It was a weekend of ups and downs for Gary Paffett who finished the first race of the weekend in 6th place at the Hungaroring before race two saw several incidents in the pitlane bring out the red flag and a gamble on strategy meant Gary finished the final race of the weekend in 15th place.
Looking to continue his challenge for the 2018 DTM title, Gary headed to Hungary for the third round of the season just a point behind Timo Glock in the battle for the championship. Historically an Audi stronghold, Gary and Mercedes were determined to bring an end to the Audi dominance of recent years.
Friday’s sole practice session saw Gary end the day in 12th place with a 1:39.132 lap time, finishing as the third fastest Mercedes driver as Audi finished Friday’s practice locking out the first four places.
Saturday started with a wet free practice session that Gary finished in 6th place with lap times that weren’t relevant to the day’s action as the sun quickly dried the track up prior to Saturday’s qualifying session.
With conditions returning to almost perfect, Gary’s qualifying wasn’t what he had hoped for at the start of the day as he qualified in 9th place for the first race of the weekend in Budapest - a result he was disappointed with but a position he knew he could mount an attack from.
Starting the race on the outside of the 5th row, Gary got a strong start of the line and passed Farfus for 8th place before turn one. Already up one position, Gary moved further up the order as almost half the field dived into the pits before the sixth lap of the race - putting emphasis on strategy as overtaking at the Hungaroring is notoriously difficult.
Putting together a solid first stint, Gary dived into the pits on lap sixteen and his stop saw him rejoin the action just in front of a pack of cars being led by Pascal Wehrlein and Bruno Spengler. With Gary running on fresher but colder tyres, he was not able to keep up with the speed of Wehrlein and Spengler behind and lost the positions.
Only losing out on two places whilst on cold tyres, Gary’s tyres were soon up to racing temperature and he quickly dispatched Wehrlein and then Spengler to move into 6th place before the chequered flag dropped.
Finishing the race in 6th place, Gary was pleased with the result and moved into the lead of the championship after a disappointing qualifying performance.
"It was always going to be difficult from P9, as it's very hard to overtake here. I got off to a good start and gained a couple of positions. After that, it was a matter of trying to stop at the right time to come out in clear air. Unfortunately, we emerged into some traffic through pitting a long time after the others. I came out in P10 and had some cars to pass, but the car was great in the second stint, and I managed to overtake a couple of people and finish in P6, which is pretty good from ninth on the grid. We got good points again, so I'm pretty happy with the race. The car has been very good all year so far. Obviously, my team-mates did a better job in qualifying today, so I'm aiming to improve on that score tomorrow."
Sunday saw a much improved qualifying performance from Gary in the morning to secure a 5th place start for race two at the Hungaroring as Mercedes locked out the first five places of the grid and all six of their drivers inside the top-six.
Keeping his position as the start of the race, Gary was controlling 5th place when rain began to fall at the Hungaroring after just five minutes of racing action. As teams began to choose when the perfect time was to pit, there was a moment of shock-horror as a number of unrelated accidents in the rain-hit pit lane, involving cars driven by Lucas Auer, Edoardo Mortara and Bruno Spengler, resulted in three people being injured and taken to hospital for treatment after the slippery, resurfaced pitlane became extremely difficult for cars to stop on.
According to information received initially at the time, a marshal suffered severe leg injuries and two more people were injured but not too seriously. There followed a long break in proceedings, after which the race was restarted for 28 minutes plus one lap.
As Gary had not taken his mandatory stop before the red flag, Gary sat in 2nd place at the restart and the decision was made to pit him for wets - as opposed to the slicks the remainder of the field had. The gamble didn’t pay off for Gary, who would have lost positions and time pitting for slicks anyway, and he could only manage a 15th place at the second race of the weekend in Budapest.
“That was a perfect qualifying from the whole team. I myself didn't have the best lap, but I felt pretty happy with starting in P5. In the race, the cars were in great shape and very strong in the dry. After the start, it was all under control, but then the rain came, and when it rains, it really is unpredictable what's going to happen. Obviously, we were the big losers in the situation because we didn't pit before the safety car and the red flag. To be honest this pit lane is too dangerous - it's over the limit. You can't even make a pit stop in the wet here. As we hadn't made our stop before the restart, we had no chance of scoring any points from there on. We fitted wets just to see if some of the track was wet, which might have enabled us to pull something back, but unfortunately that was not the case."
Gary stills remains 2nd in the Drivers’ Championship after this weekend’s action in Budapest and trails Timo Glock by 11 points. Next round of the DTM is back in Germany with the only street circuit on the calendar at the Norisring (22nd - 24th June).