The signs were good initially: Excellent race weather, 123,500 spectators (over the weekend), plus, a driver with the three-pointed star had finished on top in all of the last 14 races at the Norisring. And that is how things were set to continue at the fourth race weekend of the 2016 DTM season, but Nuremberg's street circuit proved unlucky this time for the Mercedes-AMG DTM Team.
"That was definitely not the race weekend that we had hoped for," affirmed Head of Mercedes-AMG DTM, Ulrich Fritz. The successful series of wins at the Norisring was broken, and Robert Wickens lost the championship lead. However, their chances in the drivers' championship remain intact, because Paul Di Resta is just five points down on championship leader Marco Wittmann (BMW) as the DTM approaches the half-way stage in the season with the race weekend at Zandvoort, 15th - 17th June.
Race 1: Big shock for Christian Vietoris & Robert Wickens
And yet, the race weekend had begun so well. Christian Vietoris secured the third pole position of his DTM career on Saturday after he had started the first race at the Norisring from P1 just last year. Robert Wickens behind him moved up two places from P4 on the grid. Towards the middle of the race, the two Mercedes-AMG DTM drivers were on course for a possible one-two win. "We were on our way to wrapping up another victory at the Norisring," said Ulrich Fritz, looking back. "Now all we've got from it is a third place and the loss of many points in the title battle."
What happened? Audi driver Mattias Ekström attacked the leading pair on the 20th lap. The Swede tried to overtake Wickens on the inside in Turn 1. However, he shot too far forwards, crashing first into the Canadian, who was at the head of the championship standings at that time. He then also hit race-leader Vietoris. While Wickens was forced to retire as a result of the collision, Vietoris dropped way back down the field.
"I was taken out by Mattias Ekström," said Wickens after the race. "He's already done that to lots of drivers this year. Everything was okay before Mattias Ekström's attack. We were well placed in the Top Three. I saved my DRS, and then Ekström braked far too late and crashed into Christian and me. That's what happened."
Vietoris struggled to the finish line with his damaged car but was unable to do better than P10. "This is the point, surely. Everyone in our team is working really hard and doing everything we can to race and fight for wins," said Vietoris. "And then to simply lose everything we've earned through our hard work as a result of Ekström's actions is not right as far as I'm concerned. A win or at least a podium would have been possible today. I'm now left with nothing. Excusing himself afterwards doesn't help matters either."
The consequences of the no-fault collision were tough on both drivers. Vietoris lost the chance to take his second DTM win, while Wickens was forced to relinquish his lead in the championship. "I think we saw a nice clean race at the start. Then came that move by Ekström, in which he totally unnecessarily took out the two Mercedes placed first and second," said Fritz. "I don't believe that sort of thing has any place in fair racing, and I'm also sure that the fans don't want to see it either. After Spielberg, he complained about various other drivers, calling them 'clowns'. Today, he earned himself a red nose of his own."
Race 2: Paul Di Resta & Lucas Auer work perfectly as a team
Paul Di Resta practised damage limitation to some extent as far as the Mercedes-AMG DTM Team are concerned. The 2010 DTM Champion ended the first race in third place on the podium. Since his P7 grid position had not been all that brilliant after a mistake in qualifying, the Scotsman had been aiming to achieve an even better result on Sunday: "We'll finish one or two places higher up the field tomorrow, hopefully."
After the second qualifying, it then looked as if Di Resta's wish might be fulfilled. The Scot started the race in second place on the front row. But hopes were soon dashed in a contact with Mattias Ekström on the first lap. "I lost a lot of downforce on the rear of the car after the contact with Ekström. That meant I had to fight the whole race," said Di Resta after being forced to contest the whole race with a damaged car.
Lucas Auer, who won a race at the Lausitzring, did everything possible to assist his outfit by helping his team-mate avoid the clutches of drivers from opposing teams whose cars were undamaged. "I helped Paul in the race and defended him, which enabled my team-mate and Mercedes to secure vital points in the end," said Auer. "Lucas helped me to defend myself against drivers from opposing teams attacking from behind. Many thanks to him for that," said Di Resta with reference to his Austrian team-mate's actions. "Such moments can decide championships."
His fourth place means that the title race is still wide open after eight races, since Di Resta, now ranked third overall, is just five points behind the championship leader and only three points down on second place. "Lucas did a superb job, protecting Paul to the extent he could, so that we still emerged from this with a P4 and a P5," said Ulrich Fritz, singing his driver's praises. "Without the shield provided by Lucas, Paul would have been defenceless against the pursuing pack. So I have the greatest respect for Lucas."
Robert Wickens, however, appeared to be dogged by bad luck once again on Sunday. The Canadian qualified in seventh place and was still in that position even after his pit stop. "Mortara made a mistake in Turn 1, so I tried to pass him on the inside," Wickens told us. "He probably didn't see me. He returned to the racing line, and we made contact." This resulted in a puncture that forced Wickens to make another pit stop, dropping him way down the field to P21. "I was able to improve to take eleventh place again thanks to the safety car period shortly before the end, but sadly, it wasn't enough for points."