Precisely a month away from the start of the 2009 campaign, Mercedes-Benz has revealed its slim-lined, eight-strong DTM driver line-up – one that it hopes will prove up to the task of stealing the laurels back from Audi after two years in which its Ingolstadt rival has held the upper hand.
Last year's runner-up in the leading pan-European touring car championship, Paul di Resta, and French-Canadian Bruno Spengler remain in current-spec machinery, and will be joined in 2009 C-Classes by former six-time grand prix-winner Ralf Schumacher and 2005 DTM Champion Gary Paffett, who has been granted promotion back to a new model for the first time since his return to the series in 2007.
Also back – albeit in 2008 cars – are leading lady Susie Stoddart, one-time British F3 front-runner Maro Engel and Mathias Lauda, son of triple F1 World Champion Niki Lauda. The trio will be joined by Jamie Green, who despite finishing as second-highest placed Mercedes contender last season to fellow Brit di Resta in fourth place in the final drivers' standings, has been demoted to an older machine this year – a situation in which he may find it hard to add to the four victories he has notched up over the past two campaigns.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of all, though, is that reigning GP2 Series runner-up and grand prix hopeful Bruno Senna – who tested successfully for Mercedes last month [see separate story – click here
] – is not part of the team, with an official release from the three-pointed star confirming: 'Talks with Bruno Senna after his DTM test at Hockenheim lasted until last night. However, Bruno decided to focus completely on his Formula 1 chances and, of course, Mercedes-Benz Motorsport accepts this.'
“In Stuttgart, we are very proud that we have again significantly increased our sponsorship budget despite difficult economic conditions, a set of circumstances which has worked in favour of the DTM series,” remarked Mercedes-Benz Motorsport Vice-President Norbert Haug. “At the same time, we have undergone a rigid efficiency and cost-reduction programme during the winter.
“On this occasion, I want to thank our entire team, be it drivers, technicians, organisers, media, controlling or marketing colleagues for their efforts which made this possible. Now we all look forward to the new season, and with our driver team and the C-Class we want to provide the fans with exciting races.”
The drivers, too, are clearly champing at the bit to get out on-track once again, following a long off-season caused by a later start date than usual, with the opening meeting set to take place at Hockenehim on 17 May. Having tasted victory champagne in F1, it is evident that Schumacher fully intends on doing likewise with a roof over his head – and now he knows he has a car underneath him that should prove capable of enabling him to do so.
“When Mercedes-Benz offered me an up-to-date C-Class in the 2009 DTM I couldn't turn them down,” confessed the German, whose best result in his 2008 'rookie' campaign was seventh place, in both qualifying and race conditions, en route
to 14th spot in the title chase. “Last season, I felt more comfortable than ever before – I had a lot of fun. Therefore I am really happy to continue learning in the DTM.
“Now I have at least a theoretical chance to fight for podium finishes or even victories. We have to wait and see how this will work on the track. My targets for 2009 are to finish in the points and to learn from my three team-mates who will also race the 2009 AMG Mercedes C-Class, and to race on their level. I will do my best to achieve these targets.”