Round 8 of the 2018 DTM season takes place at one of the world’s most iconic racetracks, and after the thrills and spills of Misano, the series arrives at the Nurburgring with a new championship leader. It’s all to play for at the top of the table as we approach the real business end of the season and with both Paul di Resta and Gary Paffett experienced at seeing out a championship campaign I’m expecting the title fight to go down to the wire. With Edoardo Mortara in a distant 3rd, but waiting in the wings, these final six races of the year will be crucial, nail-biting and rewarding to whichever of the two title protagonists can bag the most consistent results. I’ve put together my assessment on some of the biggest talking points ahead of the Nurburgring weekend.
Paffett Aiming To Bounce Back
Whichever way you look at it, Misano was a disaster for the man who has led the vast majority of this year’s championship. To be truthful, seeing Paffett relinquish his lead a the top of the standings was not something I expected but after a weekend where he saw a DNF and a 14th place finish under the lights in Italy, the 2005 DTM champion trails teammate Paul di Resta by 9 points. Misano was a rare blip in what is otherwise a fantastic season for Paffett and was only the second time in 7 rounds that he had failed to finish on the podium. A bounceback this weekend at the Nurburgring is crucial as for the first time in a few a months, he is now the hunter, not the hunted.
Paul di Resta Now In Control
In complete contrast to Paffett, di Resta’s weekend at Misano could have hardly gone much better. A 1st in race one, and a 6th in race two ensured he left Italy leading the DTM championship for the first time this season and crucially between him and Paffett, the Scot heads to a track he has excelled at as the man in form. A result card which reads 2nd, 2nd (2017), 6th, DNF (2016) from the last four races at the Nurburgring reads much better than Paffett’s – 10th, 14th (2017), 19th, 7th (2016) and di Resta will be confident of defending his championship lead. With Mercedes’ advantage over the rest of the field this season still there, but slowly shrinking there is the chance that rival teams could interfere in what is an intra-team title fight. If that is the case, and di Resta finds himself fighting for position with drivers from rival manufacturers, then racecraft and consistency will be the deciding factor in this year’s title race.
Both di Resta and Paffett have been strong qualifiers and both also often closely matched in the races. In a series where the grid positions and race results are decided by the finest of margins, it’s going to be a nail-biting end to the season.
Mortara Lurking And Back In Form, But Is He Too Far Away?
Misano was a welcome return to form for Edoardo Mortara at his home race. 1st and 2nd place finishes at the Norisring back in June were followed by two tough rounds at Zandvoort and Brands Hatch where he finished 13th, 8th, 8th and 17th and he has dropped further away from the top of the table. Helped by the superiority enjoyed by Mercedes, Mortara has enjoyed a fantastic second season with the manufacturer and remains the man most likely to challenge for the title should any of di Resta and Paffett slip up. The Italian finished 2nd and 3rd at last time out at Misano and will be looking for more of the same this weekend.
Mortara sits 39 points off Paffett and 48 off di Resta, almost two race wins behind. However, as Misano showed us, the title race can change in an instant and after winning at the Nurburgring in 2016 when he so nearly won the title, Mortara is certainly more than a worthy challenger. With six races left, there’s still more than enough time for one more big swing in points but one bad race for Mortara could leave him all but out of contention.
Audi Rising, But BMW Falling
Outside of the Mercedes camp, one team is slowing making progress whilst one has seen progress stall. From a start of the season where Audi were nowhere, and BMW were challenging Mercedes for race wins, fortunes have turned dramatically. Audi’s form man, Rene Rast has finished 1st, 4th, 3rd, DNF, 3rd in the last five races and whilst Joel Ericsson took a fine maiden win for BMW last time out, Misano was also the first time in 2018 that Audi had comprehensively outscored their rivals.
Although Audi are most likely too far behind BMW in the constructor’s table to finish anything other than 3rd, they look the team most capable of challenging Mercedes for race wins during the final six races of the season. Rast’s ability to extract the maximum from the RS5 during qualifying has enabled him to start races in lofty grid positions, and his strong form could well mean he finishes the season 4th in the table.
With Mercedes so strong, there is little to play for but pride between Audi and BMW, but drivers from both teams could still play a huge part in the outcome of this year’s championship. Especially as both will want to secure as many race wins as possible.
Given Mercedes’ strong form at the Nurburgring, and this season, I think it will be business as usual at the front end of the grid. Both di Resta and Paffett will be strong but if I had to back one, I’m going with Paffett to keep his cool and out-score di Resta this weekend. I think Audi will be their closest challengers, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Rene Rast picked up at least a podium if not a win.
I’d love to know what you think! Let me know in the comments below or over on Facebook!