to know where we are, but we know it is going to be close. The cars are so closely matched, and it will be very competitive.
“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. I really can’t wait to get going.”
Head of Mercedes-AMG Motorsport DTM, Ulrich Fritz believes this season will be emotional but it is crucial to get it off to the right start.
“The build-up to the DTM weekend, which is coming around at last, is massive, both for the team and for me,” said Fritz. “Of course, the emotions this year are even more intense than usual, because this will, after all, be the last time that we go to Hockenheim for a season opener. 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.”
Action gets underway with the first practice session at 15.45 (local time) Friday. As for Saturday and Sunday, the days will follow identical timetables with practice getting underway at 9.00 followed by qualifying at 11.25 and the race at 13.30. Both races will run for 55 minutes plus one lap.