by Russell Atkins
Christian Abt has controversially suggested both Bernd Schneider and Tom Kristensen – who count 45 DTM victories between them – should be put out to pasture if they fail to produce the goods in 2008, when he predicts as many as five or six drivers could battle for the crown.
The German hung up his own helmet following eight seasons of competition in the fiercely-competitive pan-European touring car series at the end of last year. He will henceforth focus his efforts on running Audi Sport Team Abt Sportsline, dovetailing that role with acting as a mentor to Audi's young up-and-coming hopes – whom he sees irrefutably as the championship's future.
“The young drivers,” he told Crash.net
, when asked who he believed would shine in 2008, “like [2007 title contender Martin] Tomczyk, or Oliver Jarvis who's coming in and is very good. Then there's Alex Prémat, who for me is one of the best drivers in the DTM, and [Bruno] Spengler and [Paul] di Resta.
“I think di Resta is very, very strong. Spengler I think will be very strong this year too, but [Jamie] Green less so. If Schneider cannot win the championship I think it's the last year for him and Mercedes should kick him out – that's for sure.
“On the Audi side, I think with Tom [Kristensen] it's the last chance; if this year he's not the quickest at Audi then they have the same problem as Mercedes do with Schneider – I think he should drive only sportscars.
“Tomczyk will be very strong I think; last year he was very good, but Audi are always looking out for [Mattias] Ekström. For me I think Ekström, Spengler, di Resta and Tomczyk will be the top four.
“I think we have the best drivers in the world in this championship, with young drivers coming from GP2 to the DTM. One or two make it to Formula 1, but the others come to the DTM – not the BTCC or GTs for example.
“The DTM is a completely international championship. We drive four races in Germany on some of the best tracks – Hockenheim, the Nürburgring, Norisring and the Lausitzring – and five races elsewhere in Europe, in Spain, France Italy, Great Britain and Holland. Only the name is German.”
The 40-year-old was similarly forthright in his views on what new Mercedes signing Ralf Schumacher might achieve in the category, given fellow ex-Formula 1 aces such as Mika Hakkinen, Jean Alesi and Heinz-Harald Frentzen all shone sporadically and won races in the DTM, but were never able to find sufficient consistency in order to string together a genuine title bid.