Ups & downs – and no in-betweens
Marco Wittmann’s monster 46-point haul at Assen’s double-header wasn’t just the biggest weekend points score of any driver in 2019, it was also the first time the German had managed to string together a weekend’s races without mishap.
And that Netherlands performance thrust him firmly into contention for the 2019 title, as he bids to usurp Audi’s Rene Rast and Nico Mueller to tie up his third DTM championship.
However, the 29-year-old will readily admit that his 2019 season has been far from smooth sailing.
‘Ups, downs & no inbetweens’
“It’s been a season of ups and downs, and no in-betweens,” he says candidly. “When I’ve finished, I’ve usually won, or been on the podium; but the flipside of that has been technical problems, incidents and no points scored.”
Wittmann brilliantly won the opening race at Hockenheim; made a daring first-lap pit-stop to come through from last to first to sensationally score victory at Misano; and took a win and a second (again after surging through from last after suffering a turbo issue in qualifying) at Assen to sit on the heels of the two Audi drivers. But it’s those failures to score that have blighted the season.
It’s been a strange series of incidents: tapped into a spin at Hockenheim, demoted by a poorly timed Safety Car at Zolder, followed by a Race Two drive-through penalty for a tap to Robin Frijns that many believe was unfair. A first-lap collision with Rene Rast at Misano left him with steering damage , then an engine failure cost him 10 points when it expired at Norisring.
“Sometimes, it’s not in your hands,” he shrugs, referring to those mechanical issues, “but, in the past, I’ve shown that I’m one of the most consistent drivers and can deliver at every race. To win this title, it’s going to be important to be consistent – I need to be picking up four, five or six points even whenever I have a difficult race.”
Victories at Hockenheim (left), Misano (centre) and Assen (right) have pushed Wittman into contention for a third DTM title
“To win this title, you need to be consistent –picking up four, five or six points even whenever you have a difficult race.”
Refining the BMW package
Along with Austria’s Philipp Eng, Wittmann has emerged as BMW’s most prominent title contender. And he believes that the M4 Turbo DTM lacks for little compared to Audi’s RS5 DTM. It’s been a major uplift for the Munich marque, which went into the season faced with the tricky prospect of overturning Rast’s almost effortless run of six consecutive victories at the end of 2018, and its less than conclusive pre-season campaign.
“During the winter tests, Audi definitely looked very well prepared,” Marco admits. “But when we arrived for the first race at Hockenheim we saw that we were really strong – I won the opening race, and we had really good performance.
“It was clear that Audi was very strong: I think they were stronger in Hockenheim than they were in Zolder, but then they seemed to take a bit of a step forwards at Misano. In fact, I think they overtook us a little bit – and they’ve been consistently quick since then.”
At Assen, Wittmann was the class of the field, his car looking effortlessly tractable as he pushed hard in both the wet and dry. But he’s still not sure his BMW is yet a match for the Audi.
“I’m not actually sure the BMW was the fastest overall package at Assen,” he says. “Still, my car was strong all weekend: we found a good set-up and made it work in every situation – wet and dry – and we could look after the tyres.
BMW Motorsport Director Jens Marquardt called Wittmann’s Sunday drive at Assen ‘a masterpiece’, praising the German for such a comprehensively strong weekend: “He was sensational in Assen. There was no beating him on the Saturday, and he topped all that on the Sunday, immediately dismissing the technical issues in qualifying, and focusing fully on the race.
“To come through from last place to second – all without benefitting from a Safety Car period – was absolutely top-class.”
The result has not eased the pressure of responsibility that sits heavily on Wittmann’s shoulders: “I still think we need to find a bit of performance to Audi,” he says. “That would certainly make our lives a little easier. The Audi has very strong straight-line speed, but, looking at the tracks that are coming up, I feel we can go well at Lausitzring and Nürburgring – I’ve won there a couple of times before – and obviously at Hockenheim, where I won earlier this year too.”
Aiming for the title
Audi’s Nico Mueller has clearly demonstrated the value of consistency so far this year. The young Swiss is driving better than ever, racking up his first victory for three years at Misano, but – uniquely – is the only driver to have scored at every race this year. It means he lies 22 points behind leader Rast, and 18 clear of third-placed Wittmann.
In such a closely fought battle, Wittmann is adamant that consistency will be essential if he is to pressurise the leading Audi drivers.
“From now until the end of the season, it’s pretty obvious that we need consistently strong performances at every race weekend,” he says. “Hopefully, I’ve got my unlucky stint out of the way already and I can have a bit more luck from now until the end of the season.”
He discounts the notion that his championship position merits preferential treatment from BMW to enable him to beat Audi, but admits that the prospect may be on the horizon:
“In general, all BMW drivers are equal and free to race,” he says. “I think that’s also good for the show. Obviously, at the moment Philipp [Eng] is still very close. But, for sure, at some point, when one driver is clearly ahead in the final stages of the title fight, all the other BMW drivers will have that in mind and respect it.”
Assen has shown that, given a clean weekend, Wittmann cannot be under-estimated, and will be gunning for a third DTM title to lift him level with Klaus Ludwig and behind only five-time winner Bernd Schneider.
“Every weekend this year, we’ve shown that we have the performance – qualifying, race pace, long runs. Now, I just need to keep my head down, and if we keep working at this rate, then we can put Audi under some pressure. And then, who knows…?”