Alesi wins, Schneider regains points lead
27 July 2003
Jean Alesi recorded his second DTM career win at the scene of his first - Donington Park in the UK - dominating the overseas event despite intense pressure from Mercedes-Benz stable-mate Bernd Schneider.
The Frenchman took the lead at the start and maintained it through 36 laps of racing and two pit-stops, despite an unrelenting assault from Schneider, whose solid result allowed him to regain the points lead from young upstart Christijan Albers. Mattias Ekström was third for Audi, despite a slow start forcing him to fight his way through from only fifth on the opening lap.
Mercedes also finished fourth and fifth, courtesy of Marcel Fässler and Albers, with Peter Dumbreck again the top Opel in sixth. The Scot's finish means he has now completed all six races run so far as the highest Astra driver.
Schneider started from his 22nd career pole position, but Alesi, who had qualified second, accelerated even faster as the lights went green and led the field into the first corner. Behind them, Fässler improved from fifth to third by squeezing through between the Abt-Audi TT-Rs of Ekström and Laurent Aiello, whilst Albers passed the two Abt-Audis later in the first lap.
Schneider and Fässler followed Alesi closely through the opening stages and, after the first compulsory pit-stops on lap seven - for Alesi and Schneider - and lap eight - for Fässler and Albers - the order of the leading three drivers remained the same, with Albers crucially dropping to fifth behind the recovering Ekström.
On lap 21, Alesi and Schneider again pitted simultaneously, and again Alesi defended his lead ahead of the German. Fässler, who stopped one lap later, was passed by Ekström at the pit-lane exit, as the young Swede continued to make up ground after his poor start.
Alesi resisted all the Schneider could throw at him approaching the closing stages, eventually winning by 1.4secs, despite Schneider posting the fastest lap of the race - his fifth in six races.
Alesi's victory ensured that Mercedes kept a close rein on proceedings, adding to the five previous round victories achieved by Schneider and Albers. Still a British crowd favourite after his year's in Formula One, Alesi celebrated his lights-to-flag win with doughnuts after the chequered flag. Despite Schneider never falling more than a second behind for the majority of the race, the race had been one of his most memorable, he later revealed.
''It's fantastic to win here again,'' he said of his second Donington DTM success, ''During the race it was actually better when Bernd was right behind - that way I knew he was having to work his tyres harder!
''Pitting together was also very good, because his pit box was ahead of mine, so I could see exactly where he was and what I had to do. I remember one Italian Grand Prix when David Coulthard and I pitted in exactly that situation and he went on to win, so that taught me a good lesson.''
Schneider fell away in the closing laps, having used the best of his tyres as Alesi had reasoned, but still left the UK with the championship lead, having overhauled Albers' tenuous advantage.
''I'd have preferred to have won the race obviously,'' he said, ''but it's good to be heading into the last four rounds with the points lead. I want to congratulate Jean on a great race - it was a lot of fun out there.''
Fässler came home fourth ahead of Albers, unable to do anything about Ekstrom's progress, while Thomas Jäger ended up seventh. He was the best of the 2002 car drivers, and scored his first points of the season.
Although Mercedes continued its clean sweep of victories, motorsports boss Norbert Haug doesn't believe that that tells the whole story.
''It's still extremely close, with five or six drivers able to take the title,'' he insisted, ''If you look at this weekend, we had some good luck because, if Mattias Ekström had fulfilled his performance in qualifying and started ahead of us, or if he'd made a better start, I could have seen him winning this race.''
In the points, Schneider takes over the top spot by just three points from erstwhile leader Albers, with Fässler third overall. Dumbreck maintains fourth overall, but Alesi's win moves him to fifth in the standings. The DTM now moves back across the English Channel, where round seven takes place at Germany's Nürburgring on 17 August.