Mercedes' big guns again came away disappointed from the second round of the 2007 DTM campaign at Oschersleben last weekend, with just three points between them to show for their efforts despite an encouraging turn of speed.
It had, however, all started out so differently, with Mika Hakkinen storming to pole position – his second in the series since his debut just over two years ago – and 2006 runner-up Bruno Spengler backing him up strongly in third on the grid. That, though, is where the good news ended for the three-pointed star's 2007-spec machines.
A poor start saw Hakkinen cede places to Audi drivers Mike Rockenfeller and Mattias Ekström into the first corner, and though the Finn remained solidly in the leaders' wheeltracks all race-long, his podium charge was ultimately to come undone when he tangled with Rockenfeller on the penultimate lap as they tussled over third place. Forced to make an additional pit-stop to replace a damaged tyre, the 38-year-old eventually took the chequered flag in a deflated and entirely unrepresentative 17th position.
“Starting from pole I was of course not happy to lose a possible podium finish due to the accident with Mike on the penultimate lap,” the double Formula 1 World Champion said. “I am, however, happy for Gary Paffett, Paul di Resta and Mercedes-Benz for the one-two victory.”
Spengler, for his part, was no more fortunate. After running comfortably inside the top three for much of the race's early stages, the Canadian – a title favourite entering the new campaign – pulled into the pits on lap 16 with a terminal power steering system failure, leaving him to once again walk away from the meeting empty-handed and with a considerable mountain to climb. He insisted, though, the battle is far from over yet.
“It's a shame I wasn't able to finish the race,” the 23-year-old acknowledged. “The car had good speed and I had a chance to win. The championship is not over yet however; there are still eight races to go and nothing is decided.”
Ironically, the only driver behind the wheel of a 2007-spec C-Class to trouble the scorers was the one who had started furthest down the grid. For the second race in a row, reigning champion Bernd Schneider failed to make the final qualifying cut, lining up a lowly tenth, and his chances looked to be completely scuppered when he immediately fell back to last place at the start with a clutch problem. The five-time DTM king, though, had other ideas, searing his way back up through the field into sixth position at the close, less than a second shy of the top four.
“The fact I finished sixth shows the great performance of the new C-Class,” the German enthused afterwards. “It's a shame – without the problem at the start a far better result would have been possible.”
Mercedes-Benz Motorsport Vice-President Norbert Haug was also encouraged by the promise shown by the new machine, especially after its distinctly below-par showing in the season-opener at Hockenhein two weeks previously. He remained confident it augured well for the remainder of the campaign as the Stuttgart marque bids to re-assert its superiority over rivals Audi.
“It's a pity for Mika,” he stated. “As pole-sitter he started on the dirty side of the track and had a poor start there. Bernd also had problems at the start and lost places; however, everybody could see he had the speed for a podium position, and this is important for the next race.
“Bruno retired due to a problem with the power steering system – this will be solved for sure. The HWA team has always performed well and if there is a problem for once they still have our confidence and support.”