It was another record-breaking weekend for the DTM in Austria as Rene Rast doubled up once again to become the first man ever in the modern era of the DTM to win four races on the bounce. As the rain cleared and the sun shone down on the Austrian mountains of Speilberg, the 2018 DTM season took another series of twists and turns before the final two races get underway at Hockenheim. From Juncadella’s controversial penalty to Rast making it four from four, the Austrian weekend was full of huge moments. With Mercedes’ final DTM season coming to a close there’s so much at stake both in the intra-team title battle and in the chasing pack. As di Resta and Paffett head to Hockenheim with Rast in close pursuit, I’ve analysed the biggest talking points from the weekend’s action at the Red Bull Ring.
Rene Rast has been in scintillating form since race two at Zandvoort. The defending champion, who suffered such a torrid start to the year along with his fellow Audi stablemates has catapulted himself up the championship table with a record-breaking run of four race wins on the trot. After a stunning debut season last year, Rast has continued to make his mark as one of the biggest talents I can remember in the DTM, and after Austria, he sits just 30 points behind di Resta in the championship table.
Rast delivered another stunning display at the Red Bull Ring, leading home an Audi 1, 2, 3 on Saturday before Sunday’s race win ahead of Nico Muller. It’s fair to say that if Rast wasn’t in championship contention, Sunday’s race would probably have been won by Muller but looking at 2018 as a whole, Rast’s levels of performance have been far above the levels of any of his Audi teammates.
A 30 point gap on the best of weekends looks to be a near-impossible gap to overturn, and couple that with the fact that his title rivals are di Resta and Paffett means Rast’s chances of defending his title still appear slim. However, Rast has one advantage over his Mercedes rivals, and that’s the backing of the whole Audi squad at Hockenheim in two weeks time. Strong pace in qualifying and a solid strategy from the whole Audi team will be vital, and the least Rast needs if he is to perform a miracle and win this year’s DTM title.
Still Too Close To Call At The Top
The battle between Paul di Resta and Garry Paffett is so close to call, and just four points separate the two teammates heading into the final two races of the season. A pair of 4th place finishes for di Resta and a 10th and 3rd for Paffett mean that both former champions head to Hockenheim in an intense title fight, where the smallest of margins are going to make all the difference. Whilst di Resta’s Spielberg weekend was relatively uneventful, Paffett’s was quite the opposite, and the 2005 champion will perhaps be wondering how he finds himself trailing his teammate when his championship position looked so strong during the middle of the year.
Saturday saw a brilliant recovery drive from Paffett after he fell to last place on the opening lap, and on Sunday he was thrown into a perhaps unnecessary battle with di Resta as a result of a slow pit stop. It’s not the first time Paffett has lost valuable time in the pits this year, and if it wasn’t for the slow stop on Sunday he could have been challenging Muller and Rast for the victory. It will be a huge shame if this year’s DTM title is decided in the pits and not on the track, and I’m sure both title contenders will be hoping for a clear chance to fight come next Saturday and Sunday.
Best of The Rest
di Resta, Paffett and Rast finishing in the championships top three is now somewhat academic, but behind the title trio, there is a fierce battle for 4th place underway. Wittmann, Mortara, Glock and Auer are separated by just 25 points and Speilberg was a weekend where none of them really shined. Lucas Auer’s 6th place finish on Saturday was followed up by a DNF in race two, and a 7th place each for Wittmann and Glock marked the quartets best finishes of the weekend. After strong starts to the season for Wittmann and Glock, their championship challenge has faded alongside the performance of BMW, whilst Mortata an Auer although solid, have failed to match the heights both previous seasons and their teammates.
With 4th place in the title race still up for grabs and the futures of lots of the grid still uncertain for 2019, the stakes are perhaps a lot higher than they appear on paper. Apart from Wittmann, all of Mortara, Glock and Auer enjoyed good results at Hockenheim earlier in the year, and they will play an intriguing sub-plot to the overall championship fight.
BMW Still Falling, Audi Still Rising
In some respects it had to be, but Audi’s rate of progress since the start of the year far outweighs that of their rivals. After enjoying a dominant 2017, Audi were hit hardest by the winter’s regulation changes but have enjoyed a huge upturn in performance since the summer. Audi were once again back to their best in Austria on a weekend where the marque claimed five out of a possible six podium finishes. A 1, 2, 3 finish on Saturday was significant, especially given where they were at the start of the year and the teams will take some comfort from the fact that it was Audi who have powered Rene Rast to his record-breaking run.
Whilst their second place in the constructor’s table looks secure, BMW have fallen further and further backwards since the Norisring. 5th place for Joel Eriksson on Sunday marked BMW’s best result of the weekend and the team are in real danger of finishing 2018 way off the pace of their rivals. With it looking increasingly likely that 2019 will be a straight fight between BMW and Audi, the former will be keen not to lose out in a two-horse race for the title. The BMW’s were strong at Hockenheim at the start of the season, and more than a match for Mercedes. If they can recapture the speed and form from the start of the year then they can end 2018 on a high. However, another disappointing weekend would cap off a season which started so promisingly, but unravelled in spectacular fashion from Zandvoort onwards.
Standout Moment – Rene Rast making it four from four on Sunday
Standout Driver – Nico Muller, who finished 3rd on Saturday and on any other day would have won Sunday’s race.
Biggest Disappointment – Paffett’s pitstop yet again harming his race.
What were your thoughts on the Spielberg weekend? Let me know in the comments below or over on Facebook!