Former champion Gary Paffett's long-anticipated return to the DTM has finally been confirmed, but the 2005 title-winner will have to defend his crown in a year-old car.
The 25-year-old will dovetail his DTM commitments with his grand prix testing duties for McLaren-Mercedes. With no Formula 1 seats available for 2007, Paffett's touring car comeback had been mooted since the end of last year, but only now has it been officially announced he is to compete behind the wheel of a 2006-spec Persson AMG-Mercedes C-Class. The four factory HWA machines will be campaigned by fellow leading British hope Jamie Green, reigning series champion Bernd Schneider, double Formula 1 title-winner Mika Hakkinen and rising tin-top star Bruno Spengler.
“It's great to be back racing with Mercedes-Benz in the DTM,” enthused Paffett. “It's a championship where I have always performed well, and I am fully motivated to achieve the best possible results this season.
“I am also continuing my test-driving role for McLaren-Mercedes where I will be contributing towards the best technical package for the world championship campaigns of both Fernando (Alonso) and Lewis (Hamilton). I remain committed to finding a full-time Formula 1 drive in the future, but in the meantime I am fully focused on the beginning of the DTM season which is my immediate priority as a professional racing driver.”
The 1999 McLaren Autosport Young Driver of the Year's fourth assault on DTM honours could also be his last, should the rumours linking him to a possible Formula 1 debut with Prodrive next year prove to be well-founded. The David Richards-led organisation is said to be in talks with McLaren about a potential link-up deal, and when Hamilton was awarded the race seat this year, Ron Dennis is believed to have guaranteed Paffett a full-time grand prix berth elsewhere in 2008.
“Gary wanted to race again in the DTM and of course we have been enthusiastic about this idea,” added Mercedes-Benz Motorsport chief Norbert Haug, heavily involved in both the DTM and Formula 1 programmes for the German marque. “Apart from this, it will remain his target to become a Formula 1 race driver, and at McLaren-Mercedes he will have the opportunity to build up his reputation.
“Gary is the 2005 champion and within motor racing he is considered a competent and capable Formula 1 driver who has moved up from the DTM. To have him in our driver line-up is an upgrade for our team and the entire series.”