Monday’s news that Mercedes will withdraw from the DTM after the 2018 season has sent shockwaves through the motorsport community, but they’re hardly surprising ones. Just the other week I found myself thinking about the consequences if one of Mercedes, Audi or BMW withdrew from the series, but I can’t say I was prepared for it when it happened.
In terms of how the cars looked, handled and drove I often think of the DTM as touring cars’ equivalent to Formula One. It certainly seems that way when only very light contact often results in a retirement for one or both drivers, a far cry from the high-contact nature of the BTCC. I wouldn’t go as far as calling the DTM the pinnacle of touring car racing, especially when on the surface at least it sometimes appears to be closer to single seater racing with a bodyshell than full on touring cars, but it was (and will remain for at least another season) a fantastic series with big name drivers, incredibly fast cars and three iconic manufacturers.
With statements from Audi and BMW informing us that “must evaluate” their position in the DTM after the withdrawal of Mercedes, I fear that this may mark the beginning of the end of this period of DTM history, and in order to survive, the series must find a cheaper, more sustainable strategy which encourages both manufacturer and fully independent teams to flourish.
The costs involved in the DTM can only be immense, a thought backed up by each team culling two cars from its lineup for the start of 2016 season. Audi, BMW and Mercedes now only run six cars each, and you just can’t see either Audi and BMW upping the number of cars they run anytime soon, especially with all three teams now having heavy involvement in Formula E from 2019. Equally unlikely is the possibility that the series may run with only 12 cars, although running with noticeably fewer cars is possible as we’ve seen from the WTCC this year. There was also long running talk of a merger, or at least a merger of the regulations between the DTM and Japanese SuperGT, but the rumours look to have dried up on that front over the last few months.
I won’t lie, I’m devasted that Mercedes will leave the DTM for Formula E, as I loved watching the on track battles played out between three closely matched, prestigious manufacturers. The fact that the DTM only has 10 race weekends a year also made me try to sit down and ensure I would watch at least part of every single one. But I assume like many others I’m not surprised that manufacturers are leaving global touring racing series’ and flocking to Formula E. It’s a great opportunity for teams to develop their own electric technologies on a global stage, in major cities against competitor manufacturers around the world. Still, that doesn’t make me a fan of the series! I can just see why it has incredible appeal.
I think the only way DTM can survive is if it reinvents itself as a more road-model relevant series, much like the BTCC, or even TCR Series. DTM cars are tremendously expensive to build and maintain, whereas TCR compliant cars come at a much cheaper price, thus opening the door for Independent, non-manufacturer backed teams to enter the series. Whereas factory teams come and go, Independent Teams are the life and soul of motorsport, and whatever the DTM does, it needs to appeal to these teams over the coming years if it’s to survive. To attract independent teams the costs need to come down drastically. That can really only be done with a new set of regulations and the opening up of the series to a multitude of different body types.
Perhaps a merger with TCR Germany could be possible? TCR is going from strength to strength in Europe and Asia, and a link up between the DTM and TCR Germany could actually bring about a new era in the history of German touring car racing. I wonder if we’ll hear more about that in the coming weeks.I expect it won’t be long before more statements are issued from Audi and BMW on their futures in the DTM post-2018, but I have a feeling that next year will be the farewell tour for the DTM as we know it.
After nearly 30 years of competition in the DTM Mercedes will always be a huge figure in German touring car racing, and I’m sure that sometime in the future we’ll once again see a Mercedes touring car gracing the straights and corners of circuits like Hockenheim, The Norisring and the Nurburgring. But it won’t be for a while, and the DTM will certainly look very, very different when they return.