Mercedes driver Gary Paffett has backed Formula 1 outcast Pascal Wehrlein for a strong return to DTM, adding he is a “more complete driver” heading into 2018.

Wehrlein became the youngest-ever DTM champion in 2015 with Mercedes, before moving into F1 with Manor for 2016. Despite picking up Sauber’s only points during 2017, he was dropped following the team’s tie-up with Ferrari for 2018.

But Paffett believes Wehrlein’s experiences over the past few years will serve the German well on his return to DTM, for what will mark Mercedes’ swansong campaign in Germany’s premier tier of touring car racing.

“He has grown a lot through being in F1,” Paffett said. “He was still very young when he won the championship in the DTM, and there was a lot of pressure on his shoulders. There were also some incidents that did not help him. 

“But he has confessed himself that he has changed a lot over the last two years, and I think he is a more complete person and a more complete driver than he was when he won the championship. I think the people will see a different Pascal to the one that left at the end of 2015.”

The pair will be joined in Mercedes’ six-driver line-up by Paul di Resta, Lucas Auer, Edoardo Mortara and Dani Juncadella. Despite losing Robert Wickens to IndyCar and Maro Engel to Formula E, Paffett is confident his team has the strongest driver line-up on the grid for 2018.

“I think that, over recent years, Mercedes has had the bester driver line-up in the field, and I also think this year is no different,” he said. “Rob [Wickens] was obviously was very successful in DTM and his departure is a loss for us. 

“He has been very strong over recent seasons and he will be missed in the team. But we also have two strong new additions. Pascal is a former champion who has spent two years in Formula 1 and certainly has a lot of talent. He's going to bring a lot of strength and a lot of speed to the team. 

“Dani [Juncadella] continued to be part of the team as test and reserve driver last year. Two incredibly talented young guys coming back into the team. They didn't race the cars last year with the cold tyres, so they have a lot to learn in that department, but they are both incredibly experienced in DTM. 

“It's difficult to say whether our overall line-up has been strengthened or weakened based on the drivers that have gone in and out, but I'm still convinced that we have the strongest line-up in the field.”

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